October 24, 2012

$30 Million Development on Commons Could Transform Downtown Ithaca

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As part of a broader project to revive the Commons, a company announced a plan Wednesday for a $30 million project called “Harold’s Square” downtown, according to a press release.

The project, which will be funded privately for the most part, would add a 126,000 square foot complex that will contain retail, office and residential space in downtown Ithaca.

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said he hopes the new development will increase density in the core of the Commons while still maintaining the “character” of Ithaca.

“[The project] is a fascinating example of a downtown urban project that does density well and really tries to help preserve the streetscape,” Ferguson said.

Two historic buildings will be preserved: the Home Dairy Building and the Sage Block, which once housed Benchwarmers, a restaurant and sports bar.

The buildings to be replaced are currently vacant, according to a press release.

“We’re restoring a key part of Ithaca’s history that once housed the office of 19th century architect William Henry Miller,” said David Lubin, president and co-owner of L Enterprises, LLC, and owner of the spaces that will be renovated and redeveloped. “At the same time, we’re replacing three primarily single-story buildings that, while may be part of people’s cherished memories, including my own, can’t meet downtown’s need for more housing, shopping choices and modern office space.”

The new building will have two main entrances, one on the Commons and the other facing Green Street, according to the press release.

A three-story atrium running through the building will link the two areas.L Enterprises, LLC will follow U.S. Green Building Council LEED guidelines, according to the press release.

The project will emphasize “energy efficiency, natural light, healthy work and living spaces” and will incoporate “natural green rooftop elements on … a portion of the project,” the release said.

While Ferguson told The Sun that the project is not Ithaca’s first “green” endeavor — the Downtown Ithaca’s Gateway Commons that houses luxury apartments and retail spaces, is also a building with sustainable design — he said the building will be “the first and biggest we have in the Commons area to be sure.”The project gets its name, Herald’s Square, from Herald’s Army-Navy Store: “A favorite destination for lots of people, particularly students, in its day,” Ferguson said. The store, which previously occupied one of the two vacant buildings, closed in 1998 due to competition from other suppliers, according to the press release.According to Ferguson, Lubin has been renting out the property where the building will be constructed since 1998, waiting for the right opportunity to develop the site.“David has determined that this really is a good time to try to redevelop this property,” Ferguson said.The project, Ferguson said, will occur alongside the restoration of the Commons, both of which are set to begin sometime next year. “What we didn’t want was to have all that construction activity take place downtown on the Commons and then have a big project like this start up right after it, or vice versa,” he said.The Downtown 2020 Strategic Plan — a blueprint for the future of downtown Ithaca — has been in the works since 2008 and is now “ready to go,” Ferguson said. The new office space will bring between 110 and 150 full-time office jobs to the city, according to the release.Ferguson said the residential tower is expected to house 60 to 72 new apartments. The tower containing the residential units will be built at the back of the property while the retail and office spaces will face the Commons pedestrian walkway.Ferguson added that the Downtown Ithaca Alliance commissioned a housing study recently that found that the Ithaca housing market is “extremely tight.”He said the new complex’s prime location on the Commons, as well as the amenities it will boast  — including a rooftop patio and an area for barbecuing — will be attractive to prospective residents.“Retaining and renovating historic structures downtown is very important,” Lubin said in the release. “But so is recognizing that change is also a good thing.”Although the project plans for a modern infrastructure, Ferguson said that it is the project leaders’ mission to ensure that the new complex maintains the culture and character of Ithaca. “While we’re trying to [add density] downtown, we still want to preserve and enhance the pedestrian scale and character of [the city],” Ferguson said.

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon