News Tidbits 4/21/2018

21 04 2018

1. Just a few things since there isn’t much on the table at the moment…a look at next week’s planing board agenda.

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III. A. City Centre, 301 East State Street – Consideration of Project Changes and Conditions 6:20

The blog has touched on this previously, and it can also be seen by hawk-eyed passerby or webcam visitors. While the general massing and materials are staying the same, there are some pretty substantial changes to interior and exterior details, including significant revisions to site layout, landscaping and fenestration. New materials are also being deployed, though these are designed to look similar to the initially-approved materials.

B. Hilton Canopy Hotel, 115 Seneca Way – Consideration of Materials Color Change 6:40

Another project seeking revisions, though these can’t be ascribed to “value engineering”. According to project representative Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, the manufacturer of the metal panels switched from Cem5 with Swiss Pearl paints to Nichiha Panels using PPG Paints, which will create some subtle color differences.

The second change is that Hilton decided they didn’t like the yellowish fiber cement panels (“Applesauce Cake”) as an accent color, so they’ve been replaced with a dark grey-brown color, “Dark Ash”. I think it’s a little more foreboding to have a group of colors that look like the embodiment of an Ithaca winter, but hey, I’m just an armchair critic. Not mentioned, but it looks like based on the elevations that some trim pieces were deleted as well, as well as a glass entry on the north elevation.

C. Retail Expansion, 744 South Meadow Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing 7:00

Doubt there will be too many speakers during this public hearing. Benderson’s 3,200 SF is moving along. Corrugated aluminum and a “Brazilian rain screen” on the front, Brick pier for an accent, and the usual CMU and EIFS (aka masonry and synthetic stucco) on the back half. No named tenant. From experience, Benderson doesn’t say if they have tenants. They will not respond, period, if I ask no one is lined up, but if someone is, I usually get a call back. I prefer rival DLC Management Corporation’s method of monthly press releases, to be honest.

D. Duplex, 207-209 First Street, Declaration of Lead Agency 7:20

No modifications for this small infill project on the North Side by local businessman David Barken. Should be a fairly cut-and-dry affair. More on the project here.

E. GreenStar Co-operative Market, 750/770 Cascadilla Street, Declaration and Reviews of Parts 2 and 3 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form, 7:40

Not many changes with this plan. They’ve spoken with city engineers about their traffic study, and the city would like a few more bicycle and pedestrian features, as well as a few parking spaces designated for a car-share service like Ithaca CarShare. They also want a firm plan for traffic management while construction is underway, since it’s right next to Route 13. Other than that, looks like smooth sailing.

On an additional note, GreenStar has initiated the Tompkins County IDA tax abatement request process. This was stated in the plans early on, so it’s an expected action. The City of Ithaca announced in an email that a public information session that will be held Monday, April 30 at 5:30 p.m. However, they didn’t provide any supplemental information or links in the email, and nothing appears to be in the city’s document database. Nothing on the IDA’s website yet, either.

F. The Lux, 232-236 Dryden Road, Request to omit rooftop mechanical screen.

STREAM Collaborative, the architects of the project, are requesting on behalf of the developer, Visum Development Group, to delete sections of the fiber cement screen up top. This is often met with a stern “no”, but in this case they’re trying to show through sight-line diagrams that the effect will be minimal, though I suppose from farther vantage points that can see the roof, it would still be less attractive. The board’s objective is to figure out what suffices. Not sure whether this deletion is financially motivated, or if there safety/equipment concerns with the screen.

Not to be cynical, because it’s not my money and many people work hard to make these projects happen, but it does look like there are up to three projects previously approved that are coming back before the board this month wholly or in part for value engineering, which is not a great message to send. A member of the board isn’t likely to shoot anything down regardless of its negative aesthetic or neighborhood impacts because no one wants a half-finished building. But this may lead to much longer stipulations for approval, and a more stringent Planning Board that lengthens the initial approval process.

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks District FGEIS – Special Meeting in May
B. Planning Board comments on the proposal to allow the Planning Board to grant Special Permits

2. For all the Varna/Dryden readers – a developer is proposing a multi-family project in Varna, and would like to host an open house and community meeting at the Varna Community Association building Monday May 14th. Chances are, it they’re going to this much effort, it’s a sizable project. Give them (whoever it is) some benefit of the doubt. They’re not surprising people with a planning board submission, they want input first.





News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 3/31/18: A Bit of a Lull

31 03 2018

1. In Lansing, a local developer seems to have gotten the message when it comes to a small senior housing project. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the latest version of Eric Goetzmann’s Lansing Meadows calls for 20 2-bedroom units ~1500 SF (square feet) each in ten buildings along a loop road, “Lansing Meadows Drive”. The project uses the entire parcel, with the eastern end set aside for a small (less than 2500 SF) neighborhood retail component.

Goetzmann is less than happy with the latest version, saying that financially it doesn’t work, but he needs to get something built to fulfill the requirements of the BJ’s tax abatement in 2011 – the senior housing component of the project has been delayed so long, the county has prepared legal action to recuperate abated taxes if Goetzmann doesn’t get the senior housing started ASAP. The answer at the last pair of meetings went from “I just want to get this done” to “We’re looking to build 12 units and if we’re successful we’re looking to build some more, which really didn’t bode well for negotiation – at this point, a low or breakeven ROI is a price Goetzmann is willing to pay over paying the county and village millions. The Planning Board is satisfied with the newest design, and a vote to approve a special permit to start construction could be as soon as April 9th. The actual construction docs would take ten weeks and the project has to go out to bid contractors, but Goetzmann is optimistic the units will be built this year.

It’s a quiet month otherwise for the village, with a cell tower and a parking lot expansion the only other things on the latest agenda.

2. Let’s take a quick look at some noteworthy sales from the past month:

The Belleayre Apartments at 702 Stewart Avenue sold for $5,434,500 on the 22nd. The seller was Sebastian Mascaro, who some readers might remember because he previously owned the Chapter House before it burnt down. The buyer was Kimball Real Estate. The 44-unit building, which retains classic Collegiate Gothic details popular when it opened in 1933, is assessed at $3.85 million. Mascaro had paid $4.25 million for the building in November 2011. Don’t expect any big changes here, but it’s evidence of the strength of the local multi-family market.

9 Dart Drive, a 4.56-acre vacant parcel in the village of Lansing, sold for $52,500 to VPA Development on March 22nd. Yes, there is something planned here – the village Board of Trustees is aware. VPA Development’s mailing address is the same as local businessman Nick Bellisario, who is building warehouses on Hall Road in Dryden, and is a partner in the Varna Tiny Timbers (The Cottages at Fall Creek) project. Zoning here is the village’s Medium Density Residentialsingle-family and two-family homes, schools and religious facilities. Zoning is one unit per 20,000 SF for a single-family home, 25,000 SF for a duplex. So in theory, perhaps 8 or 9 home lots if single-family.

3. One of the questions that makes a fairly regular appearance in the inbox – will Maplewood finish on time in July 2018? It’s a good question, one that Cornell and EdR are damn determined to give a yes answer for. To make up for weather delays and other issues, the Maplewood construction team is requesting to do interior work to as late as 10:30 PM Monday-Friday. Keep in mind, this is on top of the Saturday hours and previous workday extension (four hours, two on both sides, to 7 AM – 7 PM). The town of Ithaca, which has to approve these changes, seems amenable to it so long as no generators are operating, doors and windows are closed, and supervisory staff is present – basically, don’t disturb the neighbors.

At last check, unseasonably cold and wet weather over the past several months had led the project to fall behind, and subcontractors to move to steadier jobs elsewhere. The project has fallen as much as 25 days behind schedule. The extensions, if approved, would create an 85.5 hour construction week, manned by different crews.

Side note, the town of Ithaca hasn’t had much else to review lately – the planning board has only had two meetings out of the scheduled six so far this year. The other projects were a single-family home lot subdivision on Trumansburg Road, and renewing the approvals for New Earth Living’s 31-unit Amabel single-family ecohousing development on Five Mile Drive. I have not seen anything underway when I’ve driven by, and the website has not been updated in a while, so it’s nice to know that something is still in the works.

4. For good housekeeping – things are slow in Dryden, so slow they cancelled their monthly planning board meeting. Things are also fairly slow in the town of Lansing, where the big controversy is a plan to relocate the shooting range for Lansing Rod & Gun. The issue is that environmentalists have criticized the gun shot’s proposal for lead shot remediation, as well as saying the range is too close to Salmon Creek. The town is still reviewing documents and has yet to make a decision.

5. Recently, the Collegetown Neighborhood Council floated a Business Improvement District (BID) similar to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. The reception was lukewarm, according to the Times’ Matt Butler. It’s not that the concept is disliked, although some smaller property owners are a bit nervous about being outvoiced by bigger players. It’s more a concern that a BID would likely be financed by a property tax surcharge, something that the county’s (and arguably, one of upstate’s) most expensive neighborhoods would rather not have to deal with. A DIA-type group may engage in security, local beautification, event planning, or other needs as the business owners as we see fit; as of now, it’s still just a hazy idea, but we’ll see what happens with it.

6. The relative quiet in the project pipeline extends to Ithaca City. At the February planning board meeting, U-Haul corporate had submitted plans for a 5-story building that, in the words of Matt Butler, “they kicked that idea to the curb….just bludgeoned the dude.” Apparently it was too much – too big, too tall, no attractive. Also, the project for 207-209 First Street is not as bad as initially feared. Both existing two-families will be renovated, but not torn down, and a new duplex would be built at the rear of the property lots. The board says it could be similar to the Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood, and was supportive of the plan overall.

This month was one of the quietest meeting agendas I’ve seen in years – the only project up for formal review and approval was the Stewart Park Inclusive Playground, as well as updates on the Chain Works District zoning, and the City Harbor plans. City Harbor was a late addition. There is plenty in the pipeline, some of which will come forward in the next few months; just seems there’s a bit of a lull at the moment.

7. Just a reminder – meetings for the East Hill Village neighborhood-scale proposal will be held at the The Space @ Greenstar on Monday 4/9 (an update of the past several months, 4/11 (workshops for concept designs), and 4/12 (presentation of preferred concept designs and alternatives). All meetings will be 6-8 PM, and the public is encouraged to attend.

Here’s a copy of the presentation from last May’s meeting – not anything groundbreaking, but it makes it clear that Cornell’s land holding are much more patchwork than folks might realize. I suppose the owner of the East Hill Car Wash stands to make a pretty penny at some point.





Amici House Construction Update, 3/2018

24 03 2018

Ithaca’s housing woes are fairly well-documented at this point. As in any broad situation, some have fared worse than others. If you’re fairly well off, the rapidly increasing housing prices are a nuisance, a vague political “issue” or perhaps even an opportunity if one thinks they know the market. For those will meager or no means, it’s more dire than that.

Take for instance those who are housing insecure or homeless. With a scarcity of options in Ithaca, many of Ithaca’s most vulnerable are at risk of living on the streets, with many ending up in “the Jungle” encampment behind Wal-Mart. Local shelters and supportive housing facilities are at full capacity, with dozens more turned away. This can perpetuate unemployment by reducing life stability, and it contributes to substance abuse and mental health issues. The high cost of housing has contributed to a much higher homeless rate in Tompkins County – up to five times the rate of Onondaga County (Syracuse), according to a 2016 Ithaca Voice study.

Tompkins Community Action, T.C.Action/TCAction for short, is well-aware of the issues faced by the less well-off in the Ithaca community. The non-profit started as the local unit of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” programs in the 1960s. It administers early childhood education programs (Head Start), GED assistance, energy service programs (home weatherization), food pantries, family reunification services, housing vouchers, a fiscal literacy program, employment help – basically, social support services for thousands of low-income individuals in Tompkins County and adjacent communities, helping them succeed in their educational, professional and family endeavors.

In the past few years, Tompkins Community Action has made significant efforts to try and create more housing for those vulnerable, so that they’re less likely to end up in the Jungle or a back alley. In safe, secure housing, they are more likely to get clean, they are more likely to earn and keep steady employment, and they are more likely to take advantage of TCAction’s other supportive services, hopefully continuing on to better, more productive lives.

One of these efforts is a partnership with Finger Lakes ReUse – the pair, with consultation from affordable housing provider INHS, are entering the grant-writing phase for 22 studio units for those transitioning out of jail as well as the formerly homeless at FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The other major project is Amici House.

Going through my archived notes, the first reference to what would become Amici House shows up all the way back in September 2014 as a 14 or 15-unit townhouse proposal, but it wasn’t until June 2016 that the first plans were presented, after a feasibility study was completed. Site plan review began in October 2016, and the project was approved in January 2017.

The plans, drawn up by Schickel Architecture of Ithaca, call for a narrow five-story, 20,785 SF (later 20,712 SF) building for housing, and an adjacent one-story, 7,010 SF building that will host classrooms and daycare facilities. The facilities would be a part of TCAction’s campus at 661-701 Spencer Road on the south end of the city. Two small houses would be deconstructed to make room for the classroom building, while the residential building, planned to house homeless or vulnerable youth aged 18-25, would be an addition onto the non-profit group’s existing office building.

On the first floor of the new residential building would be a children’s playroom (for homeless youth with children), case conferencing rooms, training rooms and kitchen space. 23 efficiency (studio) apartments would be built on the second through fifth floors.

The childcare building, later called the Harriet Giannelis Childcare Center in honor of a late staff member of TCAction, will provide five classrooms for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as support space and staff training space. The building will host a playground, which is the blue space in the site plan above. The facility would have space for 42 children, and create about 21 living-wage jobs. The numbers were more recently revised to 48 children and 24 jobs. TCAction, which employs 104 people, is a certified living-wage employer.

During the review process, not much changed. On the residential building, the planning board thought a glass-encased stairwell was thought to produce too much light, so the next iteration had it completely bricked in, which the Planning Board also disliked, as was a plan with small windows. Eventually, a “happy” medium was reached for medium-sized windows in the stairwell.

The project required a couple of zoning variances. The first one was for parking spaces (72 required, 65 planned). TCAction suggested that from a practical standpoint, they wouldn’t need a parking space for every housing unit, but the classrooms and office space will meet their parking requirements. Another variance was for operation of a child care facility is a residential zone, and there were three area variances related to building size and the driveway/drop-off area.

The initial estimated construction costs are $8.25 million. Per city building permit docs, The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. However, city IURA statements sat the HGCC will cost $1,774,470 to build, with $153,450 in soft costs, and a total of about $2,103,000. The residential portion comprises $6,115,000 in hard/soft costs and land acquisition (total for both $8,218,000). Welliver of Montour Falls is the general contractor.

As one might tell from above, financially it’s a bit confusing. This isn’t a traditionally-financed project with concerns about a lender’s Return On Investment. To make it become a reality, it uses a fair amount of subsidy layering – different funding grants from the city, county, NYS and the Federal HUD.

One grant, awarded in June 2016, was for $118,000 from the county that would purchase the small house next door to their headquarters – 661 Spencer, built in 1950 by the Amici family – thus allowing them to procure the land needed for developmentA later “grant” forgave the remaining $75,000 loan balance on their headquarters, and $225,000 was awarded to the project by the Tompkins-Ithaca-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund (CHDF).  TCAction first acquired their HQ with the help of the county back in 2001, and the cost of the purchase was being paid back to the county in the form of a 20-year lease. $84,200 was awarded to the Childcare Center by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in 2017.

New York State awarded the project $3.732 million in April 2017, and the state’s HUD equivalent, NYS HCR, supplied another $3.26 million in two other grants, the Community Investment Fund (CIF) for the childcare center, and the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) for the housing. M&T Bank is providing a $501,883 construction loan, and another $300,000 came from a Federal Home Loan Bank.

More recently, the numbers were revised to $603,000 for M&T Bank and the NYS HCR CIF was reduced from $1.499 to $1.325 million – probably a case where the state decided not to award the full request, and TCAction had to make it up elsewhere. Funding for the Head Start operation comes from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, and other funding comes from state and local allocations. The facilities are tax-exempt. A look at the finances, which practically break even (slight profit actually) can be found here.

Initially, construction was supposed to be from August 2017 to October 2018, but the time frames were shifted back a few months due to financial and bureaucratic snags. TCAction also discovered they couldn’t stay in their headquarters as construction went on, so they needed an emergency $90,690 loan from the IURA to rent temporary offices at 609 West Clinton Street.

Along with Schickel Architecture and Welliver, the project team includes Taitem Engineering for structural engineering work, Foor & Associates of Elmira assisting in the design work, T. G. Miller P.C. for civil engineering and surveying, Saratoga Associates Landscape Architects, Seeler Engineering of suburban Rochester, and INHS as a consultant.

In the photos below, construction has been well underway, and has been since at least the tail end of January. The childcare center’s slab foundation and footers have been excavated, poured and insulated with rigid foam boards (the soil will be backfilled later to cover the base). The wood-frame is well underway, and it appears most if not all of the roof trusses are in place, as are many of the walls – I suppose these guys are going with housewrap instead of ZIP sheets. Although the size seems correct, the design does not look like what I have on file from , much to my chagrin. Foundation work seems to be underway for the residential portion.

 

 





Village Solars Construction Update, 3/2018

24 03 2018

It looks like 102 Village Place is just about complete from the outside, with only some minor finishing work like trim boards remaining on the to-do list. Its peer, 116 Village Circle, is a little further behind, with rough-ins, insulation and drywall in place inside, and exterior facade work underway. The air-source heat pumps have been installed, but not fully hooked up yet. The 42 units in these two (24 and 18 respectively) should be ready for occupancy by the end of the spring.

I never caught it before, but the project docs say the developer, Lifestyles Properties (the Lucente family), will plant over 500 cherry trees on the property as phases concludes and the land is no longer disturbed. Perhaps a few of the saplings below are included in that figure.

According to the phasing plan, the next phase is to replace 2 Village Circle and 22 Village Circle with a pair of 18-unit buildings. Those would be twelve studios and six two-bedrooms each, replacing two ten one-bedroom unit buildings (net gain of 28 residents, for those keeping in track). These would likely start later this year for a 2019 completion.

After that time, Phase 3b, a 20-unit, 20-bedroom mixed-use community building (building “F”, all-new), would also start construction, with the start of phase 4, the 24-unit replacement of 36 Village Circle, to follow in the 2019-2020 timeframe. 3b has to start before Phase 4 if even just one day sooner, as that was added as a stipulation by the town planning board before any new phases commence (presumably, it would also have to be completed in reasonable time). Lifestyle Properties says the two buildings per year phase-in works well for Tompkins Trust Company as lender (its market segment and location can comfortably absorb another 42 or so units every year), and for the in-house construction team and preferred subcontractors. Spring 2022 is the practical conclusion, but there are plans for additional buildings east of the current site, which could add a few hundred more units throughout the 2020s.

Just as a subjective observation, there has definitely been a change in Lansing’s development pattern. It’s still fairly suburban, but the numerous 3,000 SF Cardamone homes that seemed to be ever-underway on cul-de-sacs in the mid 2000s have now been reduced to a trickle – I never see more than 2 or 3 underway at any one time these days, and driving through Cayuga Way, Woodland Park and Whispering Pines is often a waste of gas. However, multi-family is taking off in areas with sewer access, like here at the Village Solars, and with the English Village / Cayuga Orchard properties between East Shore Drive and Triphammer Road. Likewise, the village is getting plenty of infill on its vacant parcels, from large projects like the Bomax Drive Apartments and Cayuga View Senior Living, to smaller ones like Triphammer Row.

There’s some evidence to back that up – according to the federal HUD Building Permits Database, from 2003-2006, Lansing town and village approved 187 single-family homes and not a single multi-family unit. From 2013-2016 (the latest available), the two approved 92 single-family homes and 148 multi-family units.





South Meadow Square Construction Update, 3/2018

23 03 2018

One doesn’t have to look far to see retail is taking in on the chin. Wikipedia has a well-sourced listicle of events in the “retail apocalypse“, as it’s been branded by the national media outlets. Several factors play into the spike in retail chain bankruptcies and closures across the country – the rise of Internet shopping (Amazon) and easy, cheap distribution, Wal-Mart and other megachains exerting economies of scale on other retailers can’t afford to sell as cheaply, younger generations buy less “stuff”, the United States simply has too much retail space.

For now, some retailers are more immune than others – those who focus on convenience and budget necessities (dollar stores), those who sell goods that are hard to ship (home improvement stores, wholesale clubs), and those who focus on experiences rather than items. However, even sectors that were once seen as safe as starting to feel the pinch – pharmacies and grocery stores, for instance.

With all that in mind, it seems a bit odd to be building new suburban “big-box” retail space, but Buffalo-based Benderson Development is doing just that at South Meadow Square at 742-744 South Meadow Street on the city’s southwest side. Benderson purchased the retail strip from the original developers (the Visnyei family) in 2009.

Development of Ithaca’s big-box corridor has always been contentious. Long ago, the area consisted of a few small auto-centric businesses and the county fairgrounds (hence Fairgrounds Memorial Parkway). During the mid and late 20th century, big box retail slowly made its way into the southwest part of the city – what’s now Finger Lake Reuse on Old Elmira Road was built as a grocery store in the 1970s, and parts of Ithaca Plaza next door date to 1950. Wegmans opened a store in the 1980s, and replaced with newer, larger store in 1997.

The 1990s was when big-box development pressure seemed to come to a head. Wal-Mart was stymied for years thanks to neighborhood opposition, and Target eventually gave up its plans and moved to Lansing. But, much to the city’s chagrin, the 1990s were difficult times economically – the tax base was in decline, state aid was in decline, and the local economy was mired in a deep recession. Somewhat begrudgingly, the Nichols (1989-1995) but especially the Cohen administration (1995-2003) began permitting large-scale retail development in the hopes of propping up the tax base and stemming the flow of dollars to suburban outlets in the suburbs, as well as Elmira and Cortland.

Many of the  city’s big boxes are result of that late 1990s/early 2000s wave. Wal-Mart (2005, expanded to a Supercenter in 2011), Home Depot (2003), the Tops Placa (2002). Some were all-new, others were extensive renovations and rebuilds. This particular retail strip at 742-744 is one of the latter – it had actually opened as a rather large 87,000 SF K-Mart in the 1970s (the 22,000 SF supermarket it shared a lobby with later became Staples), and was extensively renovated and in the mid-1980s and in more recent years. The K-Mart looked pretty dated when it closed in October 2011. Hobby Lobby filled some of the old K-Mart space in 2013, and in fall of that year, plans were drawn up for a pair of endcap expansions.

One was on the north end – 7,315 SF of retail space, next to the early 2000s 19,000 SF PetSmart. The other was a 14,744 SF south endcap that would be built were K-Mart’s garden center used to be. These plans were approved in November 2013, but then updates and revisions were proposed in 2014, when TJ Maxx and Five Below were announced to fill the remaining vacant space (21,770 SF and 8,209 SF respectively). At that time, the southern addition became 16,200 SF.

For one reason or another, Benderson decided to go back to the original plan (probably a potential tenant backed out) early last year, and asked for re-approval of the November 2013 additions – city approval is only good for two years. Unlike most parts of the city, the lack of nearby residents and general apathy towards big-box retail makes variances somewhat easier to receive; plus, a re-approval is typically a small matter – re-approval was granted in May. City zoning (SW-2, and PUDOD) is generous down here because the city keeps hoping someone will do walkable mixed-use, but the waterlogged soils make that difficult – you either build shallow, or quite deep, and quite deep requires a lot of height and square footage above ground to make up those construction costs.

Construction is going to be fairly standard – concrete slab foundation, steel frame, masonry walls, and probably some decorative entry bays and facade work. At the moment, excavation is underway for the footers of the foundation on the southern end, while the footers have already been poured and strengthened with rebar on the northern end. The Dryvit and brick veneer on the wall of Pet-Smart has been removed, and I think that’s mineral wool insulation underneath. Expect both of these to be finished towards the end of the year. I don’t have a project value offhand, but the existing plaza (128,582 SF) is $6.5 million, so 22,059 SF of new space is probably worth about $1 million or so.

As for tenants, your guess is as good as mine. We’ll see if Benderson can make it work in the age of the retail apocalypse. Benderson’s proffered choice of designers, Buffalo’s Carmina Wood Morris D.P.C., is the architect.

November 2017

January 2018

March 2018





Cayuga Medical Associates Construction Update, 3/2018

22 03 2018

Since January, it looks like all the foundation footers have been poured and the underground utilities connections are in place. At this point comes the foundation slab itself. with a generous helping of steel rebar grid for strength. Being medical office, this is probably a steel frame construction, so visitors to Community Corners can expect that later this spring. McPherson Builders should have the $7.8 million building ready for commercial occupancy by late summer.

In the meanwhile, visitors can also look forward to the new Gimme! Coffee that is planned for the closed Lonacakes Bakery space. That new business will bring 5-10 living-wage jobs; readers might remember that the baristas recently unionized. There is a modest little cafe and catering place nearby and the swanky Heights Restaurant, but it’s probably safe to say that the niches are different enough that Gimme! won’t poach business from the others.

I remain a bit hopeful that eventually, Cayuga Heights and relevant property owners (Tim Ciaschi, Mark Mecenas) might nudge towards the denser if still relatively modest mixed-use plan that was proposed five years ago; Mecenas said at a recent meeting he’s still interested. In other village news, staff say there have been several inquiries into the former Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity property a mile away at 306 Highland Road, but no takers as of yet.