September 27, 2002

Client Committee Analyzes Cayuga Green

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The Cayuga Green Client Committee established by the City of Ithaca Common Council met last night to discuss the Cayuga Green project.

Cayuga Green is a project designed to revitalize the Ithaca Commons through the addition of apartments, parking and retail space downtown.

The project includes the construction of 1,700 parking spaces, between 21,000 and 27,000 square feet of retail space, over 100 apartments, and an intermodal transportation center.

Last week, the committee announced that it had terminated its relationship with Monahan, the developer working on the residential portion of the project, due to a lack of participation from the developer. Dan Cogan M.S. ’95, chair of the Cayuga Green Client Committee, then offered an invitation to several other developers to submit plans.

The Cayuga Green concept emerged from the City’s obligation to provide 500 parking spaces for a Cornell office building and a Hilton Garden Inn, both located at the corner of Seneca and Tioga streets. The offices and the hotel are scheduled to open in June of 2004.

Christopher Shears, a Denver architect who specializes in downtown development projects involving parking, presented the latest plans of the various elevations of the project. Shears led a similar project in Boulder that is considered a milestone in downtown parking structures. The Boulder project wraps the parking structure with various facades so as to integrate it with the architectural characteristics of the surrounding area.

Speaking of the Cayuga Street building, “We have a full retail wrap here. There is a lot of glass,” Shears said. “Imagine stepping out of the Holiday Inn and seeing 18 feet of brightly lit stores with a lot of merchandise.”

He added, “We are also setting the building back further than the library in a move to add sidewalk space for outdoor eating. Imagine a coffee shop.”

Shears said he also hopes to preserve the trees lining Cayuga Street.

Last night’s meeting displayed many presentations of horizontal fragmentation of the buildings which will conceal the parking structure, instead appearing as a charming city block.

“We want to use different materials to give each building a base, middle, and top. We located the stairs in the corner and put glass around them, making them safe and observable,” Shears said. “By the creek, we’ve left it to a residential wrap to hide the parking structure.”

Drawings presented by the architect show the parking structures not masked as single buildings but fragmented to match the size of the typical buildings in downtown Ithaca.

Commenting on the design of the wrap of the structure, Shears said, “It does not mimic the historic architecture of Ithaca. We can’t mimic historic architecture but we can borrow the design on an abstract scale. In the end it will feel right.”

Cogan commented on the importance of the project in spite of concerns that it may bring increased traffic.

“You want people coming downtown, you want people stopping downtown,” Cogan said.

He spoke further on the idea of bring pedestrian traffic through the Commons.

“Pedestrian traffic is the lifeblood of a retailer. With more people in the Commons we may be able to get back a general merchandiser.”

On the addition of retail space despite the numerous empty storefronts, Cogan said, “We don’t have a space for anyone who wants more than 5,000 square feet. This adds a space of about 27,000 square feet.”

“There are a number of retailers that we’re talking to and we hope to be able to work with one and incorporate their needs into the project at an early stage,” Cogan added.

In an August Sun interview, Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, an association of merchants, echoed the sentiments of the Council.

“We want to increase the mass of retail space available and the critical mass of people downtown all the time,” Ferguson said.

Many members of the Common Council offered their concerns that the proposed placement of the staircases and elevators of the Green Street structure on the southern side of the building would be inconvenient for people traveling to the Cornell office building on the North side of the commons.

Shears responded, “The stairs and elevators float around in all of my projects,” and promised that the idea of relocating an access stairway and elevator would be studied.

Construction on the project is slated to begin in February or March of 2003. Regardless of a final decision on the Green Street building, construction on the Cayuga Street building is likely to begin in March.

Archived article by Chris Mitchell