Bank Tower

The Bank Tower, which currently houses CFCU’s new downtown location, is looking for more tenants to fill its upper floors now that it has opened. (Photo by Casey Martin)

The basement of the 1932 building once held rooms for valuables, including a fur room, an oriental carpet room, and even a rare book collection. Home to a variety of banks and businesses over time, the building at 200 E. State St. was the first two-elevator structure in downtown Ithaca. Now, though, the Bank Tower stands refurbished, ready for new tenants to fill many of its updated but empty floors. 

“We’ve taken the historic fabric,” said Nathan Lyman, a lawyer and representative for Ithaca Renting, and transformed it to be “future proof,” upgrading the building and adding in new electrical systems, lighting, and an advanced variable refrigerant flow (VRF) temperature system.

The renovations took almost three years following the announcement in the spring of 2017 that the building, owned by the Fane Organization, would not be converted into an apartment building. Most of the office spaces were unoccupied, although Lyman said that there were negotiations in place with tenants for some of the spaces.

CFCU Community Credit union, a company started in Ithaca, occupies the bottom two floors of the historic bank building and has already opened their space to the public. Among the largest credit unions in New York, CFCU has 10 locations and over 75,000 members. At the time of the move, Lisa Whitaker, president and CEO of CFCU Community Credit Union, noted that “on any given day, over 5,000 people pass this location, so it’s a good place for us to be.”

The third floor features large, state-of-the-art conference rooms for tenant use, and the fourth and fifth floors house traditional office spaces designed to mimic much of the original 1930s design. The top two floors—dubbed the “penthouses” by Lyman—were renovated into open-air, expansive office spaces with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive views all around.

The restructuring was done by John Snyder Architects, a local firm with experience in renovating historic buildings, including East State Street offices and the Harold Square Design. The building paid homage to other home-based firms, too: vases in the restrooms were made by a local artisan, Lyman said. 

On the first floor, architects painstakingly sought to preserve the original, intricate ceiling design. For parts of the ceiling’s dentil moldings that were destroyed by ductwork, builders recreated the motif by making and filling a cast mold so that the look would be seamless. 

During the renovation, the architects also sought to be more energy-efficient. Builders repointed the mortar, filling in the areas that had been weathered. The renovated building also incorporated other energy-saving measures, like insulated walls, sensor-based lights, and dual-pane windows. 

When it was built in the 1930s, the seven-story building was up to code, Lyman said. However, bringing it up to meet modern standards involved more work, such as removing stair tiles that had contained asbestos, as well as updating hallway and exit signage. 

Throughout the process, the designers sought to both preserve notable historical portions—“they were smart in the old days,” Lyman said—while also integrating modern technology as much as possible. The terrazzo flooring and many of the doorknobs are original remnants from the old building, as well as the original art-deco mailbox. Third-floor conference rooms featured television that were compatible with Apple Airplay and Google ChromeCast, many rooms utilized electronic, keyless key fobs, and many of the office spaces were designed to be as flexible as possible

How much did all of this construction cost? “A lot,” Lyman admitted. Just the new entryway door hinges on the first floor were $1,500 apiece.


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(1) comment

Jeff Diver

Considering Ithaca is on a flood plain and was formerly a freshwater marsh, I was surprised to learn the basement was considered a safe place for the storage of valuables. Even with modern flood control provisions, downtown Ithaca tends to be a bit watery around the foundations every so often!