Common Council heard several comments from people concerned about the pace of the Commons reconstruction project at their meeting on Wednesday evening.
Most notable was developer and landlord Jason Fane, whose estimated tax assessment for 2014 was over $19 million, the seventh-largest in Tompkins County that year, behind NYSEG, Cornell, Dominion Resources, Kendall at Ithaca, the Pyramid Mall, and “Buffalo-Ithaca Associates I LLC,” which holds the Tops plaza.
Fane's Ithaca Renting holds a number of properties on the Commons, including the spaces that Jabberwocky and Natalia's Boutique recently vacated.
“The rebuilding of the Commons has been going on about three years,” Fane said. “And it's creating a serious problem for the retailers. Some of the weaker retailers have already closed their businesses or moved off the Commons, and others have told me they're in danger of joining that group soon.”
“This affects the livelihood of people, with their businesses,” Fane continued. “It affects sales tax collections, it affects the jobs of employees who work at these stores, and it affects landlords. I'm telling you this to emphasize the importance of getting this job done quickly—and hopefully you can focus your attention on this matter.”
Another speaker was Casablanca pizzeria owner Adil Griguihi, a frequent critic of the Commons project at public meetings, who asked about promises the Commons would “look nice” by graduation weekends and said it now looks like a “war zone.”
Buzz Dolph, of Ithaca Stone Setting, offered his thoughts to Council as well.
“There's been so much talk about delays caused by underground piping, whatever, not finding competitive bids on bid day because there's so much other work on the street,” Dolph said. “I talked to several contractors looking for the job and they said the only reason they didn't bid the job was because the drawings were horrible, some of the worst I've ever seen.”
In a three-page letter Dolph submitted to Council, Dolph laid the blame for “80 percent of the problems of this job” with Sasaki, the Watertown, Mass. based firm that drew up the plans.
“As the job progressed, it become apparent, to all of the people working on the job, that drawings were weak,” Dolph wrote. “Seemingly every day, layout conflicts come up. The superintendents on the job have been going nuts trying to move the job forward only to find yet another design or layout problem. Every one of these discoveries slows the job down and usually adds cost. So, not only was the job grossly over budget, the drawings are just plain bad.”
Dolph continued on to tell Council he was told that the fountain, which was removed from the plans last year to save about $500,000, might be put back into the project (if the Downtown Ithaca Alliance could raise outside funds, according to October 2014 reports). Dolph thus made a quarter-scale model, showed it off, and was told Sasaki would be consulted in January—and he's not yet heard anything back since.
During Council's response to comment time, planning director JoAnn Cornish told Council that concrete pouring is ahead of schedule on the Commons, with a scheduled completion time in late July.