One of the hotels considered to be part of the Ithaca’s “hotel boom” will remain on the fast track. City of Ithaca officially finalized the transfer of ownership of the 32-space parking lot located at 320-324 Martin Luther King Jr./E. State St. to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA). The transaction now allows Lighthouse Hotels, LLC to move forward with its negotiations with IURA for buying the lot for its proposed seven-story, 123-room Canopy by Hilton hotel.
The project, formerly known as a Hampton Inn & Suites, recently became part of Hilton’s (which owns Hampton Inn & Suites) new “Canopy” hotel franchise. According to Hilton’s website, the Canopy hotel line focuses on “great neighborhoods,” “market-driven approach,” “comfort and design,” “more included value” and “our ‘positively yours’ culture.” There are currently 11 Canopy by Hiltons "in the pipeline" in the world, however none of them are up and running yet. Ithaca would become the smallest city to have one. Other cities considering the hotel line include London, Portland (Ore.), Washington D.C. and Miami.
President of Whitham Planning & Design Scott Whitham, who is managing the project for Lighthouse Hotels, said the Canopy branding is a good fit for the hotel’s location, and the Ithaca community as a whole. Whitham presented the latest proposal of the hotel to City of Ithaca Common Council during its Wednesday, Nov. 5 public meeting.
“The brand itself is very much about neighborhood,” he said. “It’s very much about context, very much about ‘small’ and fitting in with the local culture. So, in terms of food [the hotel includes a restaurant open to the public], in terms of design, in terms of art, as a design team it’s been particularly fun. Because part of what we’re doing right now is reaching out to local artists, local food, local wine, beer, as we put this design together. So that’s been an exciting piece to it.” Whitham added that although the Canopy brand is a family of hotels, each hotel would be “unique and singular.”
Council unanimously voted to approve the transfer. However, there was a lengthy discussion that largely focused on the hotel’s staff’s wages, and the ramifications the hotel would have on neighboring businesses—particularly those that depend on the parking lot the hotel would be built on top of. Lighthouse Hotels Director of Development Neil Patel and its General Manager Lisa Sparks Sheremeta confirmed the hotel is expecting to create 44 full-time jobs, with at least 16 of them being living wage, or $12.62. The remaining positions, per negotiations with IURA, will be no less than 120 percent of the state’s minimum wage, which right now would be $9.75 an hour.
Although some neighboring business owners such as Homespun Boutique’s Julie Schroeder have lamented losing the 320 E. State St. parking lot, Mayor Svante Myrick said there are “hundreds” of available parking spaces within walking distance from the site during the day, whether its in one of the city’s parking garages, or on the street. Whitham added that “our understanding is there’s sufficient parking [nearby].”
The biggest motivation for the city to move forward with the hotel is the financial impact it would have on the city’s tax base. According to Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Bruce Stoff, the 123-room Canopy would generate approximately $1 million per year in sales tax revenue. Stoff, who also spoke to Council Wednesday night, greatly endorsed the project, adding that it would be an “ATM [machine] for [city] funding.”
Stoff spoke at last month’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) to layout the city’s hospitality landscape. His overall takeaway is that since the current market is producing record demand, it is essentially fact that more hotels are coming, and it’s just a matter of where the city wants to put them. He added that Board of Public Works Superintendent Michael Thorne told him that the city’s roads, water and sewer system and other large scale infrastructures are either due for, or soon will be due for, renovations and that the city needs to start generating more money to help pay for such projects. Stoff said something like the Canopy hotel, and its financial impact, can be part of that solution.
While the Canopy Hotel is in the early stages of its site-plan review with city planning, Wednesday night’s transfer of property was a big step in moving the project forward.