118 College Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

The last of Visum’s trio of Collegetown projects underway is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom building at 118 College Avenue. Officially, one other Visum project has city approvals and is permitted to start construction, a close fraternal twin to 118 College just a few houses up at 126 College Avenue. However, the existing house is rented out for the academic year, so any build-out there (and Visum seems to have deep enough pockets to eventually do it, all things considered) will not begin until June 2019 at the earliest.

As with 210 Linden, Romig General Contractors is in charge of the buildout, and Taitem Engineering is doing the structural engineering – as with Visum’s other projects designed by STREAM Collaborative, the building is built to be net-zero energy capable. Using electric heating and appliances, energy efficient fixtures, low-E windows, double-stud exterior walls and high grade insulation creates a very high degree of energy efficiency that they hope to tie into an off-site solar array, offsetting the carbon footprint of the building and its use.

118 College still has another floor to go before it’s topped out, and the mechanicals will be hidden inside the historically-inspired “Italianate cupola” penthouse. Water and sewer service was installed this past week. I’m uncertain this one will be ready in time for returning Cornell students late next month, though it’s not impossible given that it’s a relatively small wood-frame structure. So far, with the rough window openings I’m seeing one substantial difference from the renders – the windows on the wings of the front facade are smaller than originally planned.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

With 400-404 Stewart Avenue complete, developer Jim Goldman is focusing on the completion of the other half of his reconstruction, 406 Stewart Avenue. This is the property that Goldman originally owned and was destroyed in the spread of the fire that erupted at the Chapter House building. Architect Jason K. Demarest’s 3.5 story design is completely framed and sheathed in ZIP Panels; the panels are then covered in HydroGap, a premium grade housewrap to remove excess moisture while keeping new moisture from penetrating into the plywood sheathing. This is then layered over with (what I suspect are fiber cement) shakes, in contrast to the first floor’s lap siding.

My first inclination was that they needed to be painted, but looking at the design render, it appears as if the project team decided to reverse the brown and red siding bands, so now the first floor is red like the original building, but the upper floors are brown. This is not the first major change to the design, which was approved by the ILPC, but any revisions may have been done out of committee view at the staff level. The fenestration on the third floor is different, and the dormer on the gable roof was deleted. Note the partially glazed-in access stair for the third floor apartments, and the quarried bluestone stair columns and base.

There’s still a fair amount of work to do on the exterior with facade installation, trim and finish pieces and the installation of a steel grate to access the enclosed stair column. The one inside shot shows drywall hung with doors and some trim in place, but some pieces are still missing, the wall needs to be painted and the floors have to be finished. However, it’s not an especially large building (four units and eleven bedrooms as-approved), so chances are pretty good this will be ready to go by mid-August.

As for the Chapter House, a few shots through the window glass show the carpeted staircase leading up to the eight apartment units, and an unfinished 3,000 SF commercial space still looking for a tenant.





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.

 

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 4/2018

3 05 2018

At the site of The Lux at 232-236 Dryden Road, framing continues on the new apartment buildings. I’m under the impression that, like the Ithaka Terraces project also designed by STREAM, these are thick double-stud exterior walls. Double-stud walls are built using two sets of wood stud walls used in the exterior frame, parallel to each other but spaced apart by about 5 inches. That space is then filled (if like STREAM’s other projects) with R39 densely-packed cellulose insulation. The result has its pros and cons. The cons are that it’s more expensive to build, and it reduces the interior space a little bit. The pro is that it’s very energy efficient, which comes in handy for a project trying to achieve net-zero energy use.

On top of that appears to be wood furring strips for the cladding. I think the white panels on the north side might be boards with some kind of waterproofing? The roof on 232 Dryden appears to have had underlayment applied, but no EPDM (synthetic rubber) or similar finish yet.

The Amvic ICF will be faced with grey stucco and a black brick veneer, while the upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding. The reflective material is likely insulation that’s also intended to keep out the moisture from the exterior brick.

The top floor will be finished with fiber cement panels with LP SmartTrim laid out patterned to give some visual interest to the top of the structures. The windows are Anderson 100 series units with black frames, and what will be white casings. Still rough openings in some of the walls, and the balconies are just starting to get built on the west face. 236 Dryden has yet to be fully framed, but the roof trusses are underway.

In its March email blast, the developer, local firm Visum Development group, announced that the contest to design lounge, gym and study rooms was won by two graduate architecture students from Cornell – for that, they win $2500 and will have a lounge named after them. The winning designs are here. As of February, about half of the 207 bedrooms were leased.

The project did pay a quick visit to the planning board recently to ask if they would could have permission to not screen some of the rooftop utilities – though less attractive and meant as a cost efficiency, these are less visible parts of the roof per the diagrams provided to the city. I didn’t hear any issues with it, so I assume it was deemed acceptable by the board.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update 4/2018

1 05 2018

Looks like the first stud walls are going up on the third floor of the four-story 210 Linden apartment project (note the basement is partially exposed). Quite a bit of progress from the excavated hole and foundation pad back in February. This is a wood-frame structure with Huber ZIP System plywood panel sheathing and, presumably if like the other Visum projects, Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level. ICFs are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete – they tend to be a more expensive approach, but they also tend to have a higher grade of insulation (higher R-value), making for a more energy-efficient structure, and Visum and its project architect (STREAM Collaborative) have an eye towards net-zero energy capability, meaning all energy consumed by this building comes from renewable sources. ZIP panels are an increasingly popular to the traditional plywood and housewrap method (and since the integrated water-resistive barrier on the ZIP panels is a vivid green, they’re hard to miss). The choice of ZIP panels vs. housewrap really boils down to a matter of preference by the project team; ZIP panels tend to be easier to install (lower labor cost), but more expensive as a product.

Although my October notes show that William H. Lane Inc. was the general contractor on file, it appears that Romig General Contractor is the firm on-site. Romig of Horseheads is not known locally for involvement with multi-family projects, but as partners in Jepsen Romig Development (now Jepsen Holdings Inc.), they’ve been involved with several luxury homes built around the county (Southwoods, South Pointe, etc.) and they state on their website that they’ve provided commercial services to the ScienCenter and the Cayuga Ridge supervised care facility.

Also notable is that it appears the asking price for rent on the four-bedroom units has come down a fair amount since their first advertisements in the fall, from $1250/bedroom to $950/bedroom. This may be anecdotal evidence of some slack in the Collegetown market, as Maplewood’s 872 beds enter and steadily get absorbed into the rental market mix.

Background information on the project and more renders can be found here.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

30 04 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years now since the fire that decimated the Chapter House and the neighboring apartment house at 406 Stewart Avenue. According to a recent write-up by Mark Anbinder at 14850.com, the new build at 400-404 Stewart Avenue will host one eight units –  studio apartment, three 1-bedroom apartments, one 2-bedroom apartment, and three 3-bedroom apartments. The units are aiming for a summer occupancy, and CSP Management (Jerry Dietz and his team) are in charge of the rentals on behalf of developer/owner Jim Goldman.

From the outside, the building is practically complete, except for landscaping/paving, trim pieces, and facade installation of the ground-level bluestone veneer. The 4-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building next door is not as far along, with roof trusses only just being installed, and sheathing (ZIP panels) and window fittings underway on the lower floors. It’s a reasonable bet to say these will be available for their first tenants in time for the start of the new academic year in late August.

As fair as anyone’s aware, the ground-floor space restaurant/bar is still available for lease, at $35/SF (at 3,000 AF, that means $105,000 annually). Chapter House owner John Hoey has said in the comments here that the price is too high for his business. The possibility of a “Chapter II”, as some have dubbed it, seems increasingly remote. Any other potential lessees can contact David Huckle or August Monkemeyer at the Ithaca branch of Pyramid Brokerage.