ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca Professional Building has a design as distinct as its name is indistinct. Located at 308 North Tioga Street, it looks to the road with a face of tan brick and a large two story window covered by a metal lattice of small circles.
Once full of law offices, it’s mostly been vacated since the county purchased it in 2021, along with the adjacent Key Bank building, with the stated intent of constructing a new “Center of Government” on the sites to address its need for more office space.
The Tompkins County legislature was aiming to start the process of deconstructing the Ithaca Professional Building, but before that can happen it appears that the county may need to do a little more planning. At the moment, there isn’t actually a settled plan for a Center of Government, and while there is a stated commitment to build the new office complex, that alone might not justify a higher government purpose which would allow the county to supersede the city’s land use laws.
At a meeting of the Tompkins County Facilities and Infrastructure Committee in which this issue was discussed, Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes told lawmakers on Thursday that, “In the absence of a plan to construct a Center of Government building in its place we are essentially saying we are going to deconstruct a building without a plan, and that […] runs us afoul of the city’s land use policies.”
County officials will be seeking out a decision from a land use attorney and/or the county attorney to help clear up what procedural hoops need to be jumped through. Without being able to prove a “higher government purpose” as the cause for deconstruction of the Ithaca Professional Building, the county would have to submit to a site plan review with the city. It’s unclear if the county’s commitment to develop the area is enough alone.
Among the issues that the county has with its office space arrangements, it is taking up space in the county court building. But the situation isn’t a permanent one. The county is required to provide space for court operations, which also needs more room. The court agreed to hold out and wait for the county to expand its office space, and not force out the Tompkins County Clerk’s Office while the county pursued its plan for a new Center of Government, which was first announced in 2019.
It appeared that deconstructing the Ithaca Professional Building would have been a decision that could have been settled in short order, and move the county one step closer to expanding its office space. The protracted timeline has begun to test the patience of some on the county legislature.
Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) said on Thursday, “How many times do we make a decision and a commitment and back off it and then change our mind? I will admit I am probably the least patient person on this Legislature, but this has been going on for three years. We need to fish or cut bait.”
And yet, objections are still being raised about the project of building a new Center of Government. The Ithaca Professional Building, as well as the adjacent Key Bank Building on Tioga Street, have both been discussed as the ideal locations for a new office building for the county.
Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) said that he was opposed to the idea of constructing a whole new building, raising the question of why the Key Bank Building and the Ithaca Professional Building wouldn’t serve the county’s needs for more office space.
It’s still possible that the county could reverse course and try to solve its need for more office space through other means than building a new Center of Government, such as along the lines that Brown suggested.
There is a clock ticking to solve the issue. The court system wants the office space that the county is using at the courthouse, said Dawson. “Sooner or later they’re going to lose patience with us, and then what are we going to do?”