Breckenridge Place

An architectural rendering, created by Holt Architects, of what the proposed Breckenridge Place complex will look like.

The Women's Community Building and the old Challenge Industries building will be demolished this year to make way for two new housing development projects in downtown Ithaca. The two projects are only a slice of the number of projects that will be worked on in 2012, according to Director of City Planning JoAnn Cornish. A third major housing project - the Collegetown Terrace Apartment project - has already begun along State Street. The fourth major project, the Cayuga Green project, is stalled without financing. But the four different housing projects will potentially add a range of housing to the downtown area, and some will fill the great need in the downtown area for mid-range housing that was discovered by the Danter Study in Oct. 2011.

The project taking place at the Women's Community Building - Breckenridge Apartments - is planned to be a six-story, multi-use building that will add 50 brand new affordable housing units to downtown, which Cornish said are greatly needed and will make a huge difference to the downtown area. The project has been in the works for two years and is expected to take 18 months to complete with demolition beginning in March.

The Seneca Way project to be constructed in place of the Challenge Industries building will also be mixed use building. It will contribute 38 mid-range units. The process for getting approval for the project took about a year since the time the application was submitted, according to Cornish, and with demolition beginning in the spring is expected to take between 18-24 months to complete. The five story project required a height variance among others, which according to Cornish was a controversial issue.

"It's adjacent to the East Hill Historic District, so a lot of neighbors were really concerned about the height. So that slowed it up a little bit," said Cornish.

"They're going to put properties back on the tax rolls" said Cornish of the two projects, "which we desperately need. I mean, we need to have tax roll properties. While it will be property taxes, it won't bring in a lot of other types of taxes like sales tax, which is something we always look to generate. But with every new project comes new jobs, come again, the property taxes. Also new development in cities in upstate New York is pretty rare, especially with the economy the way it's been. So for us to be getting all of these projects in the city is just unbelievable. And it sets us apart from other cities in upstate New York where their downtowns are basically ghost towns, because nothing is happening. So here we have all of these really great projects."

The Collegetown Terrace project, a three-year project already underway, will continue work on phase one of three through 2012. There will 16 buildings constructed total, with 12 being constructed in phase one. The hope, according to Cornish, is to have those first buildings completed for student move in day in the fall as the focus of the project is graduate student housing.

The Cayuga Green project will provide yet another form of housing to the downtown area- luxury, high-end apartments- changing from the developer's original plan to create condominiums when funding could not be secured.

"We've been dealing with this for I think probably at least five years," said Cornish.

The project recently received approval from the city to have mixed use on the first floor of the building, but funding still remains the hang up.

"We've been working with them," said Cornish, "and they feel like they're very close to getting their funding, but of course until that happens it doesn't feel like anything's going on, and we don't bank on it happening until that funding comes through. So that's been in the works for a long time. They have secured a tenant for the ground floor and I know that they're very anxious to start. But again, until we see the funding come through, we're always very cautiously optimistic."

"The city's got quite a bit of housing going on," said Cornish, "but we've also got quite a bit of housing going on outside the city. And our focus is of course is development within the city, but when you look at housing and the needs for housing in Tompkins County, we're really doing a lot in the housing market to fill those needs."

"Collectively," she added, "I think we're starting to make a dent in the housing market and what we really need to fill the needs of not only the city, but Tompkins County."

There are other non-housing projects that will be underway this year that has Cornish excited.

"Some of the other ones that we'll see that are going to make a huge difference is the hotel work that is going to go on," said Cornish, "One's the Fairfield Inn on Elmira Road - because we get sales tax, we get room tax, we get property tax, and we get jobs. So that's a really good project for the city. The same with the Holiday Inn expansion. While they're not adding a lot of rooms, what they are adding is a conference center which we don't have downtown. We can't have a big conference. So the spinoff effect of having a conference center downtown is huge. That is one of the most exciting things that I think we're going to see happening downtown in a long time."

There is also the continued work on the larger Commons redesign project and the rebuilding of the City's water treatment plant.

The impact of all the different projects on the local economy remained forefront in Cornish's descriptions as an injection of money into the economy from the number of construction jobs and the building materials.

"But there will be jobs post construction," said continued, "There will be maintenance jobs and building manager jobs. Any time that we add jobs to the local economy that's really great too."

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