News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

Finally, clearing out the last of that late April photo stash. Not many here, but a new, small Collegetown project is underway at 118 College Avenue.

This is a Visum project, and probably their lowest profile plan. In fact, this one never even went through the sketch plan part of the city review process, the project team went straight to asking for the city planning to declare itself lead agency for environmental review in March 2017. Approval was a short time later as Ithaca goes, in May 2017. Building permits were issued this past winter.

It wasn’t a rash decision by any means – the project is largely similar to a previously-approved plan a few houses up at 126 College Avenue, and there is very little difference between the two properties in terms of context. They are both CR-4 zones allowing 4 floors and 45′ heights. The original 118 College Avenue was a two-story, early 20th century rental house with six bedrooms and marginal historic value, though I imagine the house was rather pretty before some unfortunate additions threw off its symmetry. The property was purchased by Red Door Rentals (Greg Mezey and Ryan Mitchell) in April 2014, transferred to another Mezey/Mitchell company, “MPB Capital LLC” in October 2017, and then to an LLC associated with Visum on the same day as the MPB Capital transfer. It seems plausible Ryan and Mitchell are project investors, with Visum as developer.

Plans call for a new 4-story, 45′ building on the sloped lot. With that slope, the basement is exposed on the west face, so it has the appearance of five floors from the rear and sides. A back of the envelope calculation says this building is about 9,000 SF. The roof hosts a 6′ architecturally-integrated mechanical screen; hides the mechanicals, but gives the apartment building an Italianate aesthetic. The building uses electric heat pumps and is designed to be net-zero energy compatible. The hard construction cost rings in $1.415 million, according to the SPR filing – it would be assessed at a substantially higher amount. Unabated taxes her, so while people may dislike Collegetown, projects like this help fill the city coffers.

There will be 5 apartment units with 28 bedrooms – 4 six-bedroom units, 1 four-bedroom unit on the basement level. The project comes with five new trees, lush landscaping for its small lot, an outdoor bike rack, screened trash area, and bike storage and mechanical rooms in the basement. Tenants with valid licenses will be given membership in Ithaca Carshare, to try and dissuade them from bringing personal vehicles. Not a surprise here, but college students are the intended market.

Only a couple minor changes occurred from start to finish – the window on the northeast face was replaced with a patterned trimboard to keep visual interest. The rooflines ware adjusted in the render below, but not the building plan, so we’ll see which is correct.

For materials, the basement-level will use stucco mixed with Sherwin-Williams “Sawdust” paint, the first level is a combination of Belden face brick (Belcrest) and S-W “Truepenny” fiber cement clapboards, more fiber cement clapboard on the mid-section in S-W “Overjoy“, trimboards, balcony trim and window casing colored S-W “Svelte Sage”, black window frames, stucco (in S-W “Favorite Tan”) with more fiber cement trim and frieze boards on the top level, and the pyramidal roof caps will be standing seam metal, Pac-Clad “Aged Copper”. Mix of materials, mix of colors – should stand out nicely.

Expect buildout to look similar to 210 Linden and The Lux – Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level, double-stud Huber ZIP panel plywood sheathing, scratch coats on the portion to be covered in stucco, perhaps wood furring to raise the exterior clapboard and prevent dampness, and probably Anderson windows. The project is expected to be complete by August – units are going for $950/bedroom, plus utilities. Pricey, but at least they allow large dogs.

Along with Visum and Red Door Rentals for this ride through the development process is STREAM Collaborative as the building and landscape architect. Since they’re GC at 210 Linden Avenue, Romig General Contractors may be the manager of the construction crew here as well.

 

 





Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

The Masonic Temple renovation is low-key but worth an explainer. Here we go:

The 17,466 SF Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is a bit of an unusual building. It was one of the last designs by prolific local architects Arthur Gibb and Ornan Waltz, and completed in 1926. The style is Egyptian Revival, which was also used for the Sphinx Head Tomb at 900 Stewart Avenue, and to a lesser extent in the Carey Building, which was built around the same time. Egyptian Revival architecture uses what are or are perceived to be Egyptian motifs (stark facades, strong symmetrical elements, Egyptian-themed ornamentation), and experienced a resurgence in the 1920s following the opening of King Tut’s tomb – the early 20th century designs are sometimes grouped in as a subcategory of Art Deco.

Keep in mind that Freemasonry is a loose affiliation of fraternal groups, with some degree of secrecy (that they like to play up, for better or worse). Although diminished in this age, they played a role in community social life much as Greek Life does on college campuses. The Ithaca Freemasons wanted something exotic with just a hint of foreboding, so the architects went with minimal ornamentation, strong symmetry, simple, slit-like windows, and a bare, impassive facade, here a thin limestone veneer over a steel frame (a modern idea for the time). To quote William D. Moore’s Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes, “a critic claimed that Ithaca’s Masonic Temple could help visitors to imagine themselves ‘transported to the civilizations of the Pharaohs…There is no mistaking this structure for an abode of commerce’.”

By the 1990s, the Masonic Temple had fallen into disuse, and local developer and major landlord Jason Fane picked it up in 1993. Fane had made his intent clear that he preferred to demolish the building and build new on the site, a stone’s throw from the hear of Downtown. In response and concern to that idea, the building was landmarked in 1994. You could probably see some parallels to the Nines situation here, only the Nines owners aren’t already multi-millionaires and don’t have a negative public image.

It’s a difficult building to reuse. Not only does one contend with the extra hurdles and costs of working with a landmarked historic structure, but the rooms are cavernous and the building has been described as functionally obsolete – its outdated mechanical systems and lack of handicap accessibility have made it a difficult sell to prospective commercial tenants. The last tenant was the Odyssey nightclub, which moved out over a decade ago. Older folks tend to remember a restaurant prior to that, Europa.

Fane himself was never a big fan of what was considered his “white elephant” property; out of concerns he was letting it decay to the point of an emergency demolition, the CIITAP tax abatement rules were modified in 2014 to say that applicants had to be code compliant on all their other existing properties, and was targeted at Fane, who was seeking an abatement at the time for an apartment proposal at 130 East Clinton Street (it was denied and the project was never built).

The best way to describe the Masonic Temple problem is that it’s not the location, and it’s not out of a lack of interest – it was simply the cost of making it code-compliant and more accessible for tenants. Early plans considered putting The History Center here, while an earlier plan from 2012 considered buying the property from Fane and making it into a community center. The 2012 plan never made much headway – Fane was not keen on selling, and he still harbored hopes of demolishing it. The History Center plan was also seen as more expensive than a specialized space for The History Center.

The city has long hoped that they and Fane would see eye-to-eye, and finally it appears that dream is coming true. In July 2015, the city Common Council voted to support an application from Fane to the New York State Main Street Program, a state-sponsored grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers. In December of that year, the state awarded Fane a $500,000 grant towards the rehabilitation of the building (which cost a little over $1 million total). The initial plans were to get the ball rolling on construction in summer 2016, but it does appear that much-lauded renovation plan is finally moving forward now.

The renovation, designed by architectural preservation specialists Johnson-Schmidt & Associates of Corning, calls for the creation of three commercial spaces, the installation of a ramp at the rear of the auditorium, and a new elevator on the southwest side of the building. With the interior kitchen still intact, it is likely that at least one of the commercial spaces would be geared towards a restaurant tenant.

A new roof membrane will be applied, the exterior limestone and stucco will be cleaned and repaired, the street windows repaired and repainted, and the auditorium windows, which had been boarded up by previous tenants, will be replaced with similar-looking new windows. The front entrance’s stone steps would be redone, and the front doors and lamp posts would be restored. The Ithaca Landamrks Preservation Commission signed off on the work in January 2017. The plans can be seen in the application here.

At the moment, it looks like asbestos abatement is underway, and the ground-level light wells are having their deteriorated concrete removed and replaced. Kascon Environmental Services is performing the asbestos removal, and McPherson Builders Inc. of Ithaca is the contractor-of-record. I asked Fane via email if the plans had changed at all since January 2017, or if there were any tenants on board, but as is often the case with him and his lawyer/representative Nate Lyman, there is no response.

3/30/2018

4/28/2018





City Centre Construction Update, 4/2018

12 05 2018

Mostly just clearing out my stash at this point; as the webcam shows, exterior framing is up to the third floor.

A number of changes have been made to the City Centre project, inside and out. Whitham Planning and Design shepherded the alterations through the planning board, which was generally okay with them. Among the revisions:

-Landscaping Changes. Among them, street tree species and layout, and tree grates are being replaced with FlexiPave porous paved covers. The number of shrubs was decreased, perennial flowers increased. Bike racks were relocated, street lights, curbing and curb ramps were adjusted, concrete planters were added by the parking drop-off area, a pergola with string lights was added, bollards were added, the sidewalk width along East Green Street was reduced from 6′ to 5′, and pavers were changed to a slightly darker shade of grey.

-On the first floor, the lobby layout was reconfigured, and some exterior doors were relocated for ease of access. The number of retail spaces was reduced from four to three, but the total square footage for the retail is about the same (11,000 SF). A storm water vault and fire pump room were added in the underground garage, and the parking spaces were reconfigured slightly to accommodate (still about 71 spaces).

-The unit mix has changed from 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms, and 53 two-bedrooms, to 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. Still 192 units total, but with fewer studios and two-bedrooms and more one-bedrooms, basically. This might have to do with what’s easiest to rent to the target market (young professionals, a few downsizers, deep-pocketed students). Perhaps studios aren’t seen as having enough space for the upmarket market segment.

-The exterior facing materials have been changed from Nichiha aluminum panels to Overly Dimension XP Metal Systems, and Alucoil Larson ACM aluminum panels. The color palette is generally the same, perhaps slightly greyer with the revised paneling. Air intake vents were added to the building facade. Fenestration (window size/arrangement) was also changed up.

The floor buildout is a rather interesting process, because they’re practically building from the inside-out as each floor is added. The interior steel stud walls and structural steel supports go up first, then roof decking overhead, and then what appear to be prefabricated modular exterior wall panels with Marvin Windows already fitted. The dark panel is Dow Thermax Xarmor, which apart from sounding like a Star Wars extra, is a heavy-duty fire-rated fiberglass insulation board covered with a dark exterior facer that serves as a water barrier. These panels can be set into place very quickly, saving time and labor costs. The ground-level is more typical fireproof gypsum sheathing. The steel rails on the upper floors are likely for the aluminum exterior panels, so they may clipped into place.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 4/2018

10 05 2018

Ithaca weather is not accommodating. Originally, the pour for the concrete slab was supposed to take place on April 3rd. It’s tricky, because this is a large footprint and the building is very heavy, necessitating a thick slab – 30 inches thick. That has to all be poured at once, without any potential interruptions like rain or snow, which can weaken the concrete as it cures (upsets the mix and water balance). That was rescheduled the first time due to winter weather, and was expected to take place on the 11th, which was rained out. 4/16 was also cancelled due to winter weather. Finally the concrete was able to be poured on the 23rd.

In the photos below, you can see some wood forms are still in place for smaller sections (entryway, lower right of site). The vertical concrete column bases are being poured (note the squares of vertical rebar in the sections yet to be encased), with steel plates atop the finished column to tie into the steel beams. The hole in the lower right (southeast) corner is for one of the elevator cores. Taylor the Builders will have this heading skyward in short order.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 4/2018

7 05 2018

It appears that TFC’s new headquarters is just about done – from the outside, paving, landscaping and signage is about all that’s left. The signage plan, a fairly conservative “halo” style courtesy of Ithaca Sign Works, can be seen on the city’s website here.

As these photos were taken, a moving crew was busy carting office materials from TFC’s office space across the street. Corporation staff should be moved into the new building by the end of May. Tompkins Trust Company Division CEO Greg Hartz has said that 119 and 121 East Seneca would be held onto and rented out, with the bank retaking space in those buildings as it needs. Meanwhile, the historic 2 and 3-story buildings on Bank Alley just south of the M&T Building have been sold to the county for use as the new Tompkins Center for History and Culture, which will open in 2019.

On the whole, a project like this is a big net positive for the city. As opposed to the tried-and-true suburban office park route, TFC’s commitment to the city, and the work of city personnel as well as TCAD to keep them in downtown results in a major addition to the city’s tax base ($3,782,311 in new tax revenue over 10 years), the retaining of hundreds of workers downtown who by proximity would be more likely to shop, dine or live nearby, and the prospect of dozens of well-paying jobs being created at the new headquarters over the next several years. It looks like that the company added 22 employees system-wide in 2017, for a total of 1,041. A little over 300 of those will work in the new headquarters, the vast majority moving from the other offices in downtown Ithaca, with another 18 or so from the Lansing office.

Design-wise, it has a solid if conservative appearance, befitting of a stable, button-up corporation. HOLT Architects added a modern touch with the windows, and created visual interest by contrasting the dark grey brick with the tan brick, beige face stone and grey aluminum panels. The building height and dimension occupy an intermediate size between the DeWitt Mall and Seneca Place, which allows it to be imposing without being overbearing.

Other firms involved in the bringing this project from vision to reality include the engineers and surveyors at Elwyn & Palmer, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, and Rochester’s LeChase Construction. Credit also goes to JPW Erectors for the steel framework, the Carpenters’ Union Local 277 and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 241.

 





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 4/2018

5 05 2018

Construction continues on the Canopy, but the plans are in a state of modest flux. The fiber cement panels were changed to a different manufacturer, which uses a different paint supplier. The original Cem5 fiber cement panels use Swiss Pearl paints, while the revision proposes Nichiha panels using PPG paints. The replacement colors are very similar.

However, the dull yellow “Applesauce Cake” accent panels (itself a replacement for Cem5 “Carat Topaz”), was rejected by Canopy. The replacement color, a charcoal grey “Dark Ash”, was disliked by the board, so the project team is still trying to determine a suitable color replacement with enough to get the order filed with the manufacturer without delaying the construction timeline. I wonder if, given the orange Canopy logo and branding, if a soft “rustic” orange shade might be available? The thought being that it would tell visitors quickly that this building is a Hilton Canopy, and a warm, subtle shade would brighten the facade without being obnoxious. From what I see, one can custom order panels, which is no doubt more expensive, but I’m not seeing a list of standard colors anywhere.

While excavating, the project team did find some small fragments of the Strand Theater, which stood on the site until its demolition in 1993. The “most decorative” pieces are going to be used in a display inside the hotel lobby, and further consideration is being made for an exterior mural.

The landscaping is being tweaked to extend a sidewalk through the property to Seneca Way, as well as a curb-cut and smaller planters to fit within the property line. A pair of ginkgo trees planned for the property are being replaced with some dense shrubs and perennial instead. This is the eleventh version of the project I now have on file. Background info and specifications can be found here.

The hotel has completed foundation work and is up to the second floor. The steel skeleton and elevator cores/stairwells continue to rise, with thinner exterior steel stud walls on the ground floor and fireproof gypsum panels on the second floor. The finished product should be coming onto the market in about a year.