Excitement and concerns accompany plans to develop Emerson site

Plans to develop the abandoned Emerson Power Transmission site on Ithaca’s South Hill are in the works. Developer David Lubin has been meeting regularly with city and town administrators and planning officials to work out the details of the project, Phyllisa DeSarno, the City’s Deputy Director of Economic Development, said.

“This has been years in the making,” DeSarno said of the project.

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Why Emerson Left and What it Left Behind

According to Heather Filiberto, Director of Economic Development Services at Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD), Emerson moved its operations out of Ithaca in 2011.

“It is my understanding that the last of its operations were consolidated with other facilities outside of New York State, where the cost of power and corporate income taxes were less,” Filiberto said.

Emerson left quite a mess upon its departure. The property is a “State Superfund Site,” which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) describes on its website as a site “where consequential amounts of hazardous waste may exist.”

The DEC must work with Emerson to perform the site’s cleanup, but the process is a slow-moving one.

“So far the South Hill Civic Association and the people who live on South Hill realize that the only way that factory is going to get cleaned up is through a redevelopment or repurposing of the property,” John Graves, President of the South Hill Civic Association, said.

The Master Plan

That’s where Lubin comes in. A press release detailing the specifics of the project will likely be distributed next week, but DeSarno said the basics have been presented. She said the plan is for a mixed-use development, which will include housing options, commercial space, some retail space and possibly an area designated for light manufacturing.

“The developer is planning on doing a phased approach,” DeSarno said, explaining that he will start with the “developable site,” or the buildings that are already on the property.

Filiberto said she is excited about the potential benefits this project can bring.

“The redevelopment will likely leverage over $100 million of private investment and ultimately create hundreds of jobs and significantly increase property tax receipts,” she said. “That is a good thing for our community.”

TCAD helped secure funding from the State to assist with early phases of the project. TCAD also runs the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, which is working on delivering tax incentives for the development.

According to Filiberto, the process will be a lengthy one and it is only in its early stages.

“Mr. Lubin has engaged a team of architects, designers, and engineers in what will be a two year process that includes master planning, environmental review and due diligence, public outreach, and local approvals,” Filiberto said.

Lubin could not be reached for comment on the project.

Welcome to the Neighborhood?

A development of this size could have a large impact on the South Hill neighborhood. In addition to hoping the project will revive efforts to cleanup the site, Graves said he welcomes the change the new property will bring.

“It should be a very vibrant and exciting development on South Hill,” Graves said.

The site is situated adjacent to several residential streets, and neighbors have mixed feelings about the project.

“Right now it’s kind of an eyesore,” Leo Vincent, a resident of Hillview Place, said.

Vincent said he would like to see an environmentally friendly development take the place of the factory.

“There was a lot of pollution from the plant, so it would be nice to…make it energy efficient, put solar panels on top or something,” Vincent said.

When asked how increased traffic from the new development might affect the neighborhood, Vincent expressed some concern.

“I’m sure that probably would be a problem,” he said. “It’s pretty quiet here now, so I think it would probably be harder with kids to have a lot more people living there and working there.”

Turner Place resident Frank Heesh said he doesn’t know anything about the project, but he worries about the pollution that Emerson left behind.

“The very first thing that occurs to me are the problems they’ve been having with water contamination and if that’s going to be addressed,” Heesh said. “If it is, who’s going to be responsible for that?”



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