The fate of Ithaca East Apartments was sealed last month during a public hearing of the Town of Ithaca Planning Board, which reviewed Cornell’s plans to demolish the complex housing professional and graduate students by the end of March.
The apartments, a string of townhouses which once housed 200 occupants, were closed to new tenants last fall because of mounting maintenance costs. The demolition is expected to last between 8 and 12 weeks.
First opened in 1972 after Cornell transferred the land to a local housing developer, the 82-unit facility was rented out to residents of low-middle income levels for 40 years, Bruce Abbott, the former owner of the complex, told the Ithaca Journal. During this period, the apartment complex was maintained under state and federal rent control.
But in 2013, the complex was converted to a mix of student and low-income housing — and as a result, property taxes and maintenance costs skyrocketed.
“I can no longer personally subsidize the property,” Abbott said. “Add to that the age of the buildings and the increased cost of repairs and replacements, and I concluded that this is the time to bow out gracefully.”
As a result, Abbott agreed to vacate and return the property back to Cornell, nine years earlier than the planned 2028 hand-off.
However, prior to the University regaining ownership of the complex, Cornell learned that “the operating cost associated with the aging site was extremely high,” according to Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate, who described the site as being in poor condition.
Citing deteriorating facades, the presence of asbestos in interior building materials, a burnt out unit and a number of other code violations, Thomas said that “given the property’s condition, reuse of the existing facilities is not feasible.”
The ultimate fate of the site, however, is still not set in stone. While Cornell has been in talks with a number of developers — possibly with the goal of constructing graduate student housing — it is unclear whether such a project would be financially viable, at least in the near-term.
“The economics of such a project are challenging, and Cornell simply does not know at this time whether this potential development, another potential development, or no development at all will occur,” according to the University.