119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 8/2019

6 08 2019

Novarr and Proujansky’s 67-unit apartment project is coming along on College Avenue. The four-story buildings are fully framed, sheathed with gypsum panels, and coated in a waterproof barrier. Atop the barrier, the construction team is attaching steel clips and rails that will be used to attach the fiber cement and zinc panels, both of which are a similar hue to those at the 238 Linden project. Red corrugated metal accents along the window frame give the project some visual interest, as do the curvaceous steel-framed window bump-outs.The stainless steel panel at the front will host the building address number and highlight the main entrances. These mimic townhouses from the front and the buildings were more townhouse-like before the changes in the fire code rendered the old design unusable, but they’re essentially traditional apartment buildings with a design twist.

Many but not all of the windows have been fitted, and interior buildout (mechanical/electrical/plumbing rough-ins) is underway. The specialty blue tape around the just-installed windows helps to seal off any potential gaps between the building structure and the aluminum frame. You can catch a glimpse of it in the photos, but the top level of the interior courtyard-facing walls have a glass curtain wall. This project seems to be on track towards its expected late January completion.

More information about the project can be found here.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 5/2019

6 08 2019

It appears John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s housing project on Collegetown’s Linden Avenue is practically complete, and this will be its last post on the blog. The fiber cement and zinc panels are in place, the landscaping is nearly complete, and the inside is furnished – someone’s kitchen gets a lofty direct view of the street below. Oddly enough, this project has virtually no online presence, not even to advertise rentals. Granted, Executive MBA students are a very niche market, but if it weren’t for the approvals process, it would be as if this project didn’t exist. Even then, there have been major design changes since approval.

In a Facebook post, general contractor Hayner Hoyt states the project still contains 24 studio housing units, but geared towards Cornell faculty and staff. I honestly don’t know who the target market is, it may have changed from MBA students to visiting faculty and staff like its counterpart the College Townhouse at 119-125 College Avenue.

The architect is ikon.5 of Princeton, with local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture serving as the project team representatives, and T.G. Miller P.C. providing the civil engineering work. Background information about the project can be found here.





News Tidbits 4/12/19

13 04 2019

1. Here’s a story of a clever use of space – Therm Inc. has recently expanded its facility on South Hill, and stopped leasing space from the nearby South Hill Business Campus as a result. That left an 18,870 square-foot hole to fill in Suite 30.

The site’s business manager, Linda Luciano, had had artists inquiring for a space, but never something that small enough to fit their needs. This vacancy was a chance to try something new, to build little studio spaces within the larger open floor plan of the warehouse space. It’s worked out well. Extremely well, as Ithaca Times editor Matt Butler reported this week as the Times feature article. Segment below:

” ‘A few studios’ turned out to be a severe underestimation of how many Ithaca artists desperately wanted their own studio space. With a calculated proposal for six studios in hand, she went to the building’s owners to lay out her vision, and they were receptive. Luciano then set about contacting artists who had previously reached out to her about renting space, meanwhile losing sleep over fears that she wouldn’t be able to find tenants for the studios and would have to start over with a new plan.

“I started calling people on my list, and we planned an open house,” Luciano said. “Before we could have the open house, they were all rented. That’s when I said ‘Oh my god.’”

It hasn’t slowed down since that initial wave, either. Seeing the success of the first push in October, Luciano and building owner Andy Sciarabba came up with a plan to add four more studios to the original six, deeming it Phase Two. Those four sold immediately in December, before they were even built. The same went for more units that were proposed in January. After the final phase, which is currently underway, Luciano plans for 27 more studios constructed in the former Therm space, with a much-requested gallery space included. Those are scheduled to be finished and opened in August; half of them are already leased…”

To put this in perspective, there are eighteen now plus a small kitchen and lounge space, and the addition will provide 27 more studios and a gallery space. The new build has so far taken over about a third of Therm’s old space, so the addition will likely the fill the rest of it out. The studios are a few hundred square feet each and rent for $275-$450/month depending on size (the price includes water/AC/electric/heat, with free parking), and leases are 12-month. I had not heard of anything trying this on a large scale, but it appears to be working out very well for the South Hill Business Campus, which hopes to spruce up the exterior to draw a little more attention to “Artist Alley”. It gives artists their own spaces outside of home, it offers collaboration between studios, and this seems to have tapped into a critically underserved market.

For those who want to call dibs on the last studios before they come onto the market next summer, the contact webpage is here. If you want to check them out in person, the address is 950 Danby Road.

2. Touching real quick on a pair of Dryden projects in the early stages. The “Mill Creek subdivision” is quite frankly a monstrosity in size. This is a 908-acre property on Caswell Road just west of the village of Freeville, and the plan would be to subdivide it into 39 home lots. No further subdivisions would be allowed, only single-family homes would be permitted, and it’s not clear if the developer is pursuing conservation zoning – per planning board minutes, it seems that the lots will be plated and the road laid out, and then sold parcel-to-parcel to custom builders.

If the owner did want to build, they have the expertise to do so – a deed check shows this property is owned by the Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties and have built out thousands of housing units in Tompkins County since the 1950s. The unimproved land is valued at $1,132,600, about $1,250/acre, and has been in their possession since 1954, so this doesn’t appear to be a rash decision.

Doing the math and removing a small amount for internal loop road still gives over 20 acres per lot, these properties would be very large and potentially expensive, because with improvements, that much acreage will be worth more and it will add up quickly. Maybe it’s a bit out of character for this blog, but this proposal actually seems rather worrying from an environmental and infrastructure perspective. Density in urban areas tends to draw the most attention, but these lots could potentially have much bigger impacts because of the amount of natural space that would be consumed by a sprawling high-end housing development.

As for the medical facility at 2141 Dryden Road, it sounds like it will be a two-story facility, and while they suggested parking in the front, the board requested to move it to the back (a couple handicap spaces in front are okay). There was some concern with its choice of locations (the board would much prefer the office be located in the village or a more built-up area) and curb-cuts/traffic impacts.

3. For the creative types: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance is sponsoring a contest to design streetlight banners for the neighborhood, like the ones on the Commons. The plan is to make up fifteen of them and have them hanging for two years. Here are the design criteria:

Designs that are timeless will be favored. Avoid using trendy colors, fonts that may fall out of taste.

– Collegetown is at the intersection of the Cornell campus, student life, and the Ithaca community, and as such, designs should be inclusive of all of the following groups: Cornell students, Collegetown businesses, and the City of Ithaca.

Consider these banners as creating a brand and identity of Collegetown as a whole.

Submissions must be a 24″ x 60″ image, 300dpi, with a legible “Collegetown” on the image. May include photographs, graphic designs, or scanned images. No inappropriate content. Submission are due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday April 16th, and are to be submitted here. First places get $125 and their design on the flags, second place $75, and third place $50.

4. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there are some unusual LLC formation notices in the Journal classifieds. 628 West Seneca Street LLC, 625-27 West Buffalo Street LLC, 629-631 West Buffalo LLC, and 205 North Fulton LLC have all been created in the past couple of weeks. They are a parking lot, an apartment house, a one-story commercial building (Emmy’s Organicsm which they will vacate for larger digs in then ear future), and another one-story commercial building (Superior Glass) respectively. They are all owned by the same guy (Robert Bond).

The LLCs are all registered to the address of Alternatives Federal Credit Union across the street at 125 North Fulton, which is a little worrying because AFCU bought 634 West Seneca a few years ago and tore it down for a parking lot. It would be very unfortunate if they decided to take down more buildings for surface parking, given that this is an area the city’s trying to build up. It’s also not clear what might happen to the Rhine House in such a situation. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 3/2019

22 03 2019

Like 119-125 College Avenue, 238 Linden is being designed by ikon.5 Architects, With similar aesthetics and structural design (and more than a passing similarity to the 2,000 bed Cornell North Campus dormitory expansion, which has the same development team) looking at this project is essentially like looking at the next steps for its larger sibling a couple blocks away. However, while 119-125 College Avenue uses Welliver as its general contractor, Hayner Hoyt is in charge of buildout for the 238 Linden site, with several subcontractors on site (for example, the roofing is being done by Hale Contracting of Horseheads). Like its sister building, this project has no online presence apart from what was documented by the city or reported by the Voice and Times.

Interestingly, the window frames protrude from the wall rather then sitting flush with the set opening. The waterproof barrier is on over the gypsum panels, and the metal rails for the fiber cement and zinc panels are in the process of being installed on the north and west faces.

It was clear at first glance that the footprint of the building is markedly different, and the fenestration is nothing like the approved renders at the bottom of the post – there are fewer windows overall, and honestly I’m not sure if the building footprint was reduced in size. It was supposed to be 24 studio units, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were only eighteen now. There was no public reviews for these changes, and these are by no means minor tweaks. The line between a large new construction project redesign requiring board re-approval, and a redesign only needing staff approval is rather murky.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 3/2019

21 03 2019

No recent online presence for John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s 119-125 College Avenue project, the College Townhouses (which, as covered in the summary page, were townhouse-like until the fire code was changed). The south building is fully framed, a steel frame with gympsum sheathing, a more expensive design but also fireproof. The north building is framed up to the first-floor (the basement is partially above-grade), but the elevator core is topped out, and Welliver’s construction team planted left their mark with an American flag perched at the top. If it’s like it’s neighboring a couple blocks away, the sheathing will get a roll-on waterproof barrier, and perhaps metal rails and clips for installation of fiber cement and zinc panels.

The project, intended for visiting Cornell faculty and staff (so far, there are no online apartment postings to support of refute that plan) will bring 67 units/90 bedrooms to the market, and still looks to be on track for an August 2019 opening.

Quick aside – is everyone clear that it’s Novarr and Proujansky who are planning that Collegetown megaproject? There are so many rumors flying around that even the beat cops are asking my editor at the Voice about it. The project has been delayed twice, but is supposed to make an appearance before the city Planning Committee next month.

There have been some very scary rumors about this project, and one of the big problems right now is that these rumors aren’t being refuted because everything is “a secret”, no one really knows what the truth is. Only JoAnn Cornish, the city Planning Director, has been willing to put anything on the record, and even then it was just a brief description. Since January, this project has managed to be the worst-kept development secret in Tompkins County, which arguably Novarr and Proujansky could try to blame on the mayor for his State of the City address, but really if they had wanted him to not say something, they would have said something to him or said something themselves. I give Newman Development and Scott Whitham a lot of credit for “taking the bull by the horns” and issuing a press release about City Centre before rumors could circulate. I think this project would have benefited from a similar approach.

It’d be one thing if it was a relatively modest proposal. If we were talking about 119-125 College Avenue, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But with this megaproject being described as a $600 million endeavor, there are multiple real estate and related business decisions around the city and county that are in a holdover pattern because everyone’s heard about “John and Phil’s plans” but no one knows what’s going on, not to mention community groups fearing the worst. We’ll see if the big reveal gets delayed again, but for a lot of reasons, I really hope not.





News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 12/2018

14 12 2018

John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s project at 238 Linden Avenue is moving right along. For an all-residential construction, this is a heavy-duty building. It uses a steel frame with steel stud walls and gypsum sheathing – unlike wood-framed structures that could go up in smoke, this building is designed to be durable and withstand and potential fire-related calamities. It may be related to the fire code issues that delayed the project?

It looks like the design is similar, but not exact to the renders below. While some of the rough window openings are still being carved out of the gypsum panels, it’s not the same fenestration pattern. The sunken rear courtyard remains – it will be nice during the summer, but every leaf in Collegetown will seem to find its way in there by November.

The 13,715 square-foot building, which will house 24 studios, is topped out but not yet fully framed. Corrugated steel decking is in place and some interior framing has occurred as well. Based off the demolition plan submitted for 325 College Avenue around the corner, the targeted completion date for this structure is sometime next summer – given it’s designed to serve Executive MBA students at the Breazzano next door, that makes good sense.

Briefly, to touch on that 325 College Avenue site – the rumor mill does not know what’s planned, but the only consistent detail is that it will not be student housing. The market is too weak, and many Collegetown landlords are holding off on projects until the impacts of Maplewood, and potentially Cornell’s North Campus, have been fully absorbed. It’s not a situation where anyone seems to be going bankrupt, but the big Collegetown players have taken a more conservative approach as a result of Cornell’s new housing. As to what they could plan other than student housing, we’ll see. Faculty/staff housing, a hotel, another Cornell-related institutional use…plenty of options.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.