Tuesday evening the City of Ithaca Planning Board voted 4-2 to approve the proposed changes to the Downtown Marriott Hotel, thus allowing this project to move forward.
The Marriott had received Site Plan approval over a year ago, but was asked to return to the Planning Board due to design changes in the project. These changes were the result of “value engineering”, a process used to reduce the cost of the project while retraining its essential core elements. The project was scheduled to break ground last year, but the burgeoning cost of the approved project required Urgo Hotels to re-examine the project and work for a year to reduce costs.
Planning Board members were concerned about the revised project. It was not the project they had originally approved and help shape. The new look lacked some of the flair and design elements that were part of the more expensive early version. There were suggestions that the project not be approved, that a message be sent that only the highest quality of design should be accepted, and that otherwise, the community should be prepared to live without the project.
Thankfully, the final vote reflected a alternative sentiment. While the revised project was indeed a different, less elegant project than the original, it was also the developer’s best attempt to deliver an affordable project for that site. The new Marriott design is a good project, but not as good as before. That was deemed enough to proceed by four Board members and downtown is grateful and thankful for this approval.
First, recall that the site of this Marriott Hotel is special. It is located right in the heart of our downtown, at the east end of the Commons, at the nexus of East and South hills. It is distinctly urban and very small- the lot is only 8,000 square feet. This location is a huge benefit and plus for the community. Rather than locate a hotel on the periphery of town where it would be substantially less expensive to build, this project was sited in the most central and most expensive location, but perhaps the greenest and most sustainable of locations.
Second, the Planning Board worked long and hard with the developer and their architects on the design over a period of years, While the final design could not afford all of the desired elements, it still retained many important items and remains a strong and attractive building. It was the best building money could buy at that location.
Third, the downtown has been eagerly anticipating and awaiting the construction of the Marriott Hotel. It is an important economic development project, creating new jobs, new taxes, and delivering well over 50,000 clients and customers to downtown shops and eateries each year. It will anchor the Commons and breathe new life and energy into the downtown marketplace. We wanted this project, even in its less than optimally designed state. Leaving the site empty and vacant simply was not a viable option for a downtown community seeking to sustain and grow itself.
So, thank you to the Planning Board for approving this revised project. Thank you to Urgo Development for their patience and persistence. The project is now scheduled for ground breaking in late July, about one month from now. We look forward to its completion and its addition to the economic well-being of Downtown in the years ahead.