News Tidbits 11/11/17: It’s Back

12 11 2017

1. One of the reasons for the lull in weekly round-ups has been the lack of smaller news items to fill it with. A few larger items made it into Voice articles, but there wasn’t much of a middle ground between “expand into article” and “not newsworthy”. I’m happy to take comments here about Voice articles, although the blog is intended to cover topics that may not be ready for a full write-up.

As noted in the Voice, there isn’t much before the city of Ithaca at the moment. A sketch plan for infill rental housing at 209 Hudson Street is likely dead in the water as a result of the new South Hill Overlay, and a modest infill plan calls for a duplex at 601 South Aurora on the corner with Hillview Place, which can only be an improvement from the informal parking lot currently there. The modular unit design is thoughtful (varied materials, plenty of windows) if unexciting, and the sidewalks are a plus. The units are physically structured as townhouses, but technically they aren’t, since townhouses are defined by International Building Code as strings of units of three or more.

Meanwhile, things are so slow in the town at the moment that they cancelled their last Planning Board meeting. Before that, the only notable item on the agenda was the Cayuga Ridge renovation, which is primarily internal. Their October Building and Codes Department report indicates a single two-family home was approved, in the Cleveland Estates housing subdivision; virtually all of those duplexes have been intended as student housing.

2. If there is one town that is rather busy next week, it would have to be Lansing. The surface facilities for the new Cargill mine shaft are up for final approval at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday, more discussion is expected about the Milton Meadows affordable housing plan at the town center, and a couple of minor projects (communications tower, illuminated free-standing sign) are up for review and vote. Neither Cargill not Milton Meadows appear to have changed significantly since their last presentations.

Also scheduled is review of public comments regarding the Comprehensive Plan, which cover several topics, with the most frequent being the Bell Station zoning (park vs. lakeshore low density) and some individuals unhappy with the potential for mixed-use or residential development near their homes or farms. Joe Wetmore has a pretty thorough critique, ranging from unrealistic expectations to discomfort with what he calls “segregated housing” based on income and age. Going political for a moment, I suspect if it weren’t for many progressive town and village boards rushing to join the Article 78 on Cargill, with less than careful thought and discussion of Cargill’s blue-collar workers and their family/friends, Wetmore would be an incoming town councilman (and to be fair, he may end up winning when the absentee ballots are counted and tallied next week).

3. Over in Dryden, just about everything is good to go with Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit rental complex planned for 802 Dryden Road, next to the Cornell arboretum. The November tweaks were for lighting, landscaping and sidewalk details. The designs of the townhouse strings were reworked in October to include three different designs, to be used twice each (six buildings, seven units each, 42 units/108 bedrooms total). While the materials remain the same, the designs differ substantially in roof lines, architectural detailing and fenestration pattern. At this point, no one would mistake for a recycling of 902 Dryden as they started off as; John Snyder and his team have had the chance to express themselves, and the designs are contemporary and visually interesting. It looks like final approval will be coming potentially soon, which will permit a Spring 2018 – Summer 2019 construction time-frame.

Other than that, the town is reviewing another Tiny Timbers subdivision, this one for 1540 Ellis Hollow Drive. Similar to its counterpart just down the street at 1624 Ellis Hollow Drive, the long, narrow lot would be serviced with an internal driveway for five homes with a little over an acre each, and the rear (northern) 5 acres would be granted a conservation easement, to remain natural space and help protect the Fall Creek watershed. The original plan was a deed restriction, but the town’s conservation board is pushing the easement so that future owners of the land can’t just lift the restriction. They also requested an S-shaped driveway because they feel the slope is greater than Dolph states; an S-shape would also throw the plans out of whack, so let’s see what happens.

On a final brief note, review and discussion is ongoing for a pair of solar arrays off of 2243 Dryden Road, one of 1.3 MW and one of 2 MW.

4. Looking at what’s on the market this week, here’s something for the deep-pocketed investor/landlord who wants to start with an all-new, low-maintenance building. 6-unit 707 East Seneca Street is on the market for $2,999,000. The 6,469 SF apartment building was built just two years ago, after developer Todd Fox bought city surplus land that was once a playground for the closed East Hill Elementary, deeded to the city in 1982 and promptly forgotten for decades until potential liability risks convinced the city to put it up for sale. Each unit is three bedrooms, and according to the advertisement, it generates over $220k in revenue each year, which is not shabby.The property is assessed at $1 million.

It’s a bit surprising that Fox would want to part with a nearly-new building with solid rental potential, and it makes me curious if the funds would be used to fund other Visum projects planned or approved. While Fox did take a financial hit from the cancelled 311 College Avenue project, the amount invested was far less than the sale price for 707 here.

5. Also worth noting, though it’s not good news – The Computing Center’s plans to build a new 4,600 SF headquarters appear to be over. The building site and the approved building plans at Lansing’s 987 Warren Road are up for sale. $499,000 gets you 1.57 acres, the plans, and a single-family home on the eastern end of the property that generates $2,000/month. The project had received an $85,084 tax abatement for the $1.394 million project, which was expected to create six new jobs. For the record, any buyer would need to re-apply for an abatement; the one granted will go unused. At least offhand, it looks like they may have added the jobs (retain 14, add 6, and the website shows nineteen plus the retired founder, and two job postings), but it’s uncertain – they acquired a competitor (Sherpa Technologies) in September, which increased staff to 22. Based off the time of the listing, with the acquisition of Sherpa they may have just led TCC to go a different direction with a new headquarters. What will be, will be.

6. According to construction loan documents filed with Tompkins County, the new 11,180 SF Rite Aid being built at 79 North Street carried with it a $2.71 million price tag. Chemung Canal Trust Company, an Elmira-based bank with branches in Tompkins County, is providing the loan to Dryden Group LLC/Ellicott Development. Ellicott, a major developer out in Buffalo, will be using an in-house contractor team to build out the retail space.

A couple of emails came in asking if this would be a Walgreen’s. On paper, that’s a no – everything filed and documented says Rite Aid, and this was confirmed with the town planning staff. However, Walgreen’s is in the process of acquiring 1,932 Rite Aid stores (leaving Rite Aid with 2,600), and closing several hundred stores that are within close proximity to existing Walgreen’s. It’s possible that the existing Dryden Rite Aid is one of those to be “shut down as part of the sale” as the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreen’s is being built on the north end of the village. Keep an eye on it.

7. Quick little side note – Ithaca Associates LLC, the development team behind the $110 million Green Street Garage project, is apparently in talks with INHS to manage its affordable housing component. That’s according to Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting minutes. So they are serious about meeting the city’s demand for affordable housing with some undetermined percentage of the 365 units. Heck, 60 or 70 units would be a sizable contribution, should it pan out, and it would make the project more palatable since it would clearly have a mixed-income aspect to go with its mixed uses.

8. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be taking up discussion again on the Nines, though they are less than pleased with the recent 5-5 tie vote the Common Council had on the Chacona block, broken by the mayor’s vote against historic designation. For me, the fascinating part was having someone like Cynthia Brock, typically opposed to greater density, speak in favor, while pro-development councilors like Ducson Nguyen and Seph Murtagh voted in favor of historic designation. So, it was an unusual breakdown of votes that I would not have predicted, although I had heard before the meeting that it would likely be a close vote.

There is no doubt that anything Student Agencies submits will be scrutinized extra closely, especially if they try to maximize square footage or incorporate design features that don’t mesh with neighboring structures. It’s fair to say that while they lucked out with being allowed to redevelop, the resentment already stirred up means anything proposed will be starting behind the proverbial eight ball, and they would be wise to really put their best foot forward and not rush plans.

Interestingly, it looks like someone, likely but not confirmed to be the Reach Project social service group, plans to submit concept designs for the carriage house that once stood behind the house at 310 West State Street. This is a historic district, so any designs for the drug treatment and potential safe heroin injection “harm reduction” site would need to be approved by the ILPC.

It’s been amusing and a bit excruciating to see some of the comments on the Voice – some people are all about historic buildings; but it tortures them to see these venerable structures used for what they see as a less-enlightened cause than a high-end B&B or boutique office. If zoning laws (and higher authorities, in this case) okay it, so be it. Many historic buildings have humdrum or low-brow histories as factories, home businesses or tenements, and to say they can’t be used for something permitted just because it seems icky is not only illegal, it denies part of the historical element.

7. Intriguing, though I have questions – the city is looking at expanding the use of PUDs from beyond the few industrial zones to city-wide so long as properties are 2 acres. They’re also looking at expanding CIITAP to allow 1-story industrial and waterfront projects, as well as an affordable housing component of 20% on all residential or mixed-use projects with residential components of 10 units or more.

The PUD plan comes on the heels of the new Waterfront zones, which allow residential uses on a greater number of parcels, and is in fact the recommendation of the Waterfront Working Group (WWG), a 17-member group of staff and public who reviewed planned zoning changes to the Waterfront. The city planning staff are amenable, though they suggest a minimum acreage of 2 acres.

With the proposed CIITAP change, the reasoning makes sense, although its effectiveness is questionable. Industrial construction is locally limited and is usually build-to-suit for a specific client. There’s also a strong preference to less dense areas with easy access with lower land values, like Lansing or Dryden. More power to the city I guess, I just don’t see it being utilized. As for the housing component, the intent is good, but the issue always ends up being an issue of “moreness”. Developers often have to build bigger to re-balance expenses and revenue within mixed-income structures. This can make it tougher for them to get financing since it’s a larger, more costly build-out (a bigger financial risk, all other things being equal). Residents in turn balk at a bigger project with the traffic, aesthetic changes and other impacts it creates, not to mention some still instinctively sneer at affordable housing, mixed-income or not. It’s not an outright deal-breaker, but it is something to keep in mind.

The PUD can be troublesome since it’s a sort of “DIY zoning”, which would make existing rules pointless and a lot of upset voters if allowed without some big stipulations. 2 acres would limit many projects in the core of the city, but if you happen to be, say, a major landowner along the Waterfront or in the vicinity, like Guthrie or Cayuga Medical Center, it’s basically a red carpet invitation, as it allows them to set the bounds for a project. Notably, neither of those two fall within CIITAP’s boundaries, so while they wouldn’t be eligible for the tax abatement, they also don’t have to worry about the affordable housing component if they choose to do something with housing in the mix.

 





Cayuga Medical Associates Construction Update, 11/2017

8 11 2017

According the the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and educational services are the largest component of Ithaca’s economy, and among its fastest growing. While the colleges are growing incrementally, medical services have boomed as people live longer (up 5.2 years in Tompkins County from 1980-2014), and Baby Boomers’ need for medical services grows – Cayuga Medical Center has added several hundred jobs in the past decade alone.

In March 2016, Cayuga Medical Associates, a for-profit business partnered with Cayuga Medical Center, announced plans to build an outpatient facility at Community Corners, an early-suburban style shopping and office center located at the five corners intersection of Cayuga Heights (the official project address is 903-909 Hanshaw Road). While the core of the plaza dates from the late 1940s, additions such as the Chemung Canal branch and the renovated Island Fitness gym branch have been built in the past several years. CMA had been looking for sites in northeast Tompkins County, and found that Community Corners was the best choice for their needs.

Initial plans called for a 3-story, 39,500 SF building designed by local architecture firm HOLT Architects, which has a well-known specialty in highly technical medical structures. the first floor would host cardiology and cardiac care services (later revised to neurological services), and internal care (prevention, diagnosis and treatment of adult diseases) on the second floor. The third floor was still rather speculative when first proposed. The building was expected to host about 72 staff and 400 patients per day. The project was going to be a bit of a slog – Cayuga Heights has what’s likely the most stringent planning board of any municipality in Tompkins, and the project would need variances for height, setbacks and lot coverage. Landscape architecture firm TWMLA’s Kim Michaels would represent owner Tim Ciaschi and the project team at meetings.

After a few months of back and forth, it became clear the the village was not going to be comfortable with the 3-story plan, and having no tenants locked down for the top floor, the scale of the project was decreased to 2 floors and 28,200 SF (23,200 SF lease-able space) in July 2016. Now only expecting 300 patients per day, the variances needed were generally more minor – while the height was contentious, a few percent over the maximum lot coverage isn’t as much of a concern. The village has eyed a denser, mixed-use Community Corners, if not necessarily the traffic and people that go with it; neighboring property owner Mark Mecenas has been mulling over plans for several years. The more modern-looking original design was replaced by one that better fit the plaza’s 1940s building, with gables and dormers.

Although concerns were raised over traffic, aesthetics, and those who felt Community Corners was the wrong place for a medical facility (they wanted street-level shops with condos above), the board was reasonably pleased with the changes, and after a few more months of SEQR review, the project was approved in November 2016. However, it was approved on the stipulation that parking demand mitigation measures be prepared and approved by the village first, as well as a customary submission of planned exterior finishes. Since parking had been underused at the rear of the site, only fifteen parking spaces are being added, for a total of 300, which brings it close to capacity (estimated daily use upon full occupancy was 262 spaces for the 3-story version). The submitted and approved parking plan allows for a small amount of overflow into neighboring lots, a partnership with the Gadabout bus service for seniors, talks with TCAT and a shower station for those who wish to bike to work. The parking plan was approved by the village back in August.

Along with the building, the project provides revised internal circulation with new driveways and sidewalks, landscaping, and stormwater facilities.  A one-story 1950s office building and a 1960s former Tompkins Trust bank branch were demolished to make room for the new building. The exterior will be faced with off-white brick and a grey brick header course, with a metal roof and aluminum windows. Current plans call for the building to open during summer 2018.

According to county filings, Chemung Canal Trust Company is providing the $7.8 million construction loan. McPherson Builders of Ithaca is the general contractor, which is offhand the largest project I can recall for which a local firm has served as GC. Along with HOLT Architects designing the building and TWMLA doing the landscaping, Ithaca’s T.G. Miller P.C. provided civil engineering and surveying work.

As of the end of October, demolition of existing structures has been mostly completed, with only the slab foundations remaining. The new building will also use a slab foundation, four feet thick according to the elevation drawing below.

Pre-development, April 16th 2017:

October 24th, 2017

 

August 2016 revision. The version approved in 2016 used fiber cement boards, later revised to brick.

 





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 10/2017

31 10 2017

Tompkins County benefits from being a regional tourism destination. A combination of amenities like the colleges and wineries, scenic gorges and and convenient location have made it a popular weekend getaway from the big cities of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as well as some of the major Great Lakes cities. In the past ten years, the hospitality and tourism sector of the economy has grown over 20 percent, adding several hundred jobs even after seasonality is taken into account. An additional benefit is that the room taxes are used to fund arts and culture grants, community festivals and part of TCAD, the economic development agency.

Representative of that growth has been the growth in the local hotel industry. Around 2014 or so, one of the big questions was, how many hotel rooms is too many? The Marriott was in the works, the Hilton was in an earlier stage, two hotels were planned on the Route 13 corridor, and the Hotel Ithaca had its plans. For practical purposes, it was a good question.

However, the situation evolved over time. As is often the case, the hotels opened later than anticipated. The 159-room Marriott finished late last fall, the 76-room Holiday Inn Express was completed a couple months earlier, the Hotel Ithaca went with an expansion that actually reduced the available number of rooms by ten and opened earlier this year, and one of the suburban hotels, a 37-room independent boutique hotel, was cancelled. They all came onto the market later than expected. and the number of rooms added was less than originally planned. All the while, the economy continued to grow at a consistent 1.5-2% annual pace, Cornell continued to add students and the population slowly grew. Had all the hotels opened at once with their original plans, the impact might have been a big problem. But the reality was that the Hotel Ithaca’s impact was modest, and the HIE’s and Marriott’s supply is being absorbed (though the market does need over a year to fully adjust to a 12.8% growth in supply). For the record, Airbnb and similar services have their impacts as well, but the county estimates it’s the equivalent of roughly 40-60 hotel rooms.

With the market still adjusting to the influx, it’s probably a good thing that the Canopy Hilton isn’t opening until Spring 2019, well after a new equilibrium is achieved. However, it’s been a long road to get to this point.

First, a brief history of the site. In recent years, the Hilton site was a mix of private and municipal parking. From 1916-1993, the Strand Theater occupied the site. The Carey Building was designed to match the Egyptian Revival motif of the theater, but unlike the Carey, the theater closed in the late 1970s, attempted and failed at a reopening as a community theater, and after being vacant for over a decade, the building was deemed too far gone to save, leveled by the wrecking ball during the deep recession of the 1990s.

The first mention of a hotel on the 300 Block of East State/MLK Jr. was back in December 2012. Lighthouse Hotels LLC (Neil Patel) proposed a six-story, $16 million Hampton Inn on the site (v1). The 92-room hotel, designed by Jagat Sharma, would have resulted in the demolition of the Carey Building – recall this was before the Carey overbuild.

However, Patel violated an important rule when it comes to development – unless you have made previous arrangements, don’t propose something for someone else’s property. The proposed Carey demo caught Frost Travis by surprise, and he and parking lot owner Joe Daley were less than amused. Nor were Planning Board members, who were fond of the Carey and not fond of the surface parking proposed with the hotel. The project went nowhere, and a major reworking was required. Negotiations with the city and neighbors were needed to acquire the necessary land, and the IURA and Common Council agreed to have the IURA represent the city on divestiture discussions.

Fast forward 18 months to June 2014. Having hired on Whitham Planning and Design to handle the review process on behalf of Lighthouse Hotels, a new six-story sketch plan was presented (v2). This plan did not impact the Carey (by then undergoing review for the overbuild), and opted for a more modern design by Boston’s Group One Partners Inc., which specializes in urban hotel plans. By August 2014, a site plan review request was formally submitted, along with a modestly revised design (v3) – at the time, the six-story, 120-room hotel was pegged at $11.5 million. These early plans also called for a 2,000 SF retail or restaurant space on the ground level. By this time, Patel was a vice president at Baywood Hotels, a national hotel developer and management firm with over $1 billion in assets, and regional offices in suburban Rochester. The firm is so large, they have 26 hotels currently under development from Miami to Minnesota, but that might be conservative. Their planned downtown Syracuse Hampton Inn isn’t even listed, and the render for the Hilton Canopy Ithaca is out of date.

Technically the phrasing is “Canopy by Hilton Ithaca”. It will be either Canopy or Canopy Hilton on the blog.

The Canopy brand was launched in October 2014 to be the lifestyle brand geared towards younger leisure travelers. Of the eleven locations announced at launch, Ithaca was the only one not in a major city, and is arguably the only one still not planned for a major city. A month earlier, the newest 74,475 SF, 123-room, 7-story design rolled out (v4), with industrial warehouse-style aluminum windows, buff and “dark blend” brick veneer, stone base with precast concrete accents, and grey fiber cement and metal panels carried over from the previous design. The second floor would open up onto a terrace overlooking the front of the hotel, and the first floor had folding windows that could open the lobby area to the outdoors on nice days. 

By January 2015, the designed had been tweaked some more (V7 in the link, but the changes were pretty minor from V5-V7, facade materials and window treatments), the cost had risen to $19 million, and LeChase Construction was signed on to be the general contractor. In fact, Patel and Frost Travis has even worked out a clever plan to share construction equipment as both their buildings were underway. However, Patel and Baywood’s schedule fell behind Travis’s, so the plan never panned out.

During this time, the project had applied for the IDA’s enhanced tax abatement, and underwent Common Council review after its public hearing in November 2014. While concerns were raised about not paying a living wage to all staff, the council decided the pros outweighed the cons and endorsed the project. Baywood planned to hire 33 to 47 staff, of whom 11-20 would make living wage (multiple sources with different figures). Room rates were expected to be $160/night.

According to the 2015 application, the project’s combined hard and soft costs were $24.17 million, and the property tax abatement (the enhanced 10-year abatement) was $3,528,081. Another $980,928 was waived in sales taxes, and $45,000 from the mortgage tax, for a total tax abatement of $4.55 million. About $3.28 million in new taxes will be generated on top of the existing taxes on the land, along with room taxes and payroll taxes. During the public hearing, attendees went after the project for union labor, living wage and sustainable energy concerns, but the project was still approved by the IDA. They might have switched over to heat pumps, I’ll need to check into that.

After the original project was approved in March 2015, the city voted to approve the sale of its land in April 2015, and the IDA approved a tax abatement in July 2015, the Hilton plan sat dormant for a while before undergoing a major redesign in January 2016 courtesy of Philadelphia’s spg3 Architects, now Bergmann Associates. It turned out the project had struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, and underwent some “value engineering”. The general shape was kept the same, but the exterior materials were swapped, the building increased in size to 77,800 SF, the room total was brought up to 131, and the restaurant space was omitted, among other changes. This required re-approval by the city. The much longer comparison is here.

The very last version of the project, V9 in February 2016, added inset panels in the northwest wall, and some cast stone was added to the base. The second floor roof deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised.

The final form is faced with a few different shades of red brick veneer, topaz yellow and grey fiber cement panels, metal coping and cast stone trim. Floor height (ceiling of seventh floor) is 80 feet, while structural height (top of mechanical penthouse) is 92 feet. It’s not really a big impact on the downtown skyline, but it broadens the city’s shoulders a bit.

After approval and IDA approval, things were slow to start. Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, representing the Patel family, was reorganized slightly to include other family members in the ownership, and afterward it purchased the properties for the hotel project in August 2916. $1.8 million went to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. A $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union (formerly Eastman Saving and Loan of Rochester) was received at the end of September 2016, but things were stalled for a while, and only now is the project on its way to a Spring 2019 opening, two and a half years later than initially planned. William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor.

Long story, but at least someone wrote it up. Goes to show that property development can be a very complicated process.

It looks like foundation excavation is currently underway – I had head many of the underground utility work was taken care of when the Carey was under construction next door. A plausible schedule has foundation work done by the end of winter, with structural steel framing underway during the spring and summer.

October 15th:

October 28th:





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 10/2017

27 10 2017

Work continues on the new Tompkins Trust office tower in downtown Ithaca. The official topping-out, which means that the building has reached maximum structural height and framing is complete, was earlier this month. U.S. Gypsum sheathing can be seen on the east and south (front) sides, with fireproofing and interior stud walls clearly visible from street level. You can see some of the HVAC rough-ins on the lower floors. Meanwhile, on the north (rear) and west faces, the exterior facade has been bricked and paneled with aluminum metal, tan brick, dark grey brick, stone sills and aluminum window fittings. It’s a little surprising the sunshades are already up, since exterior details typically don’t come until later in the construction process – and it’s clearly not that far along, given the rough openings still present at ground level. The base will be finished with brick and granite.

To be honest, I was concerned the back side would end up looking cheap, but it seems to be coming up nicely, but I’m holding off on final judgement until I see how the rear stairwell turns out.

About the biggest change at this point is that the $31.3 million, 110,000 SF building may not be finished and completed occupied until mid-May 2018, two months later than initially planned.





City Centre Construction Update, 10/2017

26 10 2017

As described in the Voice summary, City Centre is digging deep.

“Unlike the Hilton Canopy, City Centre will have a basement, or more specifically, a 71-space underground garage. The plan here is to use a mat foundation, which is a shallow foundation that doesn’t make use of piles or pile drivers. The company that did the geotechnical report for City Centre reported that a 26-inch mat foundation was feasible based on soil borings, and would be less expensive than a deep pile foundation like the one being used for the Canopy. So basically, excavate some trenches, build some big footers with a lot of rebar, and pour a 26″ concrete slab. Support columns will transfer the weight of the building through the garage and into the slab beneath.

Going past the site right now, excavation work continues, with timber lagging, steel H-beam soldier piles, and steel tieback anchors that extend underneath the streets. The whole point is to reinforce the soil, because no one wants East State or South Aurora Street collapsing into the construction site. Foundations can be complex and time-consuming, and the building may not rise above street level until sometime late in the winter or early next spring. Occupancy of the eight-story mixed-use building won’t be until 2019. According to a construction loan filed with the county this week, M&T Bank is lending $47.9 million to Newman Development Group to complete the project.”

On a hunch while exploring Newman’s project-specific websites, I was able to find City Centre’s website. Morgan Communities of suburban Rochester will be the site manager, and is apparently also hosting the webpages; they’re live, but you can’t find City Centre on their search page yet.

Units will range from a 508 SF studio unit, to a 2 bed/2 bath 1319 SF units with coveted Commons views. Apartment features include quartz countertops, electric stove, microwave, dishwasher, and stainless steel appliances. On-site amenities include fitness center, “E-Lounge”, bike storage, controlled access, optional garage space rentals, electric car charging stations and furnished apartments if requested. Dogs and cats will be allowed. Rents have yet to be listed, though they’re expected to be on the medium-high side (premium, not luxury). The webpage touts Summer 2019 occupancy, which seems to be a split of the Spring 2019 and November 2019 dates used previously. Inquiries are being taken to CityCentreIthaca@morgancommunities.com, if you know someone planning that far ahead.

On another note, while poking around the geotechnical report, it turns out that early plans called for the entirety of the first floor to be occupied by a 19,900 SF “Target Express“, the smaller urban cousin to the Target general merchandise retail chain. This had to have been early on, because the parking had a much different configuration than the formal site plan, with an East State Street entrance vs. the South Aurora entrance in all the later revisions. With only nine stores as of mid-2016, Target is pretty selective about new Target Express locations. Why it was removed from City Centre is unclear.





Press Bay Court (108-114 West Green Street) Construction Update, 10/2017

25 10 2017

The tagline used on the Voice was “Press Bay Alley is as quirky as Ithacans like to think they are.” But it’s not just a quip. Press Bay Alley and its upcoming sibling, Press Bay Court, are unusual developments.

Completed in 2014, spaces at the micro-retail plaza on West Green Street range from a 160 SF barbershop to a 2,000 SF confectioner. Other tenants include a novelty store, a cafe, a circus school, an herb/spice shop, a high-tech workshop and electric bikes. Around Halloween, it becomes Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. It’s an eclectic development by any regard.

Micro-retail is a growing retail trend that offers a unique niche product or a very limited selection of convenience products and services. A shop like Amuse or a service like Ithaca Generator may not need a large space to achieve its business goals, and can save on rental expenses with a limited footprint, compensated by being in a high pedestrian-traffic areas, in this case a couple blocks from The Commons. Similar examples include Memphis’s Edge Alley and Denver’s Dairy Block.

Granted, Ithaca is smaller than Memphis or Denver, but the underlying dynamics of active-use blocks and high foot traffic are present nevertheless, and businessmen John Guttridge and David Kuckuk of Urban Core LLC identified a potential market for the concept in Ithaca. Seeing an opportunity in the former printing press and garages of the shrinking Ithaca Journal, Urban Core, who had recently bought the Journal Building, decided to move forward with a renovation and see if they could make the concept work locally. The risk seems to have paid off, as Press Bay Alley is fully occupied.

With that under their belt, and with renovations to 121 West State partially completed (waiting on fit-out for a potential restaurant tenant), Urban Core has committed to a second phase of the project at 108-114 West Green Street. Currently vacant, 108-110 West Green housed Hausner’s Garage and a Chevy car dealership in the 1920s (see photo below), a DeSoto-Plymouth dealer in the 1940s, Ithaca Photo from at least the 1950s through the late 2000s, and from 2012-2017, McNeil Music. In the rear where D.P. Dough is (114), The Haunt nightclub called it home from 1969-1997 before moving across town.

What Urban Core’s latest plans would do is expand that “experiential” micro-retail mix eastward towards the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets, the Commons and the downtown core. The parking lot in front of D. P. Dough would be converted into a plaza much like Press Bay Alley’s, and the first floor of 108-110 West Green would be renovated into 5-8 micro-retail units facing the new plaza (the Green Street entrances would be retained), with 320-2200 SF per unit. The second floor would be renovated into four below-market rate one-bedroom apartments with 510-660 SF of living space, and the exterior masonry would be cleaned and repaired. The hawk mural will be preserved. New signage, bike infrastructure, curbing, sidewalks and a parklet are included in the plans. The total square footage in phase two is about 9,000 SF.

One of the more unusual quirks of Press Bay Court is part of the plaza would be convertible into an amphitheater/stage space for outdoor performances. So if some comedy improv group or local dance troupe wants to perform for an audience of several dozen, that’s an option. The next day, it might revert back to an outdoor seating space with movable furniture and display space for retail tenants. That weekend, it might host hungry or browsing festival goers spilling out from Press Bay Alley, which will be connected through the Press Bay Building. The space will be adaptable and multi-use, which will hopefully provide exposure for tenants.

Later plans call for renovations to the 15,000 SF Ithaca Journal (Market Bay) Building for an indoor arcade and second-floor office tenants, and a 2,400 SF new restaurant tenant in 121 West State Street, in the basement below The Watershed coffee lounge and bar. Ultimately, the goal is to build a thriving, synergistic environment where the businesses create a natural flow of customers and clients between the various shops and services offered on the block, and the outdoor space’s active uses contribute to and help sustain small local enterprises.

The project cost is estimated at about $900,000, most of which went into property acquisition. Financing comes from a Tompkins Trust Company loan, cash/equity, and a $200,000 low-interest loan from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. One of the tenant spaces is being offered in the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s “Race for Space II” competition, with the specific unit to be selected by the winner.

At the moment, not much appears to be happening. The “cut-out” lines are a clever advertisement for the future micro-retail storefronts, while the parking lot is a pop-up park for the time being. According to Press Bay Alley’s Facebook page, “Urban Core popped up a temporary installation to experiment with several design elements and gather public feedback.” Previous plans called for a spring opening, but with the Restore NY Grant under consideration, the project may not start until the Spring, in which case this entry saves the trouble of writing one next March. However, the later start date might force changes to Race for Space II, which asked for the selected tenant to be ready to move in by spring 2018, the same time construction was pushed back to in order to be eligible for Restore NY funds.

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 10/2017

23 10 2017

Continuing yesterday’s theme, here’s another one of Collegetown’s development opportunities playing out, though perhaps it was less obvious as the Linden Avenue properties – coming soon to Ithaca, 60 units with 191 beds of student housing at 232-236 Dryden Road, just east of Collegetown’s core and part of the eastern transition to the Belle Sherman neighborhood.

Once again, this is a case of Visum Development Group scouting potential opportunities at the right time and place to make something happen. Along with a large surface parking lot, the previous building on this site was a 30-unit apartment building and the former dormitory for the historic Cascadilla School, a private school with a 140-year history on the corner of Oak and Summit Avenues in Collegetown. The 4-story building once housed dorms, a dining hall and a gymnasium, but after its sale to private ownership after World War I, it was remodeled again and again, each seemingly more unsympathetic than the last. By the late 20th century, it was a grim, awkward-looking box, stripped of ornamentation and of its historic value. The previous owner, the proprietor of the Hillside Inn, had owned the property for several decades; Visum paid about triple the tax assessment ($7.65 million vs. $2.55 million) to buy the property in September.

There are two buildings to be built, totaling 84,700 SF – 232 Dryden (The Lux South) and 236 Dryden (The Lux North). This allows for different plane grades, meaning they’re different elevations. That makes it easier to blend in with the neighbors, and creates less ambiguity with height limits, something that bedeviled Visum with its 201 College Avenue project. As with 210 Linden, zoning is CR-4 – four floors, 45 feet from average grade, no parking required with a city-approved transportation demand management plan (TDMP). Usually, that means free bus passes or Carshare registrations, ample bike storage, and explaining how students can easily commute to campus by walking.

The project was proposed in March 2017 and approved by August. Overall, the changes were fairly modest. No zoning variances and little public opposition helped to create a smooth review process. The biggest change came during the design review process, and affected the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity, and the balconies are throwbacks to the Cascadilla dormitory’s long-gone shingle-style balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (that is the actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (real stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

The loan, for $16,354,628, was granted by S&T Bank, a regional bank based in Pennsylvania that has no retail banking presence in Ithaca, but has served as the financier for several projects, including the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Elmira Road, and Visum’s just-opened 201 College Avenue project. A breakdown of the costs shows the total project cost is $22,780,334. There’s $13,020,010 in hard costs (materials/labor), $7.65 million for property acquisition, $475,000 in soft costs (architect/engineering/legal), $250,000 for the demolition, and the rest is for taxes during construction and interest reserve (interest on the construction loan during construction). $650,000 (5% of the hard cost) is set aside as contingency funds just in case the expenses clock in higher than expected.

Despite the rather pretentious name and logo, it’s hard to argue the amenities don’t live up to the premise – according to the marketing website, tenants of The Lux and other Visum properties have access to a media lounge, study room, hot tub, sauna, full-service gym, game room and outdoor terrace. Tenants will have trash removal, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, and bike storage. I feel poor just typing this stuff out. Units are 1-5 bedrooms, with the smallest being 1 bed, 1 bath and 435 SF, and the largest being a 1693 SF, five-bedroom, five-bath. Rents will be $1200-$1300/month. Visum is running an offer that if all tenants on a lease (presumably a larger unit) can show they’re members of a registered student org, they get 10% off the first month and a $150 check will be given to their organization. Many larger Collegetown units are legacy properties among student groups (fraternity annexes, bandies, club and NCAA sports), passed down from year to year by members of the org. This may be a clever move to make next years’ renting a bit easier on Visum, whose CEO noted softening in the market this year.

A trip to the site shows caisson (steel pipe) piles have already been laid for The Lux South, and demolition is ongoing of the old apartment building on the site of The Lux North. The pipes extend down to the solid shale bedrock 46 feet below grade, according to local engineering firm Elwyn & Palmer. A deep foundation by any measure. A benefit to building in Collegetown is that the ground is much more amenable to deep foundations than the weak, water-logged soils of the West End.