ITHACA, N.Y.—A pair of major renovation projects in the city of Ithaca are seeking assistance grant funds with help from the city of Ithaca.

The Restore NY program is being revived for a sixth and seventh round following a five-year hiatus. Restore NY is a funding project of the state’s economic development wing, Empire State Development. According to its website, “{t}he Restore New York Communities Initiative provides municipalities with financial assistance for revitalization of commercial and residential properties.  The program encourages community development and neighborhood growth through the elimination and redevelopment of blighted structures.”

In this round, cities of Ithaca’s size may submit one project for each round for a grant worth up to $2 million, and a second grant for a limited number of “special awards” disbursed from a $10 million pot earmarked for highly visible and blighted properties in Central Business Districts.

There are three basic rules for submissions – they must come via municipalities (meaning they’re vetted), they must demonstrate at least a 10% cash match, and they must hold a public hearing. Projects are graded based on their ability to revitalize urban areas, induce commercial investment, and improve local housing stock. The city of Ithaca received six proposals for the two rounds, and narrowed its selection down to one submission for each round, seeking up to $2 million for each submission.

The applicant for the standard grant in the sixth round is 115-121 and 123 South Cayuga Street, a pair of historic four-story buildings on a prominent corner of Downtown Ithaca. 115-121 South Cayuga, historically known as the “Jamieson and McKinney Block,” was built in 1898 for a plumbing firm. 123 South Cayuga is “The Donovan Building”, and dates from 1916. Built for the electric and gas company, it also housed city and county annex offices for a number of years before becoming boutique office space.

Given that they’re office buildings and that the pandemic resulted in a remote shift for many white-collar workers, the buildings have fallen on hard times. 115-121 South Cayuga’s 18,300 square-feet of space is 60% vacant, and 123 South Cayuga’s 10,980 square-feet of space is 56% vacant.

The buildings were purchased in March for $1.95 million by “Urban Encore LLC,” led by local businessman John Guttridge. Guttridge has already left his mark on Ithaca with inventive renovations of the Ithaca Journal complex into Press Bay Alley and Press Bay Court, as well as the renovation of 121 West State, which now houses “the Watershed” and “The Downstairs.”

Under plans described in the Restore NY grant, the South Cayuga buildings would undergo a $9 million complete interior and exterior building rehabilitation. The office space would be converted into 16 new housing units on upper floors, while the ground-level retail space would be renovated to house a new restaurant tenant. More specifically, renovation plans include the installation of a shared elevator; window, canopy, and façade restoration; and conversion to fully electric heating and cooling systems meeting local Greenhouse Gas emission goals.

The seventh round of Restore NY is largely concurrent and offers a larger amount of funding overall, $150 million statewide vs. $100 million. It appears the state issued round six with a relatively short notice of two months, due by Oct. 12, and gave round seven a more standard several-month time frame, due in January.

The Chain Works Site with Building 24 at center-left.

For that round, the submission chosen for review and potential city approval is the renovation of Building 24 on the Emerson Power Transmission property, part of phase one of the Chain Works District mega-redevelopment by Unchained Properties LLC, led by David Lubin. Building 24 would be the tall building on the left side of the complex as shown in the drone pic above.

Plans for Chain Works were approved in 2019 after years of review, and have been stuck in some form of development Hades ever since. Building 24 has always been a part of phase one, which includes the renovation of three other buildings, 21, 33 and 34, into manufacturing/warehouse and commercial office space.

Earlier plans called for a new floor on Building 24 and a total of 60 apartments and 39,000 square-feet of commercial space. The submission to Restore NY revises the interior plans to 94 apartments and 33,000 square feet of commercial space, and appears to drop the new floor to keep the building at 4.5 stories. The total estimated cost for the renovation of Building 24 is $26 million.

Earlier plans for Building 24’s renovation, with the additional floor.

Now, it should be noted that historically, Ithaca has a mixed track record with Restore NY. The city has been successful at obtaining funding. However, while some projects came to be, such as Guttridge’s Press Bay Court, others, such as the Ithaca Glass and the Wyllie’s Dry Cleaners Renovation, have not.

In order for the Urban Encore proposal to qualify within the deadline, the city of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will need to give their approval for submission at their meeting Wednesday, and then the full city of Ithaca Common Council must approve of the submission at their meeting in early October.

Brian Crandall

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