ITHACA, N.Y., December 8, 2022— The 95-acre site on South Hill, formerly known to Ithacans as Morse Chain, Emerson Power Transmission Plant, and most recently, the Chain Works District, is being reimagined through a diverse collaboration that combines extensive development, construction and neighborhood investment experience, and proven track records in delivering equitable community-serving projects.
The $300+ million endeavor, now known as SouthWorks, is led by Philadelphia-based SHIFT Capital, a nationally recognized social impact real estate firm, in addition to the property’s previous developer, David Lubin, of Ithaca-based L Enterprises. SHIFT has also tapped two leading minority- and woman-owned firms to take part—Rochester-based, US Ceiling Corp, led by Melissa James-Geska and New York City-based, Xylem, led by Nnenna Lynch. Vicki Taylor Brous, a longtime Ithacan and project coordinator for the site, joins SHIFT in the same role. The SouthWorks team plans to create a new mixed-use neighborhood, including housing, technology, commercial, retail and industrial/manufacturing to serve as a catalyst for Ithaca’s local economy.
“SouthWorks is a potential game changer for Ithaca. Its size and scope allow us to intentionally and collectively, with businesses and residents, design a neighborhood that welcomes leading-edge thinking and practices, drives sustainability throughout, and connects living and culture site-, city- and townwide,” says SHIFT Capital Partner and CEO Brian Murray. “To do this, we brought together a team who reflects SHIFT’s values and vision and is driven by a shared dedication to Ithaca. David, Melissa, Nnenna and Vicki each add a distinct expertise to the team, and together with the community, we are able to plan the next steps for the future Ithaca.”
“SouthWorks is a landmark project that will help define, bolster and advance the Ithaca region, generating thousands of jobs and economic opportunities for generations to come,” says L Enterprises Founder David Lubin. “I look forward to working with the new team to ensure that this project represents the kind of development I imagined when I began planning it a decade ago: commercial space for light industrial/manufacturing and small businesses, housing options, parks, and public art. It is rooted in the community and will anchor the continuing revitalization of the entire region.”
“We’re excited to build on the project’s momentum and ongoing workforce development efforts with community partners and the City and Town of Ithaca,” says US Ceiling Corp President Melissa James-Geska. “SouthWorks is a robust model of holistic real estate development; community and collaboration; sustainability; and opportunity. Together, we are determined to create something that delivers on its promise for the people of Ithaca.”
“Community outcomes are at the core of everything we do,” says Xylem Founder and CEO Nnenna Lynch. “We’re excited to join the great work already underway and the opportunity to be part of the long-term vision for Ithaca, as well as ensuring SouthWorks is built for all of its constituents, particularly local residents.”
“I’m excited to join the SHIFT Capital team and implement a whole-neighborhood approach to the redevelopment of the old Morse Chain factory site,” says Project Coordinator Vicki Taylor Brous. “The plant brought prosperity to the area for more than 100 years and holds a lot of historical importance to the Ithaca community. After a decade of perseverance, tenacity and hard work, Emerson Power Transmission, David Lubin and their respective teams have made the site ready for redevelopment. Through thoughtful and community-forward planning, and a great team selected to accomplish it, we look forward to revitalizing the site and making it an asset to the community once again.”
The History and Future of the Site
The site at 620 South Aurora Street, located in both the City and Town of Ithaca, has remained vacant for 11 years. It had been used for manufacturing everything from industrial chains and automotive parts to Tommy airplanes used in World War I. Morse Chain occupied the facility from 1906 until 1928 when they joined with BorgWarner, which owned the property from 1928 to 1982. Emerson Power Transmission continued manufacturing at the site from 1983 until its closure in 2011. The site provided much needed jobs for residents and drew immigration to the area, whether they worked at the factory or on the supportive infrastructure, including the rail lines that ran to the site.
In July 2013, Emerson Power Transmission selected David Lubin of L Enterprises to develop the site due to his knowledge of the Ithaca area and his passion for its development. Emerson and Lubin, with guidance from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), then partnered over the next decade to make the 95-acre property one of New York State’s most thoroughly environmentally investigated and remediated sites. Although the property was initially slated to be brought up to industrial standards, after thousands of tests, tracing and planning, the majority (90+ acres) of the site has now been remediated to residential standards. A Record of Decision Amendment and a Site Management Plan were approved by the DEC in October of 2022.
When complete, SouthWorks will include the revitalization of 850,000 square feet of existing buildings and will total more than 1.7 million square feet. The site has gained City of Ithaca Site Plan Approval and EIS approvals. In addition to the on-site work, the Gateway Trail, which runs at the base of the property, will be developed in partnership with the City of Ithaca and will connect the South Hill Recreation Trail to Buttermilk Falls and the Kirby Edmunds Bridge.
Planning for SouthWorks is under way with anticipated announcements regarding the next phase in the development expected in early 2023. For more information on SouthWorks, please visit southworksithaca.com and sign up for updates.