The Chain Works District is a project of historic proportion that is set to change to current landscape and skyline in Ithaca, New York. Formerly the Emerson Power Transmission plant on South Aurora Street/Route 96B, 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.
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.
Given the scope of redeveloping the expansive site, 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. The Chain Works District will start renovations and construction in early 2019, with occupancy of some buildings available immediately.
“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)