1. In what was ostensibly the biggest news of the week, Newman Development Group (NDG) of Vestal announced plans for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca. “City Centre” includes nine floors total, with roughly 250 apartments from studios to 2-bedrooms, about 10,000 SF (square feet) of retail space, 3,200 SF of amenities like a business center, and an underground garage of 70 spaces (the site is zoned CBD-120, which has no parking requirement). Readers might recall that Texas-based student housing developer Campus Advantage had proposed the State Street Triangle project, but their purchase option was not renewed by the owner of Trebloc.
Looking at their portfolio, Ithaca is NDG’s odd market out – most of their projects involve suburban retail centers and chain hotels, with shopping plazas from coast to coast. A smaller division, NDG Student Living, focuses on acquiring and building student housing, with their most recent projects in Binghamton and Oneonta. Ithaca seems to be the only metro where they’ve built general housing; earlier this decade, they worked with local businessman Bryan Warren on the Seneca Way mixed-use project on the east end of downtown.
The gut reaction to Newman as a developer is that, although they’re not very accustomed to urban mixed-use, there is one market where they do know what they’re doing, and that would be Ithaca’s.
Let’s just start right off the bat with one big difference between NDG and CA – the way the news was broken. CA was caught off-guard when the Journal’s David Hill broke the news of a 120-foot building a few days before the Planning Board meeting. NDG, working with local consultant Scott Whitham, emailed the same press release to each of the three major news organizations in Ithaca, which gave them the upper hand on the way information was delivered. The Times ran their copy first with almost no additional details, the Voice came a little later in the afternoon with more details such as unit total and retail space, and the Journal’s version came in the evening with even more details, such as the 70-space underground garage, and plans for the project to pursue CIITAP, the city’s property tax abatement program.
We’ll see what happens next week. The garage, not removing the turn lane, the general housing focus as opposed to students, and an initial design by Humphreys and Partners Architects that doesn’t repulse people are all cards that NDG holds that CA didn’t. But, there will still be sizable opposition. Playing your cards correctly is just as important to a winning hand as having them.
2. It looks like Gimme! Coffee is percolating something new out in Trumansburg. Through an LLC, the local coffee chain picked up 25-27 West Main Street for $350,000 on the 20th. The building is the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows Temple, a fraternal organization which established a chapter in Trumansburg in 1839, with ties to an older fraternal organization going further back to 1818. The 19th century temple is now about 1,700 SF of retail space, and 3 apartments totaling 3,300 SF on the upper floors; recent tenants have included Life’s So Sweet Chocolates and a barber shop.
Ithaca also had a location, first in downtown, and then on West Hill from the late 1920s. The older location was demolished to build the county library in the 1960s, while the West Hill location is a mix of uses today, one of which is the Museum of the Earth.
Gimme! has had a 1,200 SF shop at nearby 7 East Main Street since 2002, but they rent the space from Interlaken businessman Ben Guthrie. Logical guess here would be, they like Trumansburg, they wanted to buy a space and stay near where they are now, this opportunity came up down the street and they went for it. The sale price on 25-27 W Main is a substantial climb from the $288,000 it sold for in June 2010; I guess they call Trumansburg “little Ithaca” for a reason.
3. So, documents filed with the 201 College project this week were quite intriguing. First off, no action was taken at the zoning board meeting, but the developer of 201 College modified the project so that it no longer needs the setback variance or the entryways design variance. The planters were shrunk down in order to keep the sidewalk 12′ wide as requested by the Planning Board. Some additional 3-D drawings were also sent along, and site elevations and utilities plan here.
One of the images sent along was a “future context” file of potential nearby projects in the next couple of years. This document likely stems from the Planning Board debate of just what is likely to get developed in the vicinity over the next 5 years or so. There are four massings, merely following what zoning allows.
302-306 College Avenue – “Avenue 302”, by the Avramis family. Two buildings, one of six floors, one four, possibly in the 2017-2019 timeframe. Nothing formal has been discussed since the 2014 sketch plan, but the houses currently there are leased through May 2017.
215 College Avenue – A Novarr project. All that is publicly known at this stage is that Novarr wants to start construction in Summer 2017. Zoning allows 5 floors.
202 College Avenue – 202, 204, 206 and 210 College Avenue are all Novarr properties (there is no 208), as is the adjacent 118 Cook Street, which is not included in the massing outline. The College Avenue parcels allow 5 floors, 118 Cook 4. There hasn’t been any news with these properties lately.
119-125 College Avenue – three houses (there is no 123) owned by an Endicott-based landlord. I had to put out some inquiries on these houses, and there may be a sale in the works, although nothing’s on file with the county yet. These are CR-4, allowing 4 floors, but they could be tough to redevelop because these houses are seen as potentially historic resources.
Anyway, a vote on the project’s approvals is set for Tuesday. Neil Golder has created a group called “Save the Soul of Collegetown” to stage a rally in front of city hall that evening and try and halt the plans, but the last I checked on Facebook, three of the five people going were reporters.
4. Going more into briefs now, the Amici House funding plan for building a housing facility for 23 at-risk youth, and a second structure for five head-start classrooms and 42 students, was approved by the county this week. Once the sale is finalized, expect the official plans to be presented to city officials not long thereafter. Once those are approved, additional grant applications can be filed and hopefully, construction will be completed no later than 2018. According to the county’s press release, the Amici plan will create about 25 living wage jobs.
5. Starting on the 27th, Gannett Health Services will begin to transition over to the new addition, while work begins on renovating the older wings of Cornell’s healthcare facility. This marks the rough completion of phase one, and the halfway point for the $55 million project. The Gannett webpage says the whole facility will be known as “Cornell Health” upon completion.
6. Back in November, Ithaca’s second ward saw a competitive election between candidates Ducson Nguyen and Sean Gannon. One of the big differences between the two was on development – Nguyen advocated for urban development in downtown, and Gannon thought there was too much building going on and it needed to be slowed down. Nguyen won by a hefty margin on election night.
A building loan agreement was inked next week to build a new duplex (two-unit semi-detached house) behind an existing property at 512-514 West Green Street. $330,000, Ithaca’s Carina Construction will be the contractor (expect a Simplex modular duplex). The property is bisected by zoning, with the rear falling into the State Street development corridor, so no parking is required for the new rear duplex. At a glance, it looks like a winning plan – it will be modest-sized, it’s in a walkable area, and it supplies much-needed housing. The Ciaschi family is developing the units.
The property also happens to be next door to Mr. Gannon. I’m sure he will be all kinds of amused.