The Chain Works District is a project of historic proportion that is set to change the current landscape and skyline in Ithaca, New York. The 95-acre site includes 850,000 square feet of existing, highly flexible space, with plans to add approximately 900,000 sq. ft. of new development, equaling a total of 1,700,000 sq. ft. There will be 915 new apartments, 185K sq. ft. of commercial/office space, and 260,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. The site is the former Emerson Power Transmission plant, located on South Aurora Street/Route 96B. The new neighborhood will provide high quality of life in a new “live, work, play” multi-use district. Chain Works will provide connections between the universities and the urban core, new and developing industry, all while serving to alleviate the need for housing space, business, invention, and community.
Unchained Properties, LLC (UP) finalized a purchase agreement for the former plant and plans to create an urban "live, work, play" mixed use neighborhood in the Chain Works District. 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. Henceforth, the project will be developed using LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND), with walkability, high quality of life, neighborhood amenities, sustainability, a microgrid, fiber optics, and solar energy.
The agreement came after 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 with the NYS Environmental Quality Review ACT (SEQRA) and compliance process, completing 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 has encouraged participation through a series of public information sessions to hear the community's ideas and concerns.
The Site currently has 35 buildings that were constructed beginning in 1906. The first phase (Phase I) of redevelopment will consist of four buildings generally located at the northern and southern most ends of the complex of existing buildings. These first four buildings (21, 24, 33 and 34) are approximately 331,450 sq. ft. and will house office, a mix of office or residential, and industrial uses. The existing buildings are currently vacant (since 2011) and being maintained until redevelopment is scheduled. The project has site plan approval in Fall 2021 the DEC issued a Record of Decision amendment for the property that allows for the proposed residential uses. The Chain Works District will start renovations and construction in 2022, with occupancy of some buildings available immediately. The project will be developed using LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND), with walkability, high quality of life, neighborhood amenities, sustainability, a microgrid, fiber optics, and solar energy.
“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 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 IAED. 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.”
Heather MacDaniel - President, Ithaca Area Economic Development
“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 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, former Town Supervisor – Town of Ithaca