September 16, 2012

Editorial: Keeping Collegetown Landlords in Check

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When the class of 2012 graduated, its members took with them the last remaining memories of Green Cafe in its prime. The former upscale eatery closed in the Spring 2010, when this year’s senior class was still waiting in line for Mongolian barbeque on North Campus. Since then, the one-story commercial space on the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road has sat prominently, and awkwardly, empty.

Sadly, the tale of 330 College Ave. is commonplace in Collegetown. Empty storefronts litter the main drags of Dryden Road, College Avenue and Eddy Street. Let’s be clear: Turnover is normal. Commercial space remaining empty for several years is tragic.

And there’s one common denominator: a landlord named Jason Fane. His leasing company’s signs are so omnipresent that they have become an iconic piece of Collegetown’s landscape: bright yellow and purple “Ithaca Renting” letters on a black background. When a leasing company has better branding than its constantly changing tenants, there might be something wrong.

What is the problem? Some accuse Ithaca Renting of charging impossibly high rents. Fane denies this, claiming that his prices are comparable to nearby properties. However, consistent prices are not the same as reasonable ones. If Collegetown landlords continue with this greedy race-to-the-top, we’ll be left with a ghost town rather than a vibrant neighborhood.

Fane has a history of keeping his properties vacant and letting them deteriorate. Another of his prominent holdings, the Masonic Temple on Cayuga Street and Seneca Street, has been largely unused for more than a decade. In 1974, some of Fane’s tenants even went on “strike,” withholding rent due to what they claimed were unsatisfactory living conditions.

Several proposals have been put forth, but none that address the issue directly enough. Regardless of the Collegetown Vision Plan, moves to classify Collegetown as a Business Improvement District and interest from the University, our neighborhood will not be able to thrive until the city imposes reasonable regulations on landlords. Empty storefronts represent untapped potential for taxes and employment.

Although Fane appears able to afford keeping these spaces vacant, it is to the detriment of the community. Ithaca is not powerless to solve this ongoing problem. Incentivising lower rents in order to attract new businesses, or aiding potential retail tenants would deter landlords from waiting indefinitely for the high-paying tenants that are unlikely to come. Filling the rapidly increasing empty spaces in Collegetown would lead toward a renewal of Collegetown culture for the benefit of businesses and students alike.