ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s been a little while since it was last discussed, but it’s coming back to the forefront of the city’s long-term planning agenda – Ithaca is considering a centralized government campus in the heart of the city on West Green Street.
The central campus would host a new city hall, police headquarters, and central fire station, and they would all be located on the current Central Fire Station property at 310 West Green Street. The existing city hall, police HQ, associated parking lots and possibly the western third of the Green Street garage would be sold off as part of the central campus plan.
Over the past eighteen months, the city has quietly undertaken a $150,000 feasibility study conducted by Pam Kingsbury Architects, which initially began as a study of moving the Collegetown fire station, and expanded into a review of all city-owned facilities under the direction of the mayor.
Depending on the results of a related unreleased study, the Collegetown Fire Station (station No. 2, formerly station No. 9) may also be grouped in as an expansion to the central station, or the existing building may be renovated, or a new station may be built on what’s currently a Cornell-owned parking lot on Maple Avenue.
The feasibility study was tasked with looking at the costs of renovating the existing buildings to keep them fully operational for the next twenty years, or selling them and building new structures at a shared property. This includeed documenting department space needs at present and expected in the next couple decades, as well as existing efficiency and configuration issues (i.e. if keeping the existing buildings, what kind of renovations need to be performed). As part of the study, the city has also obtained appraisals from Midland Appraisers for the city-owned properties that may be sold, and properties that may need to be purchased to accommodate the central campus plan.
At this point, conceptual site plans and construction costs need to be prepared. When ready, these will be brought before the Common Council’s Planning Committee for review. More information about the next steps will be presented at the city’s Planning Committee meeting Wednesday evening, at which all council members, regardless of their committee membership, are encouraged to attend.
A second feasibility study, yet to really get underway, would consolidate Water & Sewer, and Streets & Facilities to a location in the Southwest Park area of Ithaca, adjacent to the proposed Maguire dealerships. The city is considering partnering with Ithaca town or Tompkins County for a joint utilities services complex, although if that route is pursued it may end up at a different site outside city lines.
Part of the impetus to review this now is that the city received $1 million from the state to use towards relocating the Collegetown fire station as part of the $500 million Upstate Redevelopment Initiative. The city is a year behind schedule, and the state is threatening the fire station funding if plans aren’t put forward soon. Several developers have expressed interest in the Collegetown fire station property, and with going rates of $15 million/acre, the sale would potentially be lucrative enough to pay for most or even all of the construction costs of the proposed Maple Avenue station, or it would go a long way towards building the central campus facility.
What the city needs to figure out right now is which plan they want to push ahead with in Collegetown – renovation of the 50-year old station (and therefore give up state funding), a new Maple Avenue station, or relocating and consolidating the Collegetown firemen into a new central campus with the central fire station team. Going with either of the first two options would impact the space needs of the central campus plan, and would need to be taken into account in the last stages of the feasibility study.
On the one hand, this is a long-term plan that would take years to come to fruition. However, this central campus proposal has the capacity to completely reshape Ithaca’s core, effectively extending downtown westward while opening up opportunities for development or redevelopment on city-owned lands. It’s all a bunch of “what if’s” at the moment, but these are very big, very far-reaching “what if’s” that the city is seriously considering. At the very least, it should make for a interesting discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.