Rothschild building

During the City of Ithaca Planning Board’s October meeting, new plans came forward for yet another potential development that would bring a significant amount more housing to the Green Street Garage site that is already approved for hundreds of units. 

Architect Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design gave the presentation on the proposed development at 215 E. State Street on the Commons. He is working with Ithaca Properties developer Jeffrey Rimland on the project. As currently designed, the project would add 13 stories total, or 137 feet, with 200 units of additional housing above the rehabilitated parking garage floors.

The new development would be built over the eastern-most portion of the Green Street Garage, which is owned by Rimland. This project would be separate from the other Green Street Garage redevelopment plans, which are widely known at this point: Asteri Ithaca, around 200 units of affordable housing and thousands of feet of commercial space that has been approved to move forward, though its unknown if those plans will include a conference center or not. 

Whitham sees this as an opportunity to continue to bookend the Commons, with the Rothschild Building area being a suitable space for a building with increased massing. The new building could make for a more extensive downtown core in Ithaca, which is already experiencing a revolution through widespread development.  

“With the other things happening on Green Street, we, of course, are involved in Asteri, [and] there’s a real opportunity with the new Harold’s Square working toward its completion,” Whitham said. “There could be a real urban ensemble in the 140 ft. zone. And that zone was put together, three to five years ago, with the intention of what is happening now. This is the realization of planning that has been in the works for quite some time.”

As Whitham explains it, the project will be inclusive of the garage level of the building and will be a separate structure from the Rothschild Building. 

Overall, comments from the planning board were positive, but with some caution. Rob Lewis, chair of the City of Ithaca Planning Board, said he’ll be looking at street-level activation when the building comes back before the planning board. 

Several other board members said they would be looking at, and pushing on, the project’s sustainability and affordability, according to Lewis. Board member McKenzie Lauren Jones said the board generally supports massing and scale in this location, is looking for more sophisticated colors, and wants to see this building in context with the new Green Street project. 

Since the neighboring Asteri Ithaca will be utilizing Home Dairy Alley, its existence will not be threatened by the development going on around it, and it even stands to benefit. Whitham said the new extension of Home Dairy Alley will take it across Green Street to the waterfront and the Six Mile Creek Walk, and would hopefully add more variety to its uses, plus add a bit more to the space between the Green Street Garage and the Rothschild Building/Center Ithaca, which is currently little more than an alleyway. 

“In terms of connectivity, there’s the one type I’ve mentioned for Asteri which is an outdoor connectivity,” Whitham said. “This has the potential for some indoor connectivity. To rethink how one enters the Rothschild Building from the Commons and gets to, for instance, Center Ithaca. Right now it’s a little dismal, frankly, it’s a little dim and a little unactivated.”

After spending years working with numerous development and planning organizations in the city of Ithaca, Whitham is glad to see the Commons and Green Street evolving as commercial and walkable city cores. 

“There are many communities across the country that don’t have the same level of engagement and they suffer from it,” Whitham said. “I think the fact that people care deeply about our built environment is a tremendously positive fact. There will be a public aesthetic conversation, no doubt. We all want to get the best architecture as we can out of these projects and the same sense of well-planned urbanity out of these projects. We look forward to the public conversation on these.”

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