Progress in Collegetown?

9 03 2014


Given the chance to look back at high-value projects over the past 30 years, one would find that, until the past several years, the list would be dominated by projects in Collegetown. Reasons abound- quoting developers, students “are looking for quality“, while increasing land values (comparable to downtown Los Angeles) have persuaded property owners to upgrade their stock and maximize their returns. The city has in general promoted Collegetown redevelopment since its slummier days, with relaxed policies in the 1980s and a couple of brief moratoriums allowing for reassessment (ex. the moratorium of 1999/2000, when the newly-built 312 College Avenue rubbed some locals the wrong way).

As of late, though, development in the Collegetown area has tapered down. There have been a couple projects over the past several years: 309 Eddy was completed in 2012, and 320 Dryden in 2008. If you want to stretch it, you can add 107 Cook, but that has less bedrooms than the building that burnt down. The big glaring omission here is Collegetown Terrace, but that is being built just outside of what is traditionally considered Collegetown.

A big factor in all of this has been the uncertainty in Collegetown’s zoning. Since about 2008, Collegetown’s zoning has been in flux. The city and Cornell paid about $200k for an urban planning company (Goody Clancy) to design a plan, which came out in 2009. The  project freaked out some residents and local politicians, who saw it as too dense and too much, period. Then the planning board went and took it in the opposite direction, proposing zoning that would force smaller buildings and reduced density. I made a b*tchy little rant when that happened. Since the old images can’t be blown up (I had an issue with that for a while back in 2009 or so), the numbers for the Goody Clancy plan can be seen better here on page 161. I’ve been unable to find another copy of the first revision, not that it specially matters since the plan was accepted, repealed in 2011 after a potential lawsuit from landowners, and has been revised seemingly a dozen times since, debating everything from the necessity of porches in certain zones, to the tremendous fight over maximum heights on the intersection of College and Dryden (90′ in the GC plan, 60′ for first revision, now 80′), to parking and encouraging townhouses. After much back and forth, something is now finally in place.

The final version is the Collegetown Area Form Districts guideline, the implemented form of the plan. The key thing with the is plan is the form-based zoning; traditional zoning focuses on regulating use and overarching parameters (lot size, density), form-based zoning scrutinizes design. Form-based zoning has been popular in new urbanism for encouraging walkable, mixed-use communities, an early example being Florida’s Seaside community.


The plan has six zone types, each with its own tweak on the design guidelines. CR-1 to CR-4 are increasingly denser forms of “Collegetown Residential”, MU-1 and MU-2 are mixed use, with active street engagement through ground floor commercial or public uses.


Compared to the Goody Clancy plan, the Dryden/College core isn’t as dense, but the floor count and maximum heights are even higher than suggested in some spots, for instance College at Bool Streets. But the primary focus of the plan is on the design of buildings. CR-1 and CR-2 will be large house forms with pitched roofs, CR-3 for 2-3 unit large homes/duplexes. CR-4 accommodates large houses, townhomes, and small-to-medium size apartment buildings. MU-1 welcomes medium-sized mixed use structures, while MU-2 is for the largest mixed-use buildings, up to 6 floors and 80 feet in height (think 403 College for example). Worth noting, most of Collegetown Crossing falls into MU-2, but the back end edges into a CR-4 Linden Avenue property also owned by developer Josh Lower. Since CR-4 is residential only, the difference would force him to make a redesign to reduce the building’s footprint, but at least parking will no longer be a concern. This December 2013 article says that required off-street parking was removed from CR-4 and the MUs, but I still see it listed in the guidelines as “required off-street parking” under accessory uses. Hopefully it’s just my paranoia; the IJ also said the parking reqs were also waived for the MUs when the plan was adopted.

The Sun, the IJ and other articles note the “strong support” for the plan. I can only hope, after six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless meetings, that the city will have something to show for its efforts. Housing is only getting tighter in Collegetown, and developers are simply looking outside the core for their projects, so to have some guideline in place will hopefully spur some investment into Collegetown’s poorly-maintained and underutilized properties.

Making Room(s) at Collegetown Terrace

21 02 2014

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Here’s an interesting concept coming out of Collegetown Terrace: A proposal to exchange some of the interior parking for more housing. This info comes courtesy of the city of Ithaca, which will have to grant a zoning variance in order to let such a change proceed.

The last phase of Collegetown Terrace (phase III)  is slated to begin later this year, with construction complete by summer 2015. Phase III is supposed to focus on the construction on the last building, #7 (formally known as 120 Valentine Place), a long, curving building very similar to  the currently underway #5. The whole complex as-is provides 1177 bedrooms and 699 parking spaces (5 more than legally required). However, the developer (Novarr-Mackesey) has noted that only about 50% of tenants utilize parking, which means about 100 will go unused (guest parking tends to only make up a very small % of lot use). They have put forth a rather unusual proposal where the second floor of parking for building 7 would instead be 80 units of dorm-style housing: all tenants get their own bed and bath, but share kitchens and community spaces. After reconfiguring some two-bedrooms to three-bedrooms, the net gain of units is 69 (from 178 to 247 in Bldg. 7).  The current buildings, #5 (112 Valentine, 167 units) and #6 (113 Valentine, 71 units) would be unchanged. Zoning calls for 703 parking spaces in the new setup, the develop wants to put in only 652, which they claim it would still result in 50 underused spaces. So here we are. I know even the regulated 9 additional spaces for 80 more units seems a little unbalanced, but the unit reconfiguration and the small square footage of those “dorms” allow it to be so. Changes to the exterior are expected to be minimal.

At a glance, this is a nifty idea – the dorm units are expected to rent for about 50-67% the cost of a typical studio or one-bedroom in the complex (which looks to be around $1000, so $500-$670 for these). Since Collegetown Terrace mostly appeals to wealthier echelons, this sort-of mixed-income aspect is appealing, and it gives a different group of landlords increased competition for tenants; also, it makes for a denser parcel, and does a favor to those seeking to buoy business in Collegetown, and avoid more home-to-rental conversions. However, I doubt the neighbors will be amused (some are not fans of having so many college students gathered in one complex), and the parking discussion (which so far is based only off “experience”) will be reviewed with a figurative magnifying glass. I feel like this project could be a major test-bed of the city’s evolving views on parking requirements.

Collegetown Terrace Progress Photos, 12/2013

6 01 2014

I always carry a second set of charged batteries on me when I do these little photo tours, because the last thing I want is to have my day cut prematurely short, or pay out the nose for a new pack of AAs (I rotate through two sets of rechargeables, for the record). It doesn’t help me much when I leave the extra set on the passenger’s seat of my car, which is parked way up on Pearl Street. I was cold and soaked to the bone by the time I finally finished getting all the shots I wanted. Here, there are not only construction photos, but also shots from some less familiar angles of the project.

It still astounds me when I think of the numbers associated with this project. Seven buildings over 12 acres. The net increase in bedrooms is 589 (1,226 total, in at least 610 units). The construction cost exceeds $70 million. Using the Danter study (which assumes a 98-99% occupancy rate), that would mean 580 more residents in this area (although given the intended market, it’s mostly re-appropriation of tenants from other parts of the county). That’s more than the population of nearby Freeville. Certainly, the project has been fraught with contentious debate since it was first proposed. As development goes, it’s the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.

Buildings 5 and 6 are well-underway, heading towards a completion/occupancy date of August 2014; building 7, which is very similar to building 5 but further south (i.e. deeper into) on the property, will be constructed in the 2014-2015 timeframe.

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Building 5 and the elevated walkway.

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Building 6, complete with winter-friendly plastic wrap.

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The rear addition of the George C. Williams House.

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The “Mithcell Plaza“, which incorporates elements from the locally-relevant Delano House that was demolished to make way for the project.

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Vinyl-tastic. I thought these were supposed to be metal panels…?


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No one mind me, I just needed a place to briefly dry off.

Collegetown Terrace Update 7/2013

27 07 2013

Taking a page out of Ithaca Builds’ format – breaking these up to reduce wordpress photo drag. I had exactly 90 minutes to try and hit as much of Ithaca as possible before getting back on the road; I didn’t see everything I wanted, but I hit a lot, and I’ll be sharing those photos over the next few days.

Phase 2 for Collegetown Terrace is nearing completion (units will have their first tenants next month), and phase 3 is underway with a targeted completion date of August 2014. Phase 2 consists of buildings 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, and 3.4. Phase 3 will have buildings 5, 6 and 7, and these buildings will be similar in appearance to phase 2.

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The large glassy entry pavilion (where the fitness center will be, if I remember right) is largely complete, Any work left at this stage would likely be cosmetic details such as finishes.

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Since I’m not the biggest fan of modern architecture, I was a little nervous about the facade treatment when it was first proposed. The metal tiles don’t look half bad, as the landscaping grows in they’ll blend into the environment more nicely.

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The George C. Williams house has been sympathetically renovated, although the addition to the back is rather incongruous.

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Building 3.4 is quite massive, although the north facade attempts to make the structure seem a little less mammoth. The south side, deeper into the gorge, makes less of an effort. Building 5 can be under construction in the above image.

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This guy totally struggled to turn into the street. On that note, I struggled just trying to cross the street. I will be quite relieved when the reworked intersection of State and Mitchell is in place.

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The buildings from Phase 1 are growing out their landscaping and appear to be faring all this construction rather well.

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Not quite sure what the red-and-white checkered flag means, it could be a warning symbol or a company symbol, like the topping pine tree seen with some construction projects.




Collegetown Construction Photos, Spring 2013

9 04 2013

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The last time I rolled through around Thanksgiving, the Vine Street Cottages projects had two homes complete and a third underway. 4.5 months later, and the third home is complete, but the project has shown no further development. 3 homes of 29 is not a particularly auspicious sign, especially when all of the for sale signs nearby had no “sold” stickers slapped on. They’re nice homes, but it’s not easy justifying paying $300k+ when older homes of similar design are going for 100k less five minutes away.

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I still cannot get over how massive the Collegetown Terrace project is. It just dominates the terminating views along the State Street corridor. The work underway at the moment is for Phase II, set to be complete this summer. Phase III will not be as visible, as those buildings will be built closer to the gorge. One thing I did realize in taking photos was that it was extremely difficult to cross East State Street, a sentiment shared by a couple of residents who were cursing loudly while trying to cross the busy road. Thankfully, improvements to the road will be made to make it more pedestrian-friendly, including reworking the traffic lanes/island and adding crosswalks. The entire project will be complete in Summer 2014.

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Which by that time, I would not be surprised to see Novarr-Mackesey initiate plans for the former Palms property and its neighbors, all of which are owned by the development company.

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107 Cook looks to be complete.

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Maybe someday? Hopefully.

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604 East Buffalo Street. Not long ago, it was home to the Crossroads Life Center, a Christian Fellowship organization. Crossroads sold the property in December 2012, anticipating a move to a newly-constructed property that appears to be in substantial need of donations in order to actually happen. Meanwhile, WVBR bought the building for its new studio, moving out of its current digs near East Hill Plaza. In the same vein, the station is in the middle of a capital campaign to renovate the structure for their needs, to the tune of $935,000. The naming rights have been bought in full by left-wing gadfly Keith Olbermann’ 79, whose donation was partly in honor of deceased classmate Glenn Corneliess.  Hence, Olbermann-Corneliess Studios. the station expects to move in by the end of fall 2013.

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Apparently, Pontiac 1000s still exist in the Northeast. Growing up in a family with multiple mechanics, I knew as a child that owning this car, or more commonly its Chevette sibling, pretty much meant you gave up on life. Bravo to the person who’s kept one going this long, well after repairs would be worth more than the car itself.

Creeping in Collegetown

26 03 2013

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I have never understood, nor will ever try to understand, the fascination some have with invading the privacy of young college women in their apartments. A recent Cornell Sun article notes a case where a former Cornell student entered two apartments in the 312 College Ave. apartment building invited. These apartments were occupied by female students, who screamed and/or confronted the guy, causing him to flee. Apart from the obvious threat a guy like this poses, I couldn’t help but think that events like these have been going on for a while now.

My first thought was the “Collegetown Creeper”, a story that I already knew from when I was growing up north of Syracuse, because that’s how much of a media sensation it was. The creeper was tied into at least 18 cases, occurring in 2003 and 2004. Most of the earlier ones were cases of peering through windows into the apartments of young females. Then the creep factor was kicked up a notch in early 2004 when he would break in and watch them sleeping. By the end of his reign of terror, he had graduated to full-blown sexual abuse. At least one victim claimed her clothes were cut off and baby oil was poured onto her. As one might imagine, this created quite a stir, and by the fall of 2004, students were protesting outside Common Council meetings, demanding further action be taken on the issue.

The creeper was eventually arrested in late October 2004. The suspect was identified as Abraham Shorey, who at 23, a married father of six, and sporting Rastafarian-style dreads, seemed as unlikely a sexual criminal as any. Shorey was familiar with the Collegetown area and its crowds, as he worked as a cook over at The Nines. Before his arraignment on charges of burglary and sexual abuse, Shorey posted baiand fled the area. He managed to avoid arrest on two occasions  by producing fake IDs throughout his time as a fugitive. He was arrested a year later in San Diego, where he plead guilty to assault with intent to rape a San Diego County woman in May 2005. DNA evidence collected at the scene of the San Diego incident linked the perpetrator to the events in Ithaca from the previous two years. His sentence in California is seven years and four months, but the charges against him in New York were dropped for a number of reasons (time elapsed, difficulty locating witnesses, etc.)

Unfortunately, much worse has also occurred. Although technically not Collegetown, a 25-year old graduate student was raped and murdered near North Campus in May 1981, her body then dumped into the gorge. Her killer would graduate and go on to seven more murders in downstate NY and CT before being arrested.

Ignoring all the insensitive jokes students make about “forcible touching” here, but female students at Cornell have every reason to be concerned for their safety, in the past, now, and for the foreseeable future.

Beating a Photo Limit

30 11 2012

So apparently, wordpress limits the number of images included in a post now; swell.

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This wooded plot of land at Thurston and Highland is slated to become another apartment complex, this one housing 36 units.

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First covered in one of my very first entries, and then again when Warren Real estate earned the (in my opinion, unenviable) task of selling it. A former Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house, the building was more recently home to Phi Delt’s annex and Theta Xi’s failed colony. The structure has been renovated and appears to be a large apartment house at this point. Not too shabby.

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Collegetown Terrace. Perhaps the biggest visual change from the street was the stripping down of the historic Williams House, which is being renovated to its original dimensions and revitalized as part of the project. Further in, the foundation and parking garage facilities are being laid for the larger, more adventurous apartment buildings of Phase II. This section will be completed by next August, with phase III, with more shiny and overly modern apartments, completed  the following year.

Thanksgiving Construction Update, Part I

30 11 2012

It has occurred to me that when I hop between construction sites, I could possibly be construed as the worst driver on the planet, because I look to get as close as possible, parking or drive-by, without a whole lot of attention to anything around me. So it hardly seems appropriate that my first police ticket ever was last night, driving home through a town I’ve never been in before in my life, where the detour sign for the bridge I needed to cross was knocked askew, and I tried to make my way back to the state highway. According to the police officer, I went through a stop sign, and upon driving back to take photos this morning, I still have no idea which intersection he’s referring to on the ticket (it only gives one street). This will be a weird day in traffic court.

Bad luck, or karma. I suppose it’s one of the two.

Anyway, the below photos were taken the day after Thanksgiving, driving back down 81 heading downstate. Since Ithaca’s only a 25 mile detour each way, carpe diem.

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Checking out Lansing first (as it’s closest to where I get off from 81 southbound), I didn’t notice much in the way of large-scale construction as expected for the new senior homes next to the BJ’s. Although, a utility building did appear to be under construction, seen here on the left side of the image. Update 1/10/13: Only now do I find out this is a new fire station under construction.

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Not too far away, the woody lot behind the Triphammer Mall is slated to be home to a 3/4 story apartment building.

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Over at Cornell, the mostly-subterranean addition to the Law School is well underway. This is but the first phase, with a completion likely in late 2013/early 2014.

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The steel frame of Gates Hall is mostly complete, wish some interior framing underway. The new computer science building, with 101,000 sq ft, will be completed late next year.

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The green roof is being laid for the new classroom attached to Fernow Hall. Renovations on Fernow and Rice continue through 2015.

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The new Stocking Hall/food science addition once again wins the award for “hardest tarp to see through”, a thick black burlap secured fastened to the construction fence. This is why photo number two had to be taken by sliding the camera lens underneath the metal mesh. The new building will be completed roughly next summer, with renovations of the older parts of the Stocking Hall complex to continue into 2014.

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The new building for the Big Red Band appears to be undergoing foundation work, and working were on site when I visited. Being a small, 4,700 sq ft structure, the completion date just a few months away seems fairly appropriate.

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Heading into Collegetown, the Belle Sherman Cottages project has advanced a little further, with a second home complete and a third well under construction (workers were pouring the base for the garage as I walked by). I checked the other lots for “sold” signs, and although some of the land appeared to be disturbed enough for additional foundation work, I did not notice any more sold lots, so this home may be the last built in the near-term.

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The new townhomes at 107 Cook Street are undergoing the last of their exterior work, and will probably be complete by the end of the winter. The two townhomes offer 12 bedrooms total, one less than the destroyed apartment home they replaced.

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This seems like bad planning.

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The concrete bunker of a building still stands solemnly, awaiting news on whether the new Collegetown Crossing building will be on site.

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Ithaca Gun. Still empty since construction/remediation stopped in August due to cost overruns, and seemingly as polluted as ever. At this point, you’ll have to tear out a section of the Earth’s crust to get rid of all the pollution.

An Updated Exercise In Mapping, Part II

25 11 2012


1. The Big Red Marching Band – A 4,400 sq ft practice facility for the marching band is well underway, with completion set for mid-winter 2013.

2. Stocking Hall Renovation/Addition – Structural work is roughly complete on the 136,000 sq ft, 4-story addition, with renovation of the neighboring old Stocking Hall underway. The new portion will be mostly complete by next summer, with rehab work in the 1921 building due for completion the following year.

3. The Law School Addition – Phase I is underway, with a completion expected in winter 2013/2014. The project adds 16,500 sq ft (mostly underground) to the Law School complex.

4. Fernow/Rice Halls Renovation/Addition – Renovations, and the small partially underground addition with a green roof, are underway. Fernow will completion renovation next year, and Rice Hall in 2015.

5. Gates Hall - Probably the most obvious project on campus, the new William Gates computer science building has topped out, with interior and exterior framing underway. Completion of the 101,000 sq ft building should occur in late 2013.


1. The New Humanities Building – The 66,500 sq ft addition/boring glass box next to Goldwin Smith will go out for bidding in mid-2013, with construction likely to begin around winter 2013/2014, and a 2015 completion.

2. The CU ERL Project – Approved, but contingent on funding approvals from the feds. I believe this one isn’t expected to start until 2013, with a five-year time frame for completion (i.e. don’t hold your breath for this one’s ground-breaking). The synchrotron will be expanded, as will the Wilson Lab, for a gain of about 185,000 sq ft.


1. Not Cornell, but pertinent – a four story, 36 unit (88 bed) project for the corner of Thurston Ave. and Highland Ave.


1. The proposal to renovate and complete a $15 million addition to Helen Newman Hall on North Campus has stalled out for the short term, probably because lab space and academic space outcompetes leisure/activity space. It’s a university, after all.

2. Ithaca Gun, with about 45 units proposed. Remediation after remediation after remediation, and I think most people still believe the land is toxic. Construction is on hold until the land is considered clean enough for reuse.


1. The Belle Sherman Cottages – 19 homes and 10 townhouse units, built as the market demands. In the past several months, two homes have been completed, and a third is well underway.

2. Collegetown Terrace – The massive project that ate half of State Street. Phase II is currently underway, with a completion set for next year. When all three phases are complete in 2014, the complex will have added over 650 beds to the Collegetown market (~1,250 gross), in 12 buildings ranging from 3-6 floors.

3. 107 Cook – The rebuild for the deadly fire that destroyed the previous 107 Cook in April 2011. 12 bedrooms, near completion.


1. 67 townhomes proposed in an area just off 79. The housing will be geared towards Cornell employees. Not off the ground yet, but I would expect approvals sometime in 2013.

2. Collegetown Crossing – A six story, 103-bed project (with ten more beds in a house on Linden that will be renovated as part of the project). The ground floor will house a pedestrian walk, a bus stop and commercial space, including a branch of Greenstar Co-Op. The project has gained some notoriety for seeking a huge parking variance, which has aroused the ire of some of its neighbors; a highly-criticized parking study had been conducted.  It does appear the project is close to approval, and if that happens, I’d expect construction to start around late Spring 2013, with an 18 month time frame.

News Tidbits 9/28/12: No Seriously, I Love A News Deluge…

28 09 2012

I feel like a clearing house at the moment, but a bunch of little tidbits have been proposed/modified lately that merit a brief blurb before I return to non-newsy matters.

-67 new townhouses are proposed for the Eastwood Commons area, a relatively dense development out within the suburban neighborhoods south-southeast of Cornell.

The development consists of duplex-style townhomes with a couple of side streets, not new urbanist but definitely in the realm of nodal development. The town will be pleased.

Worth noting, the land needed for the developed is being bought from Cornell. One of the stipulations for this sale is that Cornell employees be given priority for sales; INHS may offer some programming assistance for CU employees with modest incomes.

News item number two comes out from the Ithacan, IC’s newspaper. The Hotel Ithaca project, which was rebranded to a Marriott, has released an updated rendering. While the cladding, roof-ware and entry area have been changed substantially, the building retains its general shape and configuration (however, the changes still need to be re-approved). The project is shooting for a March 2013 construction launch.

While I would prefer they keep the “Hotel Ithaca” theme with it’s Zinck’s-branded bar, I have no qualms about the proposed design – the lines are clean, vaguely modern, and it seems to fit in with the other recent development in the downtown area (this statement assumes homogeneity is preferable). Also, I’d like someone to explain to me all the tallish buildings in the background – are they attempting to make Ithaca look bigger, or attempting to make the building look smaller?

Last on the news wire is that the Collegetown Crossing project, the rather controversial six-story building proposed for the 300 block of College Avenue. The project has obtained an agreement to a 20-year lease from local grocery store co-op Greenstar. This is important for two reasons – the city and many local residents have expressed strong interest in a C-Town grocery store, and it also makes the project lass likely to be just another empty storefront. However, it’ll be a while before Greenstar has to worry about its second third location, since the project is still caught up in red tape with obtaining zoning variances, especially for parking. This project would likely not open until at least 2014, assuming it gets approved in the next few months.


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