Old Library

The front steps of the old Tompkins County Public Library, which is slated for redevelopment into a senior citizen-focused housing complex. 

Following a lengthy public comment period and a great deal of debate, the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA) delivered their decision regarding several projects seeking a tax abatement through the CIITAP program. The three projects the board discussed were Arthaus, Library Place and the Hilton Canopy, though in the end no action was taken due to a lack of time. All three appear primed to come back before the agency's board next month. 

The Hilton Canopy is part of a pilot program by the Hilton Hotel chain, is a modern boutique hotel experience. The project had already received an abatement, but were requesting that abatement was altered to have the first year with a 100 percent abatement, then a year of pause during 2019-2020 when there would be no abatement, before starting again at 100 percent in 2020-21 and descending each year after that. 

Since the project was set to open earlier than expected, the first year of the abatement, the hotel wasn’t open. For the second year, though, the project will be open for business, though they were looking at a zero percent abatement. However, many board members were hesitant to allow the abatement modification since they are looking to get it extended for two additional years. Despite a resolution proposed to go through with the abatement, the board decided to have the project come back to their next meeting in May. In total, according to the extension application, the project would save about $3.2 million in property taxes over the next 10-12 years. 

Arthaus, slated for Cherry Street, is going to be primarily affordable housing, with 40 of the 124 units set aside to provide a place for homeless youth to reside. In addition to the affordable housing units, the building will also have a gallery space occupying the ground floor, the most notable portion of the project to be specifically aimed at its stated target demographic of artists. Molly Chiang, a representative of the Vecino Group, gave a brief presentation about some of the aspects of the project.

Most, if not all, apartments in the building are being sold below market rate. Rents in the new building would start at $737 for a studio apartment for being sold at 50 percent of area median income (AMI). The highest rent in the building would be $1,752 for a three-bedroom that is going to be at 80 percent of AMI. However, there would be two percent rent increases each year. The project will also be using local labor and is on track to start looking at bids over the summer. Chiang said Vecino is trying to start building towards the end of the year and would potentially open the building sometime in 2021. In total, they are asking for just over $4.5 million in tax discounts over 30 years, while touting in their application that the project could also produce sales tax revenue for the city and would still be paying over $3 million in property taxes over that time period. 

Library Place, the final project discussed has been the subject of great controversy among community residents. After a public battle over its demolition process in December, many people came to the meeting and spoke during the public comment portion to say the abatement should be denied, with a select few wanting the abatement to go forward. Most of the public’s thoughts on the project argued that the developer, Travis-Hyde, erred in the asbestos removal process during demolition.  

Susie Kramer, who resides near the site along North Cayuga Street, has been vocal about her disapproval of this project. Kramer placed plastic over her windows and porch to minimize the exposure to any asbestos coming from the library. Other members of the public want the abatement denied due to Travis Hyde not using local labor, and that the housing building, aimed at active senior citizens, would not serve an affordable or middle-income market. Since its inception, the project has not promised any type of below-market rents, but controversy has arisen since then after a change in the Community Investment Incentivization Tax Abatement Program (CIITAP) policies in the city, which now require 20 percent affordable housing units to receive an abatement, with some exceptions.

The project was approved before that change was enacted, though, which is what has generated the debate over whether the changes apply to Old Library. Mayor Svante Myrick, who is responsible for recommending (or not) projects for tax abatements to the TCIDA, did end up lending his support to the project, though he took the opportunity to offer a critique of the project and the developers' conduct.

"While the project does meet the minimum criteria, it does not meet the recommended affordable housing inclusion criteria passed by Common Council in the summer of 2018," Myrick wrote. "Because we received the application before the Council voted, the applicant does not technically need to meet the new criteria in order to receive this endorsement letter - but we should note that the City has a clear desire to see affordable housing included in all downtown abated housing projects."

There were, however, a select few who wanted to see the project go forward. Three people, of the 15 who participated in public comment, spoke in favor of giving the Travis Hyde the abatement because senior housing is something that should be in downtown Ithaca. However, they did mention that the rents should be reduced because they want to see middle-income empty nesters occupy the building, not wealthier seniors who are able to afford some of the other senior housing in the area.

Members of the board had comments and questions about the development. Chair of the TCIDA Rich John acknowledged that Travis Hyde has been a developer in the area for several years now and acknowledged the Library Place development will not be similar to other developments done in the area but may be just as useful.

Both Arthaus and Library Place voted to be sent to a public hearing as the board had more to discuss the project than the time that was allotted. These projects will be revisited at the agency’s next meeting on May 11.  

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