March 1, 2002

Shopping Center Proposed for Southwest

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Ithacans may soon be turning to the southwestern area of the city to fill their shopping needs. Benderson Development Co. (Benderson), a Buffalo, N.Y.-based developer, is in the market to purchase and develop the land there, which was once abandoned farmland, and the city dump.

“The city has a large area of undeveloped land collectively referred to as the Southwest,” said H. Matthys Van Cort, the city’s director of planning and development. “We’ve been talking about development since the early ’70s. Some four different plans [over the years] all said this area should be developed.”

The development will be located directly to the west of the commercial plaza where Tops and Kmart are situated and will most likely house several “big-box” stores in addition to a number of smaller venues. According to Van Cort, this space could fit up to 500,000 sq. ft. of commercial development, but Benderson is proposing to construct a structure of 400,000 sq. ft.

“[A site of this size] is very big for our area,” he added. In comparison, the Wegman’s building is 120,000 sq. ft. The Tops building measures 65,000 sq. ft.

According to Richard A. Franco, vice president of acquisitions at Benderson, the company plans to submit its proposal to the city’s Planning and Development Board in mid-March.

Pending the approval of its proposal by the Planning and Development Board, Benderson is under option to purchase the land, which is privately owned by the Weiner family, according to Mayor Alan Cohen, ’81.

The company has yet to secure tenants but Franco is confident that the development will draw big business as he considers Ithaca an attractive city for development.

Many people in the city have welcomed the development plans for the area.

“I and a number of other people were heartened by the announcement because I think there had been a disappointment that Target [plans to] locate in Lansing,” said Common Council member Ed Hershey (D-5th).

“The city would like to see [such development] not only for the convenience of city residents but also for the sales tax revenue and the jobs,” he added

“We calculated the benefits to the city from new development at roughly $2.4 million in new sales tax and property tax revenue … the bulk of which will come from sales tax,” noted Van Cort.

The development will be built on top of a former clean waste dump. “I think this is the most appropriate site in the city for big-box development … And as Kmart may be going out of business soon, we’ll need a general merchandise store [in the area],” Common Council member Dan Cogan M.S. ’95 (D-5th).

Most of the critics of the proposed nearby Widewater development, including members of the Citizen’s Planning Alliance (CPA), a group that monitors local development, have received Benderson’s proposal well, according to Cogan. He added that this proposal is mostly consistent with the CPA’s suggestions for large development in the region.

The Benderson Development Co. already owns many of the major commercial hubs in the city, including Tops Plaza — currently in the process of renovation — and the center across South Meadow St. which houses Hollywood Video, OfficeMax and Cingular Wireless, among other retailers.

“We really like Ithaca a lot and enjoy working with the Planning and Development Board [that is] always very fair, [and has] very well thought-out, clear guidelines of what they want to see developed,” Franco added.

“I’m very positive about the project. It’s exactly what we’ve been looking at for this part of town,” said Cohen.

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