Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Emerson: Chain Works District Meeting

April 12, 2014 // by Jason Henderson





The development team for the former Emerson site held a preliminary public meeting at Cinemapolis this past Thursday to present the project concept to the public. The team is an impressive group of local and upstate firms:

HARTER, SECREST AND EMERY – environmental, land use and zoning law
CHAINTREUIL │JENSEN │STARK ARCHITECTS – architecture and planning
D.I.R.T. STUDIO – landscape and site design
AUSTIN + MERGOLD – architecture, branding and outreach
WHITHAM PLANNING AND DESIGN – project planning approvals
STREAM COLLABORATIVE – zoning development and approvals
LA BELLA P.C. – environmental consulting

The developer is David Lubin, also of L Enterprises, the developer for Harold’s Square.

The presentation went through some history of the site, then talked about their approach and the concepts they’re hoping to use in the re-development. For starters, Emerson is a massive site: the parcels in question total to roughly 94 acres, and it’s no further from the downtown core than collegetown. The floor space of the existing buildings is 800,000 square feet, (the Chrysler Building is about 1.2 million), about the size of 10 football fields of interior space. The project will likely be a decade-long (or more), multi-phase process.




The intent is to open-up the site, and possibly demolish buildings that were built between the 60s and 80s that don’t have a feasible re-use case, but keep the vast majority of structures built in the first half of the 20th Century. This would create open spaces between buildings that could be leveraged as public gathering places, parks, open-air restaurants, and activities. The possible future Gateway Trail (a northern extension of the South Hill Recreation Way) would cut directly through the site.




The existing buildings have different spacial features that allow for a variety of desirable re-development scenarios. The long stretch of buildings 2, 3, and 4 are better for residential since there are reasonable floor spans between windows, whereas 13a, 13b, and 34 are more suited to manufacture and production. The co-location of housing and business space is great, since there would be several ways to walk there to and from downtown (Cayuga, Aurora, possibly Turner), and it presents the possibility of living and working on the same site. The industrial aesthetic also presents nice possibilities for creatively adapting existing spaces to keep the materials and structure exposed. Craig Jensen mentioned that one of the shop floor buildings actually has concrete slab as a supporting floor structure below 8″ solid wood floors that could be re-finished, scuff marks, oil stains and all. There’s no doubt that this could get really cool.


A long series of planning and site plan meetings should commence this Spring. The parcel is split between the City and Town, and of course the DEC will be involved in any further environmental work. Emerson still owns the site, but contracts have been signed to allow for the purchase at the end of a year long due-diligence process.