Cayuga Waterfront Trail near NYSDOT facility

If I had three million dollars…

(Set to the tune of the Barenaked Ladies 1992 hit)

A few weeks ago a NYSDOT maintenance facility in Ithaca went up for auction with a starting bid of $2.85 million. You know it’s going to be special when there’s a fancy video!

The eight acre site is situated between the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and the Cornell Boathouse. It is surrounded on two sides by the Cayuga Waterfront Trail.

Efforts to relocate the NYSDOT facility off this prime real estate have been happening for at least twenty years. Whoever buys this is clearly not going to use it as a yard for road salt, dump trucks, and highway signs. (In case you’re curious, the maintenance facility is moving to a site near the airport.) A 2016 study [large PDF] looked into redevelopment options for the site.

By next week the winning bid should be announced, but it may take longer for details about redevelopment to emerge.

The site is a bit disconnected from Ithaca’s primary street grid – the only route for vehicular traffic is via 3rd Street. Crossing Route 13 on foot or bike at 3rd Street is a bit nerve-racking even when traffic is light. While there are crosswalks, due to the geometry of the intersection it takes a long time to cross the highway on foot.

I used to make this journey regularly when visiting the Farmer’s Market from my former apartment on Lake Ave, often pushing a stroller or riding my bike. The right-turn radii onto 3rd Street seem to be designed for Formula 1 cars rather than minivans. The alternative crossings at Dey Street is a over a quarter mile away.

I hope that whoever buys and redevelops the NYSDOT site shares my interest in improving the pedestrian and bike connection via 3rd Street.

The City’s recent Waterfront Plan [PDF] acknowledges that the presence of an active railroad in this area severely limits the options to improve street connectivity in the area. This means that 3rd Street will be the main artery for all traffic heading to downtown Ithaca and other destinations to the east for the foreseeable future.

It is fun to imagine how this the redevelopment proposal will connect with the Farmer’s Market in the future.

The market is a truly unique part of the Ithaca community. Before the pandemic, the market was among the busiest places in the county on any given Saturday – even on chilly April mornings when all the farmer’s could offer were root vegetables.

Ithaca Farmer’s Market, April 2018

It will be interesting to see if the old NYSDOT site could provide year-round space for some of the more popular prepared food vendors who are out-growing their market stalls. Or perhaps there is an opportunity for an new restaurant that sources fresh vegetables and local meat directly from the market.

Given that the Cayuga Waterfront Trail sits between the maintenance yard and the Cayuga Inlet, it is not entirely clear to me if the future owner will be able to make any modification of how this site addresses the waterfront. There may be a logical spot for a new hand launch area for paddlecraft along the southern boundary of the property.

Combined with nearby launch spots in Cass Park and the kayak rentals available in Stewart Park, Ithaca could soon be a true destination for paddlers of all stripes and abilities.

This site has real potential to become an anchor on Ithaca’s waterfront. Lets hope that the winner of this week’s auction has the vision to fulfill that potential.