ITHACA, N.Y.—The long-incubating Chainworks District planned for Ithaca’s South Hill has a new name and a new primary developer as of this month. Goodbye “Chainworks,” hello “Southworks.”

The announcement, made last week in tandem with the finalization of the real estate deal, states that the $300 million dollar development is now being led by Philadelphia-based SHIFT Capital, a nationally recognized social impact real estate firm, in addition to the property’s previous developer, David Lubin of L Enterprises. Furthermore, SHIFT has also recruited a formidable pair of minority- and woman-owned firms to take part: Rochester-based US Ceiling Corp, led by Melissa James-Geska, and New York City-based Xylem, led by Nnenna Lynch. 

As readers may remember, the Chainworks/Southworks proposal has been in the works for almost a decade. When fully built out, the project would offer over 1.7 million square feet of renovated and new mixed-use space, including 915 residential units, manufacturing/tech space, commercial office space, and a variety of experience-focused and retail units. The multi-faceted project involves environmental cleanup of the 95-acre Morse Chain/Emerson Power site, which was contaminated with hazardous chemicals stemming from its century of heavy industrial use.

In July 2013, Emerson Power Transmission accepted a deal from Lubin to develop the site. Emerson and Lubin have been working with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over the past several years to investigate the extent and clean up the on-site contamination.

Early in the process, the 95-acre site was slated to only be brought up to industrial standards (what’s safe within daily eight-hour exposure), but with residential development proposed and approved, Emerson was obligated to work with Lubin and remediate the site to residential standards (what’s safe from continuous 24/7/365 on-site exposure). A Record of Decision Amendment and a Site Management Plan were approved by the DEC in October of 2022.

The general development plan of the project was approved in 2018 after three years of review. But since then, the path forward for redevelopment itself has experienced significant obstacles. It’s a very complex, very large site, a complicated task for any developer, let alone Lubin. Chainworks/Southworks is 10 times bigger in square footage than Lubin’s Harold Square development on the Commons (which was also co-developed).

“David Lubin of L Enterprises was seeking a partner for the project and Ithaca Area Economic Development facilitated a connection with SHIFT Capital,” says Vicki Taylor Brous, a longtime local consultant and now the local Project Coordinator for SHIFT Capital.

“SHIFT recently started expanding their real estate investment projects outside of the Philadelphia area to include DC, New Jersey, California, and a project in Rochester. The Ithaca site aligned with their mission to develop neighborhood centric projects and their expertise in adaptive reuse. SHIFT recruited Xylem and US Ceiling Corp as part of their NextGen Impact Platform to assist emerging developers. Xylem’s expertise is in public-private partnerships in real estate development. US Ceiling specializes in construction and workforce development. This created the synergistic ownership team with SHIFT Capital as the majority partner, plus L Enterprises, US Ceiling Corp and Xylem.”

“David has spent over a decade working on this project and getting it through the approvals process. He will continue to be involved as his knowledge of the site is extensive and unique. All the partners will be involved in decision-making, construction planning and oversight, business development, and government relations,” Taylor Brous added. 

Alongside the development team, Taylor Brous stated that the massive project will continue to deploy the talents of CJS Architects and Fagan Engineers, as well as SCAPE Landscape ArchitectureBuro Happold and Taitem Engineering will serve as the sustainability consultants. Michael Manzari of Pyramid Brokerage is the listing agent who managed the sale of the project site to the development team.

The first phase of Southworks calls for renovations of four buildings on site – Buildings 21 and 24 would be renovated into 179,000 square-feet of mixed commercial and residential space, and Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated into 171,000 square-feet of modern industrial/manufacturing space.

In September, paperwork filed with the city of Ithaca indicated that Building 24 is seeking a city-endorsed Restore NY grant to financially assist with redevelopment. The renovation would create 94 apartments and 33,000 square feet of commercial space within the $26 million proposal.

Just last week, a revised grant application endorsement was submitted for consideration by Common Council. This version is seeking $2 million from Restore NY for a $2.93 million plan for lead paint and asbestos abatement in Building 24, as well as selective demolition to promote site circulation and facilitate installation of an 850 ft. length of a public multi-use recreation trail.

The city is currently planning to endorse the grant application early next year with hope of an award from NYS later in 2023.

More recently, the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority is considering a potential $500,000 investment to create a “Southworks Technology Cluster” for tech firms that have outgrown incubator space, as well as attract industrial tenants, potentially to complement the plans for the giant Micron computer chip factory in the works for suburban Syracuse. Taylor Brous added in the follow-up interview that the project is currently waiting to hear from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) regarding an application to plan infrastructure on the site.

Proposed South Works conception build-out.

So with the more salient details covered for the moment, let’s pose a slightly less important question—why the name change for the project? After all, we’ve been referring to the Southworks site as Chainworks for years. The inquiry was posed to Taylor Brous.

“The development team wanted to take a fresh look at the site and the name and conducted market research with a local community group of stakeholders,” she said. “It was clear from this research that people wanted the site to reflect a sustainable future, rather than its industrial past. The site is a gateway to the South Hill community, and many felt that South should be included in the name. The history of the site will certainly not be lost, with ample opportunity to include references to its former industrial past, whether it be in naming interior roads, design of buildings, and through landscape design and public art.”

More information about the new ownership team and the project can be found at the project’s new website, https://southworksithaca.com/.

Brian Crandall

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