On March 7, several local media outlets ran stories noting that Chemung Canal Trust Company would be moving out of their Commons location at the corner of Bank Alley, effective May 31.
The stories were based on a press release sent out by Chemung Canal, in which president Anders Tomson was quoted as saying the bank had been in lease negotiations “for more than a year” with the landlord.
“Unfortunately,” Tomson said, “we were just not able to reach mutually acceptable terms for our continued occupancy.”
On March 8, landlord Jason Fane’s attorney Nathan Lyman sent out an email complicating that narrative. Attached was a statement from Fane questioning Chemung Canal’s claim that they had been in negotiations. Fane cited a letter of Dec. 19, 2013 from Chemung Canal exercised its option for a 10-year extension to the lease, beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Chemung took over the lease from Bank of America when they bought out several area branches in November 2013.
“It is more disappointing in that they appear to be misleading their customers and the public about their decision to abandon downtown Ithaca,” Fane wrote. “Why is a big bank, with $1.6 billion in assets, acting this way? How can they write to me extending the lease ten years, and then say to their customers the lease expired?”
Lyman, in the same letter, said the bank had requested feedback on potential changes to the space beginning in March 2015, with answers not forthcoming until February 2016.
The changes last requested would “imperil architectural features,” Lyman said. In tentative plans brought before the Commons Advisory Board in February, drawings showed an approximately 2,800 square foot space for a redesigned Chemung Canal branch with another retail space added onto the ground floor.
Fane said that he is planning renovating the upper floors of the seven-story Bank Tower to create apartments. A walk-through of the tower reveals floors three through seven to be entirely office space, with two active tenants. Law firm Miller Mayer recently moved their operations over to the Rothschild building, leaving the top two floors empty.
In response to Fane’s letter, Chemung Canal vice president Michael Wayne said that “specific terms and details of a possible extension were never determined and agreed to prior to the Dec. 31, 2015 expiration of our lease.”
Wayne couldn’t comment further, with litigation likely pending, but did confirm that Chemung Canal has three-and-a-half full-time positions working at the branch right now, all of whom will be given positions in other Ithaca branches.
Lyman emailed screenshots he said were of the lease, showing language supporting the claim that there was a right to extend it, and noting in his email, “A right to extend does not include a right to ‘re-negotiate.’”
Fane purchased the Bank Tower along with 111 N. Tioga St., the adjoining building behind it, for $1.5 million in 1997. The two buildings combined have over 40,000 square feet of floor space. •