November 14, 2001

Announcement Close for Downtown Building Site

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Cornell soon will announce a site for its $17 million downtown office building, an evolving edifice of mutual trust and cooperation between the University and the City of Ithaca.

Ithaca Mayor Alan J. Cohen ’81 said the building would restore a sense of vitality to The Commons and supply crucial office space for more employees to work in the heart of downtown.

“This is the first time the University has directed its resources for the betterment of our community on such a scale and in such a focused way,” Cohen said in an interview with The Sun last summer.

The multi-story building will provide space for about 300 University staff members and a number of other corporate and retail employees in 2004.

Edward Hershey, University director of communication strategies, emphasized the importance of forming a healthy, vibrant downtown as an anchor for a strong community and a strong University.

“As we compete for world class students and faculty, we want Ithaca to be seen as a bustling place,” he said last summer. “Our goal is to disenchant prospective community members from the notion that they’re going out into the boondocks.”

The building also represents a tangible investment towards abating past tensions between the City and the University, Hershey added.

Connecting Ithaca’s 30,000 permanent residents and its 20,000 transients (students and visiting professors) without straining relationships is difficult, he said.

Cornell as an institution does not have to pay property taxes to the City of Ithaca and is often blamed for driving up the cost of living and competing with local businesses.

Joe Wetmore, manager of The Autumn Leaves Bookstore on The Commons, said the building was a step in the right direction, but he believed the University should do more to help local businesses prosper.

“The University is trying to squeeze every penny it can,” he said. “It wants all the benefits from Ithaca without paying for any of them.”

Jack Goldman Ph.D. ’67, owner of The Bookery in DeWitt Mall, said he worried the height of the building would interfere with existing architecture on The Commons.

“I’d hate to see some huge blockbuster spring up and cast a shadow on everything else,” he said last summer.

Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, emphasized that the building plans would consider the architectural character of The Commons.

“We’re working very hard to make sure downtown will be proud of this building,” he said.

Cornell will be the primary tenant for the duration of the 20-year agreement. Construction is set to begin in 2002, but first the site must be nailed down.

David Chiazza, vice president for Ciminelli Development Company, said the project is moving on schedule, although there have been delays in selecting the location.

The developer is reconsidering the overall building layout, which may be larger than originally expected, with last year’s target of 120,000 square feet as the minimum, he said. The University hopes to announce the building’s exact location within the next two months.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts