ITHACA, N.Y. — With the ink hardly dry on their municipal approvals, Visum will be heading to the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency to request tax breaks on their planned West End development.

The project, called “The Hive” and slated for 132 Cherry Street, calls for two five-story buildings with 143 residential units, three ground-level street-front commercial spaces with 4,350 square-feet of space, 43 ground-level parking spaces, and a host of indoor and outdoor amenities. Previous descriptions of the project in city documents note two commercial spaces totaling 3,220 square feet and 50 indoor parking spaces, so it does appear some small revisions have taken place since the plans were approved by the city Planning Board in September, though the city’s 50-space figure may also include curbside parking that the IDA statement does not.

The primary component of Visum’s application is a 10-year property tax exemption with an enhanced energy abatement. This could prove somewhat tricky because the project is seeking this under the CIITAP density incentive plan the city has for certain neighborhoods like Downtown and the West End. But in this case, 132 Cherry Street is about one block outside the “coverage area. “density district” where CIITAP is allowed. Perhaps to draw a distinction from Collegetown, which is also left out, Fox states the project is intended for the Greater Ithaca market and not as student housing.

In stating its case for requesting the board consider the property tax exemption, Visum CEO Todd Fox states they had purchased the property when discussions with city staff suggested the site would be included in the density district, that similar nearby waterfront areas are included, and that leaving the site vacant poses safety risks and leaves a prime waterfront location underutilized.

The IDA does confirm in its memo that early discussions did plan to include Cherry Street in the district, but were dropped before the map was put into effect. It should be noted that the neighboring Arthaus affordable housing was granted a property tax PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement in 2019, but that was not related to CIITAP. Also requested are fairly standard tax exemptions on the sales tax for construction material purchases, and an exemption from the mortgage filing tax.

As for the energy incentive, that’s related to its use of heat pumps and all-electric utility systems and appliances – the IDA does have a program that offers a tax reduction in turn for verifiable compliance above and beyond the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement (a.k.a. the “Green Building Policy”). Fox cites rapidly rising materials and labor costs, as well as inflation, in reasons why Visum is seeking a reduced tax bill.

As estimated in the filing with the IDA, project costs for “The Hive” are states to be $52,102,200, most of which will be covered by conventional bank financing. Estimates for the value of the tax exemptions ring in at $6,761,402 for the property tax exemption, $1,703,458 on the sales tax for construction materials, and $98,924 on the mortgage filing tax, for a total savings amount of $8,563,785. Even with the partial property tax exemption, the property would also generate $3.5 million in new property tax over the next 10 years vs. if the site were left as-is. As for jobs, none are stated beyond about 100 construction jobs; the commercial space occupants are “indirect” jobs and cannot be cited in the IDA application.

The project and its requests will begin discussion before the IDA’s board at their meeting at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday November 9th, and livestreamed here. Side note, review of major IDA applications like this one always takes at least one month before decisions are made, so you do have time in the coming weeks to compose your thoughts, spoken or written. Written comments can be sent to IAED’s Ina Arthur at inaa@ithacaareaed.org.

Brian Crandall

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