ITHACA, N.Y.—Life as a boutique hotel has had its ups and downs for the Argos Inn. But overall, business has been good—so much so that ownership now wants to add a new rear wing to the historic building.

Located at 408 East State Street on the east end of Downtown Ithaca, the Cowdry Mansion was built in 1831 for then-Village of Ithaca President Jacob McCormick, and it served as the home of the Cowdry family for many years. In the 1940s, it was the world headquarters of Duncan Hines Foods. Its chapter as the Argos Inn began in 2013, following a four-year renovation by local hotelier Avi Smith.

The Argos Inn has found its niche in Ithaca as a boutique hotel filling an underserved hospitality segment between modest B&Bs and the larger chain hotels around town (and the genteel Bar Argos on the first floor probably helps). Having weathered the perils of COVID, the hotel is now pursuing grander plans.

As proposed in a submission to the city of Ithaca earlier this month, the project involves the construction of a 3-story addition to the existing 13-room Argos Inn. The
addition would contain 11 new guest rooms, bringing the total number of rooms to 24, and a small office space for hotel management. The addition would be a new wing to the north of and designed to complement the existing building, on what is currently an outdoor terrace/seating area. The new wing would be connected to the existing garage, which would be used for service spaces, and the wing would be partially built into the hillside north of the Argos.

As for the outdoor terrace, the plan is to rebuild that on the north end of the parking lot, screened from the street by a new arrow utility building containing seasonal outdoor serving areas, outdoor storage and a trash enclosure. The existing gravel parking lot would be paved and striped with new landscaping and lighting. In total, the addition will add about 5,135 square-feet to the Argos Inn property.

According to the project description filed by architect Craig Modisher of STREAM Collaborative, a north wing used to exist on the site of the proposal.

“The site for the proposed addition was formerly a 2-story back wing of the original building that was destroyed by fire decades ago. A fragment of the foundation of that structure currently exists, verifying its extent. This north wing appears on Sandborn [sic] maps from 1904 and 1919. Additionally, ILPC research indicates that the concrete block garage was added in 1929,” Modisher writes in the historical analysis.

As is often seen with projects in Ithaca, a pair of zoning variances are being sought as part of the plans. The first is a parking variance, as between the bar and the 24-room hotel, 72 spaces are required; the owners are requesting a variance to allow them to have only 24 parking spaces on the property. The other variance is a relatively minor variance for rear-yard setback; the existing rear garage is 19.2 feet from the rear property line, but zoning requires 20 feet. A variance for 10 inches created by an existing structure might seem needlessly complicated, but rules are rules. The expansion of a grandfathered-in property triggers a violation and the need for a variance.

Along with trips to the Planning Board and the Board of Zoning Appeals, the project will need to take a trip before the City of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC). The Argos Inn is a contributing structure to the East Hill Historic District, which means that the exterior design and aesthetics of the proposed addition will be scrutinized to a much greater degree than a similar project elsewhere.

The Site Plan Review filing indicates that the project has a price tag of $1.3 million and is aiming for a construction period of September 2023 through June 2024. Alongside STREAM Collaborative, Whitham Planning and Design, which specializes in landscape architecture, is assisting with the design of the project.

Brian Crandall

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