After months of negotiations and deadline postponements, the City of Ithaca and developers Vecino Firm have entered into a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) regarding the Green Street Garage redevelopment project.
The resolution to approve the agreement was passed unanimously by the IURA board at its meeting last Thursday. Though there had been votes almost held during the board’s last few meetings over the summer, each time postponements were approved to give more opportunity for negotiations with Vecino. The deadline to reach an agreement on the DDA had been extended to the end of August. Vecino now has a little over a week to issue a counterproposal or accept the approved DDA.
The resolution calls for 218 units of affordable housing (serving people making 50-80 percent of Area Median Income), around 356 new parking spots, a 49,000 sq. ft. conference center (though there are provisions in place in case the conference center falls through) with 2,000 sq. ft. of street-level active use, plus retention of the Cinemapolis movie theater and Home Dairy Alley. Vecino won a four-way competition to be named the preferred developer of the Green Street Garage, pulling ahead of other, local developers thanks largely to its affordable housing components.
There is, however, an important caveat within the DDA. The city and Vecino are still determining the financial feasibility of a conference center, even after a second round of analysis showed that market demand for a conference center is actually higher than initially thought. IURA Executive Director Nels Bohn had set a deadline of January 23, 2020 for the city to make a final decision regarding the inclusion of a conference center, and the financial feasibility of the inclusion. If it is determined that a conference center would make the project infeasible, than the project will significantly change: the conference center would be excluded and the unit load would increase to 273, along with 9,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.
The project’s current parameters appear to be a middle ground approach, in a way. Vecino had provided three options for the city to choose from, two that included a conference center and one that didn’t. The two versions with a conference center also included either 173 affordable units or 273 affordable units (essentially small and large alternatives). The larger option had gained popularity among many city officials, who were vocally supportive of the 273 affordable units the project would bring, most recently Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which endorsed that version. There was at least one notable opposer, though: local affordable housing leaders Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, which penned a letter warning that the plan might actually have too many affordable units coming online too close together (including other pending projects), potentially resulting in high vacancy rates.