Student Housing Proposal for State Street Triangle Prompts Debate in Ithaca

Campus Advantage, a company that develops and manages student housing, has created a proposal for a building to replace the Elmira Savings Bank at the State Street Triangle, with the potential to bring hundreds of new residents and jobs to Downtown Ithaca. While there is plenty of excitement about the building’s potential, some voices throughout the community believe student housing would not be the best option for one of Ithaca’s prime redevelopment locations.

The developer, based in Austin, Texas, has a goal of establishing a higher standard for student housing facilities. The $74.6 million proposal is for an 11-story residential building with the capacity of almost 600 residents in 232 units. The residence will offer one, two, three, four and five-bedroom units, and computer labs, a fitness center, convenience store, study rooms and social rooms.

On Sept. 22, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance passed a resolution approving the proposal. This only stands as an endorsement for the proposal, as the company will need site plan and tax abatement approval before anything is set in stone. In an Oct. 14 Facebook post, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick stated that the proposal does not meet the community’s vision for the location, encouraging the developer to withdraw their application and go back to the drawing board.

Campus Advantage said it is looking at adjustments for the project proposal and has nothing new to share about its status. The company has done much research on how the building will impact the economy and landscape of downtown. In their fact sheet for the proposal, the developer concluded that the building would generate $7.55 million in property tax in the first 10 years after construction because of a tax abatement program and $1.6 million annually after that for perpetuity.

They estimate the project will generate $145.4 million in local income over 10 years and support 830 jobs during the construction, along with 221 jobs beyond construction. They also plan to have local retail on the first floor. However, some voices in the community believe this building would not be in the best interest of Ithaca’s full-time residents.

“There seem to be two things that people who don’t like this project object to,” said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. “One is the mass of the building. It is a wide building that takes up the whole block. The second issue is there are people who don’t like the use and argue that student housing isn’t appropriate there.”

Jerry Martins, co-owner of the kitchen supply store Now You’re Cooking on The Commons, is concerned about the proposal because his business, like some others downtown, is not tailored toward college students. He said he feels this building would create a college-like atmosphere, taking away from the unique experience of visiting downtown.

“Bringing many more students would definitely change the nature, and we would become more like Collegetown,” he said. “A lot of our seniors want to live downtown where they can get to everything, and those are the people that will frequent the shops downtown and restaurants. That would not be an attractive place for people who wanted to come and spend an interesting afternoon downtown and shop the unique shops.”

Martins said he likes the idea of a residence building at the Triangle, but believes it should appeal to a broader type of resident as opposed to just students. He suggested that other developers can bring even more benefits than this proposal does.

“We are not anti-development or anti-customers at all,” he said. “Just put something that is better for the community and something that would actually benefit a variety of stores downtown, not just a few of them. If these guys don’t build it, then somebody else will take its place.”

Ferguson, however, said he believes there is a place for students downtown. Ithaca housing codes do not distinguish what type of resident, whether it be students or senior citizens, can live in certain parts of town.

“The students are our business, our economy works around them,” he said. “I’m not concerned about a student project coming into downtown. We have spent a good part of our budget trying to get kids to come down to the community, off the hills. It is a whole lot easier if they are living here.”

Brett Bossard, executive director of Cinemapolis, said he thinks the idea would be a better use of the Triangle and is excited about the potential of almost 600 new residents within walking distance of his theater. Since students make up a huge portion of Ithaca’s population, he said he believes every business downtown reaches the students in some way.

“I think we all benefit from students being a part of this community, financially and culturally,” he said. “It could very well be that certain stores may serve an audience that is made up of less students, but I think we are all serving students in one way or another. It is just the nature of business in Ithaca.”


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