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Committee Recommends Acquisition of Tompkins Trust Building for History Center Home

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Committee Recommends Acquisition of Tompkins Trust Building for History Center Home

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Legislature’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee today recommended that the County acquire and improve the current Tompkins Trust building on the Ithaca Commons as a new home for the History Center, as well as for other complementary non-profits co-located as a Heritage Education Center.

The recommended action comes as a result of nearly a half-year of careful examination and study, and stems from the County’s longstanding role of providing space for a museum that preserves the records and artifacts that document the county’s history. The History’s Center’s current 25-year lease in the Gateway Building expires at the end of 2018, with its rent, underwritten by the County, expected to double if it remains in its current space.

The proposal, recommended by a unanimous 5-0 vote, would authorize the County Administrator to negotiate acquisition of the Tompkins Trust Building for a cost not to exceed $2 million ($400,000 below market value) and would amend the County’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan to include Building acquisition and improvements, at a total cost of $2.9 million—reflecting approximately $900,000 in improvements needed to make it code-compliant and ready for tenant-funded renovations. The County’s intends to finance the acquisition and improvement through unanticipated 2016-2017 revenues from the Tioga Downs and del Lago Casinos.

Several other local agencies have expressed strong interest in a co-location plan, including the library of Historic Ithaca, Downtown Visitor Center, Community Arts Partnership, Wharton Studio Museum, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Discovery Trail offices, the Sustainability Center, and the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation. Leaders of the History Center’s Capital Fundraising Campaign estimate that at least $1.5 million can be raised to support the Center, with $450,000 of the proceeds offsetting the County’s building improvement costs. The project also qualifies and will be considered for a $100,000 Strategic Tourism Capital Grant, and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will seek $2.5 million in grant funding to support the Heritage Education Center project.

In a briefing memo to Legislators, County Administrator Joe Mareane said, “We recommend the County proceed with the acquisition and improvement of the building. Based on current estimates, the portion of the building’s costs borne by the History Center (through a Count appropriation) will be approximately $150,000—which is $40,000 more than its current occupancy cost, but $50,000 less than what is expected if the Center stays in its current location. We also believe that the value of the building will only increase over time.”

While some potential risk was acknowledged—related to factors such as commitment of future History Center leadership, age of the building, and the operating challenges associated with a vibrant, multi-use, public facility—consensus among committee members was that the project is a wise investment well worth pursuing. Legislator Rich John, who has been involved in the study process, called it a forward-thinking example of a public-private partnership. “I think the future is going to thank us for the decision we make,” he said.

The proposal will go before the Legislature’s Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee before expected Legislature consideration June 6th