November 14, 2012

Construction Begins on New Downtown Ithaca Complex

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Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 was joined by developers, bankers and public officials Wednesday for the groundbreaking ceremony at 140 Seneca Way, a new commercial and residential development in downtown Ithaca.

The new development will include 38 apartments, with amenities for residents that include a health club, a roof terrace and parking for residents. The complex will also contain office space on the first floor, which two Ithaca-based organizations have already claimed.

Speakers at Wednesday’s event praised the new development for the role it will play in revitalizing downtown Ithaca.

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance — a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of the downtown area of the city — expressed excitement about the the new building.

“You don’t get many opportunities to build buildings at the heart of your city,” Ferguson said. “This [complex] is at the eastern entrance, the gateway into downtown Ithaca. This is iconic, anyone coming east or west is going to see this [building].”

The Seneca Way development faced community opposition at the start of the project, something Jeff Smetana, vice president of Newman Development — the development company for 140 Seneca Way — referenced at the groundbreaking. According to Smetana, the project had encountered various “issues and problems” since the idea was proposed three years ago.

Residents of East Seneca Street — whose backyards are located adjacent to the back of the complex — initially opposed the project, The Sun reported in January 2011.

But as the building underwent the process of securing approval from the city, the design was changed so the height of the north end of the building facing single-family homes was reduced by one story, thus making it both more aesthetically pleasing to the concerned residents, according to Myrick. The design of that part of the building was also altered to fit the character of the neighborhood.

Although Myrick acknowledged that not all Ithaca residents are pleased about the new complex, those who were involved in the development of the site and who spoke at the groundbreaking projected an optimistic vision for the future of downtown Ithaca.

JoAnn Cornish, the city’s director of planning and development, described the complex as the start of a more vibrant downtown and said it will make the city a “more exciting place to work and build and play in.”

Myrick said the new complex marks the turnaround of a trend of “suburbanization and sprawl” that he said Ithaca has been undergoing for years.

“We can finally begin to answer the question of, ‘Where are we going as a city?’” Myrick said. “Are we going to continue to pull people away … or bring them closer?”

Myrick added that 140 Seneca Way would be both “environmentally and economically sustainable.”

The building itself will have an number of “green features,” according to the press release from the developer.

Myrick stressed that the building’s potential goes beyond its infrastructure.

The site is within walking distance from many shops and restaurants on the Commons — it is approximately two blocks from Simeon’s and Madeleine’s, for instance — and it is therefore likely that those who will live and work at 140 Seneca Way will patronize local businesses, Myrick said.

He added that the new complex will also prove an economic benefit to the city because it is being built on a site that was formerly home to a non-profit organization — and thus exempt from property taxes. 140 Seneca Way will therefore play a role in expanding the city’s tax base by providing a new source of revenue, he said.

According to Myrick, the city did not make any financial contributions to the project. Developers were able to take advantage of a federal tax credit program that encourages investments in communities that otherwise would be unable to finance business and real-estate projects.

Original Author: Emma Court