Speaking critically of the Ithaca Gun factory site but positively about economic development in Ithaca and the rest of Upstate New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) announced a $2.3 million grant for rehabilitation of the gun factory Tuesday.
The Restore N.Y. grant will fund demolition of the factory and cleanup of the site, which will then be developed by Travis & Travis into 33 high-end condominiums and a public park.
“At the end of this process we will have a beautiful public park with views of Ithaca falls that has been unavailable to the public for over 100 years,” Frost Travis, a developer for Travis & Travis, said to a packed Common Council Chambers. “We will have a new enclave of fine homes.”
The gun factory site, a 2.1-acre property on Lake Street near Ravenwood and Gun Hill apartments, was home to the Ithaca Gun Company from 1880 to 1986. The company, which manufactured guns and munitions, helped create much of the early industry in Ithaca and Tompkins County, as well as high levels of lead and asbestos contamination.
“Not only has it been a horrible eyesore, I’ve been afraid it’s going to be a tragedy scene,” said Jean McPheeters, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.
Numerous attempts have been made to renovate the gun factory site, but the asbestos and lead contamination have not all been removed.
“The City’s been working on this for years and years,” Peterson said.
After Fall Creek Redevelopment undertook the gun factory project, they asked Travis & Travis to become involved, Travis said.
“[The Ithaca Gun factory] is the sort of location which will only be developed if you get a partnership between government and private capital,” Spitzer said.
Travis agreed, saying the cleanup and development would be a “textbook example of public-private collaboration.”
Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson (D) reiterated some of the main points of her recent State of the City and Spitzer’s State of the State speeches, emphasizing affordable housing and the importance of livable communities.
“[Years of struggle] have taken their toll on downtowns and livable cities and infrastructure,” Peterson said. “The infusion of economic development capital is critical to revitalizing our upstate cities and making them attractive and desirable places to live, work and play.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D) echoed Peterson’s concerns.
“We’re not unlike all the other small cities around Upstate that are struggling,” she said.
Lifton said that funding from the state to cities has been cut in half in the past 10 years; the four percent of “unrestricted revenue sharing” to cities has been reduced to two percent. She said that some of the cut in funding was due to less money coming to the state from the federal government.
After she spoke, Spitzer said that this trend of cutting funding to cities has been changing and will be growing in coming years.
Recently, Spitzer has spoken of a $1 billion fund for “projects that will revitalize downtowns.” In his speech at City Hall, he announced the investment in the gun factory site as “symbolic of what we want to do.”
Spitzer said many issues facing Upstate New York, like high unemployment rates and an intellectual brain drain, are not problems in Ithaca and Tompkins County. Locally, however, there is both a shortage of housing in general and affordable housing in particular. About 36 percent of Cornell’s non-student employees on the Ithaca campus live outside Tompkins County, according to the University’s Economic Impact Statement from February.
Some criticized the grant as funding only expensive housing, which Spitzer addressed after his speech.
“What we are accomplishing with this investment is the elimination of what is a hazardous environmental site, which had been sitting there without anybody in the private sector able to address it, so we are stepping in, as government should, to eliminate that environmental hazard. At the same time we’re going to get housing units that are needed in a very tight housing market,” he said.
“The fact that we need affordable workforce housing … doesn’t mean we don’t build other housing at the same time,” he added.
No date has been set for the beginning of construction, but Peterson said the City wants to start as soon as possible.