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Old Posted Mar 28, 2013, 3:06 PM
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Here's another story about the Harold's Square project downtown from the Ithaca Times):

Mixed-use project to offer up apartments, retail and commercial space on the Commons

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 12:00 am
By Rob Montana Ithaca Times

Apartments, retail and office spaces will combine in the next several years to bring a large mixed-use project to the Commons – a project that could shape the face of downtown Ithaca’s pedestrian mall as much as its upcoming reconstruction.

Coinciding with the Commons reconstruction project, Harold’s Square will help create a new look for development downtown. The project will include redevelopment of the historic Henry Miller Building (formerly occupied on the ground floor by Benchwarmers) at 137-139 The Commons, as well as new construction extending west that will include parcels at 133, 135 and 123-127 The Commons.

The new complex will total approximately 126,000 square feet. That will include:

— Approximately 16,000 square feet of ground floor retail space

— Approximately 47,000 square feet of professional office space on three floors

— Approximately 36 market rate apartments in a six-story tower, which is planned to be set back approximately 75 feet from the project’s four-story Commons-facing façade.

The developer for the project, L Enterprises, is planning the project under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED guidelines, with emphasis on energy efficiency, natural light, healthy work and living space, and the incorporation of natural green rooftop elements on the four-story portion of the project.

In addition to the split levels planned for the project — four stories on the Commons side, with an additional six stories on the Green Street side — another unique aspect is the look of each portion.

David Lubin, who is the majority owner of L Enterprises with his sister, Enid Littman, said the idea to create the four-story Commons side and the six-story tower on the Green Street side was to keep it from being too imposing next to the pedestrian mall. The different looks for both sides was planned to enhance the visual impact of the new construction.

“The Commons is made up of a number of different architecture types and designs developed over the last 100 years or so, there’s a kind of rhythm to it,” Lubin said. “The newer buildings on the Commons don’t really capture that rhythm. The idea, on the Commons side, is that if you look at the entryway, it looks like one sort of building, if you look at the front, it will look like another building.

“The design is done with a few different features, we put a balcony in there, to give it a rhythm,” he added. “It won’t be one roof line, so it doesn’t look like a solid, 130-foot building face. But, we also wanted to make it have a more classic look to keep it in context with the Commons, which is more or less a historic site.”

The apartment tower will be more modern looking, a design that Lubin said, wouldn’t have fit in as well with the Commons facades.

“As you’re seeing it from the hillsides, hopefully we will have a nice influence on the skyline of the Commons,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be a unique building that will help frame the Commons.”

The retail spaces, he said, should offer businesses looking to set up shop in downtown Ithaca a different footprint to offer their wares and services.

“One of the big problems with the Commons is that the buildings are 130-feet deep and not very wide for that depth, so a lot of existing retail is not what we call mainline retailers. There are a lot of restaurants, galleries, unique shops,” Lubin said. “If you only want 2,500-square-feet, a typical retail size, you become a place like Alphabet Soup, where you have a space that is 20-feet wide and 130-feet long. The retail space (at Harold’s Square) would allow for more generally accepted retail space. That was one of the ideas, to be able to offer a variety of spaces that are not available on the Commons now.

“We’re hoping to have new retail, companies that are obviously not the mall-type places, but ones that are different than what’s there now,” he added. “Hopefully this will help, I won’t say it will eliminate it, but I hope it will help mitigate the urban sprawl that’s been going on.”

The apartments will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom offerings, but the details are still being finalized. They will be market rate apartments, Lubin said, meaning the rents will be in line with what the cost of newly-constructed units are going for in the City of Ithaca.

“We’re not going after just the college market, we’re hopefully going to have young professionals and visiting faculty,” he said. “A lot of people come into the community from not only outside of the area, but outside of the country. Those visiting faculty may want more of an urban experience – some people don’t feel comfortable in the country – and they tend to want to continue the experience with which they are comfortable.”

The project will include an atrium in the center of the complex, with two main entrances – one to the Commons, the other to Green Street – and an connection on the third floor to the Green Street parking garage.

“A lot of people will be parking and coming in from the Green Street side, but businesses want to have their entrance on the Commons and to be a part of the Commons,” Lubin said. “It’s kind of hard to put an entrance on the front if everybody is coming in on the back side – if the office had a front entrance and a back entrances, you’d have to have two receptionists – so we decided to put in the common area space. This way, people can walk up the stairs to get to the offices, and it helps unify the parking garage to the Commons.”

The former Alphabet Soup (the store has moved into a space in Center Ithaca), Night & Day and Race Office Supply (currently the home of Funky Junk) buildings will be demolished to make way for the new construction; the historic Henry Miller building (home to Mate Factor and former location of Benchwarmers) will be incorporated into the project.

“The reality is they are one-story buildings,” Lubin said of the three that will be torn down. “Obviously, if you’re going to put up a four-story building, you’re going to make better use of the spaces. It creates more customers and a lot more density.

“Of course, all your services come together in downtown, so we’re going to leverage those utilities, the infrastructure, like the public transportation, banking, government institutions,” he added. “Obviously, developing that area helps create a better situation.”

According to information from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, as it announced the project late last year, it is estimated the project will lead to the creation or retention of between 110 and 150 full-time office positions, 12 to 15 full-time retail positions and 100 construction jobs expected from the start of demolition through the completion of the project.

Addtionally, the new construction is projected to add a total of $500,000 more in property tax revenues for the City of Ithaca, Ithaca City School District and Tompkins County, as well as add $200,000-$300,000 in new sales tax revenues.

With the extensive height – a total of 10 stories and 140 feet – for the proposed Green Street side of the project, a variance would be required for Lubin to move forward. It has been proposed, however, – and it is currently being considered by the Common Council’s Planning & Economic Committee to re-zone that area of downtown Ithaca to allow for heights such as what the project is proposing. If such a re-zoning effort went forward, that would not require application for a height variance.

Even with that variance or zoning change still undetermined, Lubin is hopeful demolition on the buildings not being incorporated into the design will commence this summer.

“I hope to have that completed and have the initial four stories built out in about a year; I want to have them ready to start tenant improvements by next June or July,” he said. “I would like to have the tower finished, probably, by the end of 2014, the end of December 2014.

“It will depend on the tenants and the financing, but that’s the plan if things go well,” Lubin added. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the city and everybody has been very cooperative.”

With a mix of retail, office and residential spaces in the complex, there is a potential for Harold’s Square to become a hub of activity in downtown Ithaca.

“Certainly some kind of a hub, in that, we’re trying to give people a destination and bring in businesses – we have three floors of office space, and we’re trying to provide new jobs and continue to have jobs on the Commons,” Lubin said. “We’re hoping it will create a strong consumer area and those offices may, depending on what they are, draw people to the area.

“I’d like this to be an important building to downtown,” he added. “I really think, and I’ve said this before, that Ithaca is one of the very few downtowns in upstate New York that I would invest in.”

The reconstruction of the Commons should bring about a renewed interest in downtown Ithaca and bring with it an uptick in its cyclical nature of commerce, something Lubin has seen before.

His father acquired the National Army-Navy store that was located in the Clinton House on Cayuga Street in 1962, renamed it Harold’s and later moved it to the Commons in 1969. Lubin later ran that business which had developed into a 16-store chain, closing it in 1998 when he decided to get out of retail business.

“Retail was changing, there wasn’t a good future there,” he said.

But the fact remains that Lubin did bear witness to a bustling Commons in the 1990s when Harold’s was still open.

“When I had the store on the Commons, it was hopping, people hung out down there,” he said. “The Commons has run down and it isn’t as attractive a spot as it had been. But, I think it’s a cyclical situation and with the advent of the new Commons surface and new investment, retail will come back and it will again be a popular spot.

“Everything has taken this suburban flight, has gone to the shopping centers and malls, so we’re not going to get a K-Mart or Target to come downtown,” Lubin added. “But Ithaca is a unique area and I think it can attract a unique retail contingent unlike anything else in New York state. I think it can be very successful again; I’ve seen it happen before and I think it can happen again.”

A rendering of what the new construction portion of the Harold’s Square complex will look like on the Commons

A rendering of what the proposed Harold’s Square complex will look like from Green Street. In view are the six stories of apartments planned to rise above the four stories of commercial and retail space.

Here's the link:
Get off my lawn you whippersnappers!!!!!
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