TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—It’s Christmas in March for Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca, as the New York officials just announced that $4.4 million in its spending bill will go towards three projects in the county.

The money will go towards the following: the construction of the much-ballyhooed conference center project, which is included in the private redevelopment of the Green Street Garage called Asteri Ithaca, as well as the rebuilding of the South Albany Street Bridge over Six Mile Creek and “bolstering Ithaca’s grid” to make it greener.

The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

“The projects supported by this funding increase the accessibility and resiliency of our community. Investments in clean energy, affordable housing, and infrastructure are crucial and we’re grateful for this funding from our federal government. Thank you to Senator Schumer for his resolute support for communities in Tompkins County and Upstate New York,” said Tompkins County Legislature Chair Shawna Black.

The largest chunk of money will go towards the conference center project, which will receive $2 million. That should cover the “remaining gap,” according to the announcement, helping the project — which also includes around 200 affordable housing units and the refurbishment of the parking garage — finish construction.

The conference center has been a bit of a strange topic in Ithaca development. It’s projected to lose around $200,000 per year during its normal operations, a fearsome number for some, but the city has argued that it is worth it to build because of the economic boon that more conferences in town would provide for local businesses, hotels, and the downtown economy as a whole. After two market demand studies conducted by the same company, Ithaca decided to move forward with the project from Vecino, which included the sizable affordable housing component.

“On behalf of the Downtown Ithaca Local Development Corporation (LDC), as well as the Tompkins Chamber and Visit Ithaca, I would like to express our gratitude to Senator Schumer and Gillibrand for their advocacy on behalf of the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center Project,” said Jennifer Tavares, Downtown Ithaca LDC and Tompkins Chamber President. “This critical funding award will support not only closing our remaining funding gap, but help ensure that Ithaca has a state-of-the-art demand generator to support the continued recovery of downtown Ithaca and our regional tourism economy.”

Elsewhere, $1.4 million for the South Albany Street Bridge will go towards “replacing the deteriorated South Albany Street Bridge, make critical ADA upgrades, and safely link the primarily residential area south of the bridge to the communities, businesses and neighborhoods north of the bridge.”

While that bridge was originally slated for a rehabilitation effort instead of a full-scale replacement and overhaul, city engineer Tim Logue said that further investigation showed the necessity for a full replacement.

Another $1 million will go towards a microgrid that the city wants to construct for use by the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant (IAWWTP), Ithaca High School, and the city’s Department of Public Works, Streets and Facilities.

“This funding for the City of Ithaca would develop a microgrid and allow for the integration of biomass gasification systems, further decarbonizing the city and surrounding areas, and increasing the resiliency and sustainability of Ithaca’s energy,” the announcement states.

The wastewater facility currently uses low-carbon electricity generating equipment powered by “gas produced with sewage and food waste, and combined heat and power to supplement electricity.” Essentially, the microgrid would be able to expand the power distribution to the aforementioned places beyond the IAWWTP. The hope is that the capability will help replace diesel generators at those places.

“Every year there is an increase in frequency of extreme weather events affecting New York State residents,” said Luis Aguirre-Torres, the city’s director of sustainability. “In preparation, the City of Ithaca is working on innovative solutions to increase its resilience and ability to withstand the effects of climate change. By funding this project, the federal government enables the city to demonstrate how social, technological and financial innovation can lead to a just transition to a green economy, effectively fulfilling the promise of the laboratories of democracy.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com