On May 8, the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA) approved tax abatements for the Library Place and Arthaus developments, despite community indifference. Like many meetings before, community residents flocked to the meeting attempting to convince the board one last time.
Robert Lynch, who is running for Enfield Town Board, spoke about how in past years TCIDA has focused on bringing projects that create jobs for the community. He continued by saying the project should not receive an abatement because this project becomes a burden to taxpayers while it should be put on developer Travis Hyde Properties.
Susie Kramer addressed the board with similar points, urging the board to reject the abatement because of changes made after the application as submitted. She encouraged the board to take some time to review the application and other information submitted by Travis/Hyde and reconvene for the approval.
Other residents came forward saying the project should receive the abatement because there is a need for senior housing in Ithaca that is both affordable and nestled in downtown. One resident came forward to comment that both projects should start using local labor, union or not. While these projects are going to bring housing to Ithaca, developers should start considering local contractors to generate jobs for those who need them.
Board members acknowledged that the road to bringing this project to fruition has been one paved with the indifference of residents. Chairman of the Board Rich John found this project has been a highly polarizing project for the community. He found that during many of the public hearings on how to allocate the land, public opinion was split down the middle. John also said he was bothered by how unproductive this piece of land was.
Jennifer Tavares, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, was supportive of the project and shared an anecdote from one of the previous public hearings about the project. Two residents, aged 89 and 93, living farther out in Tompkins County see Library Place as a chance to be near the amenities they need. Now, they are trying to manage and tend seven acres of land, which has become more of a challenge as they get older. This, along with comments that there is a need for this type of housing, made Tavares sure this project was going to have numerous benefits for the community.
After the board’s deliberations, they voted 4 to 1 in favor of the project with Leslyn McBean-Clairborne opposing. She has historically voted against this project as she feels the land could have been repurposed for use by the Tompkins County Legislature. Her initial no came after the project was changed from what was being sought out through the Request for Proposal. She said, though, other reasons have influenced her rejection of this project in the past and the present.
“I felt that this was a perfect opportunity and a perfect spot for us as a county to demonstrate a little bit more commitment to what we preach in terms of low-income or affordable housing,” McBean-Clairborne said. “Let me be clear in what I mean by that. I understand the need for market rate housing. I support housing for seniors downtown. But, I also support housing for our most vulnerable low-income residents downtown as well. I was triggered a couple of years ago, maybe two or three, by an article in the Ithaca Times. I think the headline said ‘Tompkins County Exports Its Poor’ or something like that. I remember reading that and thinking of how most people who are low-income are being pushed further and further outside of the city core and away from services, the very services they need, and for many of them the difficulty of having too get reliable transportation to get back into the city because the bulk of our jobs are in Ithaca. I was struck by that article and I felt we had a perfect opportunity here to begin to reverse that or at least show some commitment to reversing that.”
McBean-Clairborne found that many developments downtown should start including at least three to four units of affordable housing in their projects. While she did acknowledge the development of Arthaus, she wants to see more affordable housing in the downtown core of Ithaca.
Lynch felt the decision is just another example of democracy in action but the inequity of the abatement process was part of Lynch’s core argument. He found the TCIDA should be focused on developing industry and creating jobs. Overall, he doesn’t mind that people want to live in the new development, but that it should stand on its own two feet financially, instead of on the taxpayer’s back.
“An IDA’s role is not to prop up a borderline-viable real estate venture and ensure its developer a profit,” Lynch said. “By the developer’s own admission, Travis Hyde’s subsidiary would create zero new direct jobs. And any ‘indirect jobs’ created by, for example, the building’s in-house restaurant, are highly suspect. More likely, wait staff—and patrons—will just be transferred from one restaurant to another. People can only eat three meals a day. As I said, ‘Frost Travis’ gain is Moosewood’s loss.’” Bills are pending in the State Senate and Assembly that would reform Industrial Development Agencies, return them to their original mission, accord Organized Labor a seat at the table, and limit the influence of politicians by restricting their eligibility for membership.”
Comments about Arthaus were overwhelmingly positive. John Spence, executive director of the Community Arts Partnership (CAP), said Arthaus is a must for the city since it creates affordable housing. Brett Bossard, executive director of Cinemapolis, found that Arthaus will be good for the community because it allows the creativity of artists and other residents in the arts to have a place to call home.
Members of the board echoed many of the community comments made, with John Guttridge thinking the location helps an underdeveloped part of Ithaca thrive. Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was in favor of the project but thought that some design changes to the size of the windows should be made. She felt that the small windows and concrete walls could be reminiscent of a prison.
Other business before the TCIDA was a resolution to approve the revised abatement for the Canopy by Hilton. Since the project received a 100-percent abatement last year, upon its opening during the summer of this year, there would be a 0-percent abatement and a 100-percent abatement in the year following that. The board approved the abatement unanimously. The board also approved new policies but felt that the language in the new bylaws should be sent back to the Governance Committee for further review.