ITHACA, N.Y.—Tompkins County is moving forward with its plans to construct a Center of Government building in downtown Ithaca while county officials juggle the need for more space for employees and the voiced desire to consolidate more of its employees and services at a central location. 

The county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee approved a resolution Aug. 18 to move consideration of “space, architectural and engineering plans” to the full County Legislature, which will discuss the matter and hold a final vote at its Sept. 5 meeting. 

The proposed facility would be built in the 300 block of North Tioga Street and is slated to be between 43,000-51,000 square feet. After conducting a study for the county, HOLT Architects determined that size would be necessary. 

The estimated $40 million facility, as proposed, would be on the land at 300-308 North Tioga Street, currently occupied by the Key Bank Building on the corner of North Tioga Street and East Buffalo Street and the adjacent Ithaca Professional Building, both of which have tenants whose leases are ending in August 2023 and February 2024.

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The resolution passed 3-1 in committee, with Legislators Randy Brown, Deborah Dawson and Greg Mezey voting in favor and colleague Mike Lane voting against (committee member Lee Shurtleff was not in attendance). The resolution states that the county should proceed with the plans and that County Administrator Lisa Holmes and her staff assess options for which services would move into the Center of Government. It also directs the county to initiate a request for architectural and design consultants to submit design possibilities. 

A need for action was a frequently mentioned motivator for those voting in favor, with Brown particularly emphasizing that he feels the county has moved “way too slow” on the issue. 

The possibility of repurposing the buildings in question was discussed, though Mezey said he felt that was too expensive and too burdensome logistically. Brown and Dawson floated the idea of “auditions” for proposals, as Dawson put it, to refine the county’s choices down to the best options.

“I remember several years ago somebody brought forward a drawing of this very modern building that just would look crappy sitting in the middle of the downtown area and adjacent to the historic buildings,” Dawson said. “I’m really hoping if we go forward with this, we’ll build something that resonates with the surrounding buildings, particularly the courthouse.” 

Brown said the idea of presenting some number of the proposals for either public feedback or reaction before proceeding with a final plan was important, noting the rarity of the opportunity.” 

“It’s a community building, it belongs to the people,” Brown said. “All the input they can have, or can observe, would be important.” 

Lane held steadfast to his objections throughout the meeting. He maintained that the process deserves a more thorough discussion than what the committee conducted at its meeting that day, and said the county had not moved faster on the plans because of the tenants still in the buildings. 

“There is nothing wrong with Tompkins County preserving the area of its campus,” Lane said. “Our campus is here, on both the 300 and 400 block of Tioga Street. […] I don’t have a problem with the resolution—I don’t think we’re ready for it.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at