The metamorphosis of the Commons continues. Last Monday Downtown Ithaca, the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County Area Development and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency welcomed the addition of the latest downtown restoration project at the site of the former Plantations building located at 130-132 the Commons.
The event marked the completion of Downtown Ithaca’s most recent addition, Mia, which will open for business later this month.
Downtown Ithaca Alliance executive director Gary Ferguson says, “This undertaking was two years in the making. It was a lot of work and we’re very excited to add it to our already impressive lineup of business establishments here in downtown. It’s very attractive and many people are of the opinion that it really has a feel of Greenwich Village or Soho to it, and that’s a great compliment.”
This keystone project, located on the west end of the Commons, incorporates a ground floor restaurant featuring high-end Pan-Asian cuisine, a function room, office space and eight units of housing.
“The apartments are as nice as the restaurant and they’ve already been rented out,” Ferguson says.
With a total price tag in excess of $3 million, the centrally located establishment aims to bring new life to an often vacant building that was in need of extesive repairs.
“Here we’ve saved an important building. It probably would have fallen down without this renovation,” says Ferguson.
The project was funded in part with a grant from the Restore New York Program and both state and federal Historic tax credits.
“This marks the first time we’ve utilized state Historic tax credits, and it’s important to note that this undertaking required nearly a dozen different funding sources and the completion of this project really illustrates the importance of
people working together to make downtown projects a success,” Ferguson says.
The completion of this multipurpose facility marks the culmination of the most ambitious project for one of Ithaca’s most accomplished entrepreneurs, Sunit “Lex” Chutintaranond. In addition to this latest venture, Lex is also responsible for the establishment and subsequent success of four other area restaurants; Thai Cuisine, Just a Taste, Madeline’s and most recently Za Za’s Cucina. The inspiration for this newest restaurant addition to the Commons comes from Lex’s personal heritage of being born and raised in Thailand up until his teenage years prior to studying at Iowa State and the University of Nebraska, where he majored in
computer engineering and worked for such well known companies as IBM.
Twenty-one years ago he arrived in Ithaca, where he started his first restaurant. Mia is a result of Lex’s constant drive to create new and exciting food concepts and his desire to reconnect with his roots and the food he grew up with in Thailand and India.
And while Lex is excited about the restaurant opening, he stresses that the dining establishment is part of a bigger picture. “This is a historic building that was very run down. The second, third and fourth floors hadn’t been used in about 50 years, and just cleaning up the contamination such as lead paint removal and asbestos cost nearly $50,000,” he says.
“Pretty much everything had to be replaced because things like all the original floor joists and supporting beams were really old and cut wrong and it needed a new
roof. That’s just for starters. Let me just say that this endeavor was much more than applying a coat of paint,” Lex says.
“It has been extensively renovated in order to facilitate continued growth downtown, provide affordable housing, office space and a 60-person capacity banquet room for which we already have bookings and we’ve made it much safer structurally.We have installed firewalls and sprinkler systems, which makes our neighbors on either side of us very happy,” he adds.
In addition, Lex notes that this project is creating much-needed new jobs which many people are interested in, as evidenced by the stacks of applications on the
restaurant’s elegant tables, which currently serve as Lex’s temporary office. “We’ll be employing between 18 to 25 people full and part time,” he says.
He also has respect for the history of the building and kept that in mind during the restoration process. “Holt Architects did a great job of researching what this building looked like 50 years ago and we were able to incorporate features of the old look back into this, such as extending the front of the building to where it once was,” the businessman says.
Getting back to the restaurant, Lex said that in Mia, as well as his other eateries, he tries to give patrons more than just a place to sit down and eat. “People work hard, they have many pressing priorities, so when they come to my place I want them to enjoy not only the food and service, but the ambience as well. I want them to have a wonderful experience that they will remember.”
Gary Ferguson weighed in on the new restaurant, too. “I predict Mia will be Lex’s culinary masterpiece,” he says.