ITHACA, N.Y.—Plans for a mixed-use redevelopment of the former Incodema facility on West Hill are seeking an assist from the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA).

The “Cliff Street Retreat” proposal is planned for 407 Cliff Street. Incodema vacated the facility for new digs off Slaterville Road in Dryden, and the developers, led by local construction manager Lincoln Morse, have sought to turn the 25,297 square-foot building into a mix of small-scale retail, office, hospitality and residential uses.

Approved in November 2021, the project includes 10 apartments, six hotel lofts, and four hotel cottages. Plans also call for a neighborhood café, a potential neighborhood bar/lounge for after-hours gatherings, boutique retail spaces modeled after the startup spaces in Press Bay Alley, and boutique office space. The project developer will partner with Discover Ithaca, which specializes in chartered boat cruises, paddle boat and bike rentals, to manage and lease the hospitality space’s hotel rooms and associated amenities.

Long story short, this is a fairly modest-sized project that involved reusing a former industrial space to complement Ithaca’s leisure and tourist amenities, as well as give West Hillers a community room and social space without having to drive downhill and do battle with the West End’s traffic. The project required a Planned Unit Development zoning designation to accommodate the variety of uses before the project could even be reviewed by the Planning Board. All in all, that required almost a year and over a dozen meetings with Common Council and the Planning Board.

Normally, that’s an enormous logistical pain in the fanny, but in this case it appears to have had something of a silver lining. Technically, the project falls outside of the portion of the city eligible for CIITAP, the city’s redevelopment-focused property tax abatement economic program. However, the IDA’s Uniform Tax Exemption Policy allows for retail/commercial projects to be considered for incentives if the project is endorsed by the host community. The City of Ithaca, which already had to debate the merits of the proposal way back with the PUD vote, has re-used that analysis to double as an endorsement for this project to seek tax abatements.

The formal request breaks down as follows: a ten-year property tax abatement worth $759,951, a sales tax exemption on construction materials worth $301,600, and a mortgage tax recording fee exemption of $19,361, for a total of $1,080,912 in requested tax breaks for a $9,680,264 project, or about 11% of the overall cost.

In return, the developer would pay $664,048 on top of the existing property taxes over that ten-year period, produce about 50 construction jobs and five new permanent jobs (office and retail tenants aren’t counted towards this total because they’re “indirect” jobs), and make a $50,000 payment into the joint county-administered affordable housing development fund. The building, designed by STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering, would be all-electric and meet the city’s Green Building Code.

Discover Ithaca estimates an economic benefit of an additional 50-200 visitors per year with an average length of stay of 7-10 days. The overall economic benefit to local payrolls and local/state tax revenue over the ten-year period is estimated at $6.47 million by MRB Group, a third-party financial firm that provided cost-benefit analysis for the IDA.

In explaining why they were requesting an abatement, the development wrote in their application that rising interest rates and inflation had raised the costs of the project, and rather than seek to increase the project density to make up for the increased costs, they wanted to keep the plans “right-sized” for the West Hill neighborhood. (It’s not stated in their application, but they also would have to go through the PUD and Planning Board process all over again.)

Of course, it’s up to the IDA’s Board to decide if the requests are justified by the plans and if the benefits stated given past muster. The application will commence review at the IDA’s meeting Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 PM, though a vote won’t come until after a Public Hearing, meaning no votes until October at the earliest. The meeting will be livestreamed on YouTube here, and written comments can be sent to Ithaca Area Economic Development’s Ina Arthur.

Brian Crandall

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