ITHACA, N.Y.—It’s been something the city has thought about for years, but it appears the gears are finally turning — the city of Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will have its first look and potential first votes on a new Collegetown Fire Station No. 2 tomorrow evening.

Discussion of what to do with the Collegetown fire station has been ongoing since 2015, with multiple sites and options given consideration. Plans essentially boiled down to either a major renovation of the current station at 309 College Avenue, which was built in 1968 and whose mechanical systems are approaching the end of their useful lives, or building a new fire station, either on-site or at another nearby location.

In the end, the city decided sale and new construction was the way to go.

“Due to escalating real estate costs and development opportunities in central Collegetown, it seemed clear that the best option was to sell the existing building for redevelopment and use the proceeds for a new fire station in a different location,” states the memo to the PEDC as part of tomorrow’s agenda.

The plans to be considered by the PEDC tomorrow have been negotiated with an LLC owned by local developers Phil Proujansky and John Novarr, who have been known to have interest in the 309 College Avenue site for their Collegetown Innovation District development.

As negotiated, the city would sell 309 College Avenue to Proujansky and Novarr for $5.1 million plus the land on which the new fire station would be situated. The new station would be built on the site of two apartment houses owned by the developers at 403 Elmwood Avenue and 408 Dryden Road, a few blocks to the north and east of the current station. Property records indicate 403 Elmwood was purchased by an LLC owned by Proujansky and Novarr for $875,000 in December 2021, while 408 Dryden is assessed at $475,000 but was bought by Proujansky and Novarr for $875,000 on April 13.

The memo prepared by city planners states that negotiations have been ongoing for some time with the developers about a cash plus land acquisition deal. An “internal team” reviewed nine different sites around the area for a new fire station, but determined that for accessibility, safety, cost and other considerations, the Elmwood/Dryden corner site was the only one suitable for a new fire station.

It should be noted that while the land would be given to the city as part of the deal, the construction of the new fire station would still be the city’s responsibility and expenditure. The developers give them the land, but the city will have to use its own funds to build the new station.

Initial estimates place construction of a new station at $9,049,000, to be covered with the sale proceeds, a $1 million grant from New York State, and $2,949,000 in funds to be raised by the city, likely through the sale of municipal bonds. The city sees the net cost as $1,449,000 in its balance sheets because that’s $1.5 million they wouldn’t have to pay towards renovating the existing station just to keep it operational in the short-term.

On the revenue site, the city expects the Novarr-Proujansky redevelopment of 309 College Avenue would be valued at at least $8.8 million, given the price per square-foot of comparable redevelopments on adjacent blocks (about $1,033/square foot of land). This translates to an extra $87,000 in new city-only property taxes each year, and $1,294,000 over 20 years.

The PEDC will be voting on a pair of items specific to the fire station proposal. The first voting item authorizes the Mayor to exercise the option agreement for purchase and sale of the properties in question. The second voting item authorizes the transfer of 309 College Ave to the IURA for the purpose of undertaking a negotiated acquisition and sales agreement. The IURA is the city department that works out the terms and then (if deemed satisfactory) executes the sale of city-owned property.

Initial plans from Mitchell Associates Architects PLLC of suburban Albany, which specializes in fire station design, show a two-story fire station with traditional architectural elements intended to blend in with the surrounding neighborhood. Concept floor plans show a two-engine apparatus bay, classroom, bunk rooms and rest areas for firefighters between calls.

As scheduled, authorization for further fire station design work and contract negotiation would take place this spring. The Site Plan Review application to the city Planning Board would occur in July, with an executed contract for sale and acquisition in October and Site Plan Approval by the end of the year. Construction of the new fire station would be tentatively scheduled for March 2023 – May 2024 if the city and developer stick to their respective timelines and all votes and discussions take place as initially scheduled.

Brian Crandall

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