ITHACA, N.Y.—According to the tax assessor’s office, the price per square foot of real estate in Collegetown is among the highest in the state outside of Manhattan. With this sale, that seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

As recorded by the Tompkins County Clerk, the $16.5 million sale on the 13th includes a trio of properties. 401 Eddy Street sold for $3,795,000, 325-27 Eddy Street for $7,755,000, and 311-15 Eddy Street/109 Dryden Road sold for $4,950,000. The combined sales price of $16.5 million is well above the assessed value of $9.75 million.

From left to right in yellow outline – 401 Eddy Street, 325-27 Eddy Street, 311-15 Eddy Street, 109 Dryden Road (upper right)

The trio of properties are all midrise mixed-use properties in inner Collegetown, with ground-level retail and student apartments on the upper floors. To be more specific, there are 4 ground-floor retail units, all occupied (the tenants being the Souvlaki House, Fontana Shoes, Ithaca Wine & Spirits and Chatty Cathy Coffee Shop) and 46 residential units with 131 bedrooms.

The seller of these properties is local businessman Steve Fontana, and Fontana has been looking to retire and let someone else play in the Collegetown market. A check of the address of the LLCs linked to the purchaser revealed the buyer to be Ryan Colbert of New York.

Reached for comment, Colbert stressed that there were no big changes in store, and, in fact, his ties to the Ithaca community are well established. Colbert’s family has been in the Ithaca real estate scenes for decades, and are partners with Collegetown mega-developer Philip Proujansky in Integrated Acquisition and Development (IAD), a local development firm that developed many of the suburban apartment complexes and office buildings around Lansing and the town of Ithaca.

“My family has been a long-term owner-operator of Ithaca real estate since the middle of the last century,” Colbert said. He grew up in Ithaca, graduating from Ithaca High School and Cornell University. “I am honored to be back in the Ithaca real estate market. Many of my family still reside in Ithaca and I am frequently there visiting for both business and pleasure. It’s a wonderful place.”

“Steve Fontana was my neighbor growing up,” he said. “We have a strong personal connection and I have fond memories going to Fontana’s Shoes and visiting the properties growing up. Not to mention eating at the Souvlaki House. Outside of the strong personal connection to both Steve and the Ithaca community, I felt these properties had room to add value, which we plan to undertake with our professional manager, CSP Management.”

According to Colbert, the renovations planned include refinished bedrooms with new furniture, kitchens with new appliances and cabinetry, bathrooms with new fixtures, upgraded security features and minor exterior facelifts. In other words, no huge development projects, and no extended trips to the Ithaca Planning Board. The plans are just standard upgrades to stay competitive with Collegetown’s newest offerings. No changes to the retail tenants are planned either, they will stay on as occupants even as the building ownership changes.

It might seem a little odd for someone who relocated to New York to invest in the Ithaca market, even if they have roots here. Colbert says the market is strong and the elevated purchasing price is worth it given the location and stability of the Collegetown market.

“Again, I’m an Ithaca native and have deep connections and contacts in the community,” Colbert said. “Ithaca is my hometown and I’m always rooting for the hometown team. I believe strongly in Ithaca’s future with Cornell, Ithaca College and other educational institutions, as well as other industries in the area. I have firsthand knowledge of the Ithaca multifamily market and know both its strengths and weaknesses. As far as student housing, this asset class has always been attractive to investors and continues to perform in select markets, Ithaca being one. Yes, prices may seem elevated, but prices are both market and cash flow driven.”

For Fontana, who moved back to Ithaca in 1981 to take over operation of the family shoe store, and grew into the role of developer and landlord, it’s not a bad way to end a career. He kept the family business going, he changed the skyline, and now, he has a lucrative sendoff into retirement, and it looks like his properties will be in good hands. He might be stepping back from business, but with any luck, there are still plenty of evenings ahead for dinner at the Souvlaki House.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.