Ithaca’s GreenStar Natural Foods Market will be the “anchor” of developer Josh Lower’s ’05 ambitious proposal to revive retail in the heart of Collegetown with several street-level storefronts, according to Brandon Kane, general manager of GreenStar.
Although the addition of a new branch must be approved by GreenStar’s board of directors and several municipal agencies, Kane said the organic food market hopes to open its doors at 307 College Ave. by the end of 2013. It will meet an “abundantly clear” demand for a full-time grocery store in Collegetown, Kane said.
In proposing to open a Collegetown branch, GreenStar is not only betting that Cornellians are eager to buy locally-grown produce but also that they are willing to become personally invested in the local economy. Like Buffalo Street Books, GreenStar is run as a cooperative in which store members — many of whom are also customers — have a direct financial stake in the business, Kane said.
“More and more people … are aware of the paramount importance of supporting a vibrant local economy. So whether you are an Ithaca resident for four years or 40, supporting a local co-op, which in turn supports hundreds of local businesses, is the way to go,” Kane said. “I think our student population unquestionably understands this.”
GreenStar could become the centerpiece of Lower’s “Collegetown Crossing” project at 307 College Ave., which the developer owns. Pending approval from the City, Lower plans to demolish the site’s current building and remake the area into a highly trafficked “pedestrian arcade,” filled with storefronts that would connect College and Linden Avenues.
The plan, which will be discussed by the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board on Tuesday, includes the creation of a new six-story building with 103 bedrooms — a project that could fill a perceived demand for more student housing.
Yet Lower is also requesting that the City waive its requirement that Collegetown developers match every two housing units built with the creation of one parking spot.
Lower told The Sun when the building was first proposed that the parking spaces, which must be within 500 feet of the site, were “not practically or financially possible.”
But Common Council member Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) said the project could not move forward without the resolution of this issue. He said the dearth of parking is hurting Collegetown businesses and that adding more than 100 new residents without spaces for their cars would only exacerbate the problem.
“You can’t just ignore the [parking requirement]; you can’t force people not to drive,” Kerslick said. “The existing plans don’t call for any provision of parking and that will have to be addressed because, as it stands, it’s a significant issue in Collegetown and a big concern for local residents.”
Still, Kerslick said GreenStar’s interest in expanding to Collegetown was a positive development for the neighborhood.
“Any viable full service grocery store would be a significant improvement to for the whole community,” Kerslick said. “This is not the only option; there are other developers beginning to think of incorporating space for grocery stores in Collegetown — an important recognition that things are beginning to change.”
John Schroeder ’74, a member of the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board, agreed that the development’s potential effect on parking would be a “major issue in the environmental review of the project.”
Yet, like Kerslick, Schroeder said that the new GreenStar could be a boon to a neighborhood that he believes can support a grocery store.
“Many, many people, including myself, have long wanted the return of a full service grocery store in Collegetown,” Schroeder said, noting that a grocery did exist in Collegetown but closed over 20 years ago. “GreenStar, if it came, would go a long way toward bringing that to a reality.”
Some students living in Collegetown said they were elated by the possibility of buying fresh fruits and vegetables from a nearby location.
“It will save me a lot of time,” said Sophie Griswold ’14, who walks to GreenStar’s downtown location two to three times a week. “It’ll be nice to get quality produce without having to schlep all the way down the hill.”
Juliette Miller ’13, an “avid” GreenStar shopper, said she would be overjoyed if the grocery store opened a Collegetown location.
“Oh my god, that would be really amazing,” Miller said. “I hope it happens.”