Unchained Properties, LLC (UP) finalized a purchase agreement for the former Emerson Power Transmission plant, located on South Aurora Street/Route 96B in Ithaca, New York, and plans to create The Chain Works District, an urban “live, work, play” mixed use neighborhood that will include apartments, office space, small business incubator and flex space; gardens and park, and areas devoted to manufacturing. Rather than clear the spectacular site and start anew, UP intends to re-purpose most of the existing structures as a regional model for innovative design and sustainable adaptive use.
The agreement comes after two years of discussions between the parties and the preliminary review of existing New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Emerson-generated data covering the environmental and developmental complexities of the project. Emerson has made clear its intention to continue their cooperation with the developer and the DEC as it continues its environmental remediation plan intended to make site access safe and redevelopment feasible.
UP began its own environmental due diligence in July 2013 and will now proceed through the NYS Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) compliance process, prepare a draft of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) report, and the project Master Plan — essentially a blueprint laying out the best use of the existing structures and surrounding land. UP believes community involvement will be critical in development of the plan, and intends to encourage participation through a series of public information sessions to hear the community’s ideas and concerns.
Given the scope of redeveloping the 95-acre site – including its 800,000 square feet of existing, highly flexible space – community and governmental involvement is considered a vital component of the work to be done. UP has committed $1.7 million in private funds to the first stage of the project, part of which involves complying with the State’s environmental, historic and smart growth review requirements. The company has also been awarded a $344,000 grant from Empire State Development (ESD) to assist in the process. Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, the Town of Ithaca and Unchained Properties all view the development of The Chain Works District as a pivotal regional force of economic and community development.
Moving forward, UP has set a time-frame to complete this critical starting phase of the project. If the decision is then made to take title to the property, it is expected that the overall project cost will be upwards of $100 million and take seven to ten years to complete.
“Ithaca is such a vibrant city where quality of life is taken seriously,” said David Lubin, managing partner of UP. “The UP team of mostly Upstate professionals, including environmental engineers, architects, landscape architects and structural engineers, is very sensitive to the site’s importance to the community because of its history and its high visibility; we’re intent on bringing it back to life in a responsible way.”
“For the City of Ithaca, the redevelopment of the Emerson Power Transmission site is a vital component in helping Ithaca to continue to thrive in a region that so often struggles economically. The opportunity to create a compelling mixed use development that will create both jobs and housing and re-use a very large existing facility is a win for not only Ithaca, but the larger region as well.”
Svante Myrick, Mayor – City of Ithaca
“The Town of Ithaca has enthusiastically supported the creative redevelopment of the Emerson site. It is hoped that a new use can balance economic development with an increased quality of life for everyone in the Town and City of Ithaca. The Town and the City have worked together with Emerson management to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new ownership and a productive reuse of the facility.”
Herb Engman, Town Supervisor – Town of Ithaca
“From a planning perspective, the possibility that the Emerson complex could become a vibrant mixed use community is beyond exciting. Most cities in Upstate New York continue to see the abandonment of large industrial building with no hope of ever seeing them out to productive use again. The willingness for a private investor to redevelop the Emerson properties is just another indication of what an amazing place Ithaca is. We look forward to the challenges this project brings and will do all we can to bring it to a successful completion.”
JoAnn Cornish, Director of Planning and Development – City of Ithaca
“The site presents a tremendous opportunity to reuse an existing facility for light industrial and mixed use development that will create jobs and increase the tax base – all in close proximity to downtown Ithaca. This is a major priority for TCAD. We will continue to work with the developer, delivering technical and financial assistance as he takes the majority of the risk to transform the site.”
Michael Stamm, President – Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD)