Multiple groups of Cornell University students from the departments of City & Regional Planning, Architecture and Landscape Architecture presented individual visions of a study on the short- and long-term future of the Ithaca and Cayuga Malls, along with the land uses between the two, at a joint meeting with the Village of Lansing Board of Trustees and the Planning Board on Dec. 9.
The study focused on some of the challenges the malls currently face, such as accessible parking around the malls, drainage issues, lack of sidewalks and an increase in business vacancies. Its premise was to find ways to add more affordable housing opportunities, expand opportunities for local businesses, leverage the regional and national businesses, add more public spaces for the elderly and children, along with the addition of a dense, walkable, bikeable transit connected neighborhood in order to reduce traffic.
Some of the groups of students discussed forms of “incremental urbanism” as a short-term plan for the malls. The first group presented the idea of a “Lansing Wellness Path,” which would connect the YMCA, Planet Fitness and Dick’s Sporting Goods along a walkable path with outdoor, flexible seating and resting areas.
In the long term, the first group suggested keeping the major retail businesses where they are while reconstructing the angles of the streets to increase the safety of passing cars and creating more green spaces out of parcels currently taking up useless space, such as empty parking lots, to improve the connectivity between both malls.
The second group suggested that in the long term it would create a village center with commercial corridors accessible through the construction of two pedestrian bridges, one connecting the two sides of Triphammer Road and the other across Route 13 to the commercial corridor. In the middle of the corridor would be a pedestrian walkway, similar to the Ithaca Commons, to bring people together to walk and shop.
There would also be a park featuring a tower near Tops’ current location. (The group noted that the Tops and the existing hotels in that area would need to be relocated for this to be implemented.) The tower would be visible on the right side of drivers traveling north on Route 13, and the park itself would serve as a center for the commercial corridors and green and public space. The group said this project overall would add about one million square feet of residential space and more than half a million of public space to the village. The amount of commercial space would be reduced by close to half a million square feet.
The third group said one goal of its plan was to produce a mixed-use village center that would include quality workforce as well as student and senior housing. The group also planned to improve the ecological health of the streams underneath both malls’ parking lots and use them to prevent any issues with stormwater runoff. The streams would be unearthed for public enjoyment.
The group also conducted an analysis on transportation and traffic in the village. The group discovered that according to the most recent census data, about 20 percent of village residents are using public transportation to get to work, which the group said is quite high for a village of Lansing’s size. With that in mind, the group chose to make that focal point in its project.
Mitch Glass, a visiting critic of the Cornell University City & Regional Planning Department, was also present at the meeting along with the students. Glass said the village should consider diversifying its zoning when it comes to the future of the malls.
“There’s a similarity in terms of heights of buildings, forms and setbacks that would lead to a community character that may not drive some of our goals of this exercise of mixed-use, of higher density, of walkable streets, because the zoning creates something quite different or asks for something quite different,” Glass said.
Some of the Board of Trustees and Planning Board members asked about the economic-feasibility of these plans. Glass said the three groups solely focused on potential designs, though when he spoke with students from another class that performed a market economic analysis of this project he was given pessimistic responses.
“They said that of course construction costs [make it] very difficult to build anything…I said, ‘That’s your three to five year view. What about in 20 or 30,’ and they said they can’t answer that question,” he said. “So that’s where we sort of forget that and try to imagine it then.”