ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca Voice is aware that we’ve been talking about this project for years and years. But nothing speaks quite so firmly as cold, hard cash. The state of New York has awarded $2 million to the City of Ithaca to jumpstart activity at the SouthWorks (formerly ChainWorks) on South Hill.

The money was awarded as part of the seventh round of the RESTORE NY program. According to its website, “{t}he Restore New York Communities Initiative provides municipalities with financial assistance for revitalization of commercial and residential properties. The program encourages community development and neighborhood growth through the elimination and redevelopment of blighted structures.”

Cities of Ithaca’s size were allowed to submit one project for consideration of a grant worth up to $2 million, with a second grant for a limited number of “special awards” worth up to $10 million for highly visible and blighted properties in Central Business Districts. For instance, the city of Auburn in Cayuga County received $8.5 million to renovate the former Bombardier rail car plant to house suppliers to the Micron chip plant underway in the Syracuse suburbs (and the jobs those suppliers provide).

There were three basic rules for submissions — they had to come from municipalities (meaning they were vetted), they had to demonstrate a minimum 10% cash match, and they had to be subject public hearing, which the Common Council did last December. Projects were graded based on their ability to revitalize urban areas, induce commercial investment, and improve local housing stock—about $112.9 million was awarded to 70 projects statewide.

Just a quick refresher, SouthWorks is an approved $400 million project that would redevelop the former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission site on South Hill into a mixed-used live/work/play neighborhood. Since last winter, the development has been led by Philadelphia-based SHIFT Capital, alongside the original developer, David Lubin of L Enterprises. Also taking part in the project are Rochester-based US Ceiling Corp and New York City-based Xylem.

“At SouthWorks, we’re looking to re-energize the old Emerson complex with bold ideas, build a stronger connected community on site and with the Greater Ithaca community, and create significant economic impact for the City and Town of Ithaca,“ said Brian Murray, SHIFT Partner-CEO. “The Restore Grant, along with funding from our grant partners, allows our team to move forward with the initial phase of SouthWorks’ redevelopment plan, helping to drive our community-focused vision.”

“With the help of the City team, including Nels Bohn and Tom Knipe, we approached the Restore NY grant process with a simple abatement and demolition project as a catalyst to get the larger SouthWorks project moving forward. We are now defining each sub-project within the larger context, breaking it up into more manageable pieces. This will keep momentum going on the development, while also giving us the chance to revisit the master planning and design processes, get the community involved, and work on financing and phasing,” added project representative Vicki Taylor Brous.

When fully built out, a process that is expected to take over a decade, SouthWorks will offer over 1.7 million square feet of renovated and new mixed-use space, including 915 residential units, manufacturing/tech space, commercial office space, and a variety of commercial service and retail units. The multi-faceted project would result in complete environmental cleanup of the 95-acre Morse Chain/Emerson Power site, which has been contaminated with hazardous chemicals stemming from its century of heavy industrial use.

The first phase of Southworks calls for renovations of four buildings on site — Buildings 21 and 24 would be renovated into 179,000 square-feet of mixed commercial and residential space, and Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated into 171,000 square-feet of modern industrial/manufacturing space.

The $2 million awarded by New York State will largely cover the costs of an initial $2.93 million plan for lead paint and asbestos abatement in Building 24, as well as selective demolition to promote site circulation, and facilitate installation of an 850 ft. length of a public multi-use recreation trail.

While the official statement notes that the development team will “return to the approvals process” this summer, rumors are circulating that the SouthWorks personnel are planning to submit paperwork to the town of Ithaca for the construction of brand new buildings on the site — the project was approved on general terms back in 2019, but specific developments are subject to traditional Site Plan Review under the site’s zoning as approved by the city and town of Ithaca.

In addition to the Restore NY grant, Ithaca Area Economic Development, recently received an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant for $250,000 to conduct infrastructure planning at the site.

“Most of the infrastructure on the site is over 100 years old, and we are just now starting to evaluate and plan for its repair and replacement with the award of the ARC grant,” said Taylor Brous.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at