210 Linden Construction Update, 10/2017

21 10 2017

Technically, 210 Linden Avenue has been stopped for the time being, but just for the sake of having it, here’s the project description post for future reference.

One of the intents of the Collegetown Form Districts was to encourage redevelopment in portions of Collegetown that the city saw as less desirable – the really stereotypically poor-quality housing that Cornell just called out in its state of the university address. These properties are generally unsuitable for families since most of them were purpose-built boarding houses, often with haphazard additions and renovations over the years to make the bare minimum of city building and fire code. With a captive market in Cornell students, many landlords didn’t see the need for quality because the prevailing logic was that it decreased profitability. Only during the first luxury developments of the 1980s (Fane’s Collegetown Court in 1985, Mack Travis’s Eddygate in 1986) did that really start to change, and even then, many older landlords clung to the old ideas, hesitant to change from a time-tested if ethically questionable formula.

Since then, it’s been something of a development see-saw; developers see greater profit potential, but typically they need to build big to ensure a good return on investment (balancing soft construction costs, hard construction costs, interest on construction loans and current/future taxes against the revenue from renters). A large project comes along and drives discontent from East Hill and Belle Sherman, who have long clashed with the different lifestyles of students, as well as a longstanding sense of wariness from the old-style landlords who would try to buy homes and turn them into student slums. The city places a moratorium, tweaks the zoning, process starts anew. From a municipal perspective, it’s always been a delicate balance between the substantial taxes generated from Collegetown, and quality of life issues (traffic, rowdiness).

In general, the 2014 form-hybrid zoning, which removed some parking regulations and put the focus on Collegetown’s core, has had favorable outcomes; the only real debate has been 201 College Avenue, which was a rather unique situation. 210 Linden Avenue is a textbook example of a shared goal between city and developer – the 200 block of Linden has many properties in poor condition, and the city would like redevelopment mixed among the better-maintained older houses. With that in mind, zoning is generally CR-4 – 4 floors, and no parking required as long as a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan is received and approved by city staff. New buildings wouldn’t be large or oppressive since most buildings are 2.5-4 floors on this block, and with planning board input, high quality designs would enhance the walkable environment, build the tax base, and add some housing to reduce pressure on adjacent streets. Developers in turn would have more flexibility, and removing the parking rules really opens up the possibility for new builds on Linden’s small lots.

Previously, 210 Linden was a rather ramshackle 12-bedroom apartment house. Visum Development Group (VDG), led by local businessman Todd Fox, saw a potential opportunity for a new build and established a purchase option with the then-owners, a pair of small local landlords. The redevelopment is not an especially large project, medium-sized by Collegetown standards. It is 14,400 SF with 9 units, all of which are 4-bedroom, 2-bath, for a total of 36 bedrooms. Each floor has two units, except for the partially-above grade basement, which has one unit and space for the bike room, trash room and mechanicals. The project will use electric air-source heat pumps, and be net-zero energy capable with the use of an off-site renewable energy source.

210 Linden was first proposed in November 2016. With basically no opposition, and a design that the planning board found perfectly appropriate, it sailed through the review process, and approval was granted in January 2017. In something of a rarity for city projects, no zoning variance was required. 210 Linden fits the maximum length, width and building lot coverage allowed under the Collegetown Area Form District’s CR-4 zoning, and comes in at or just under the 45-foot height maximum – the sites are sloped, and the 45′ height is defined as the average above grade plane. Exterior finishes includes stucco at basement level, a couple shades of grey fiber cement lap siding above, red doors, metal balconies and natural wood trim.

There were virtually no design changes from beginning to end – the only noticeable change was that the doors were moved from the left side of the balcony/terrace to the right. The project was a fraternal twin to another infill development Visum has planned, 126 College Avenue. One has to give credit to the architect, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, for being able to provide cost-efficient and well-received designs.

A frequent partner of VDG, William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton, is the general contractor. Right now, only the demolition and foundation excavation have been completed. Once the power lines have been buried out front by NYSEG, construction of the building can begin. The intent is to have the building completed in time for Cornell’s 2018-19 academic year, which starts in late August. Elmira Savings Bank gave VDG a $3.15 million construction loan in July to complete the project.

As one might expect with new units less than two blocks from Collegetown’s core, the cost per room is not cheap. Advertisements online say $5,000/month, or $1,250 per month per bedroom. Units come with 9′ ceilings, air conditioning, internet/cable, stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, washer/dryer in-unit, balconies, and a security system, among other bullet points and exclamation points. A fitness room and other luxury amenities will be accessible to tenants at another Visum project, 232-236 Dryden Road.





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 10/2017

20 10 2017

With the twin duplexes on the corner of Aurora and Queen completed, local developer Stavros Stavropoulos and his local contractor Northeast Renovations Inc. have been able to turn their focus towards building out 107 South Albany Street. At this stage, the spread concrete footers, also called formwork or footings, have been finished.

As in this case, footers are usually of concrete with steel rebar reinforcement that has been poured into an excavated trench and confined by wood forms. The purpose of footings is to support the foundation and prevent settling. The portion of rebar sticking out of the footers will be bent and wired into the foundation’s horizontal rebar, tying the two components together. I’m not sure if they simply filled in the basement of the old house or if they tore the walls out before bringing in clean fill and digging trenches for the new footers (I’d guess the latter for simplicity’s sake).

It looks like the outer footings for the ground-level common space (entry, bike storage, meter room) are at a slightly lower grade than the rest of the structure, so there might be two separate sections that comprise foundation, with one at a slightly higher elevation than the other.

The next steps involve a rebar grid being ssembled and tied per specifications, elevated a few inches from the ground by plastic rebar chairs that allow concrete to get underneath the steel rods. The concrete will be poured over the rebar, and as long as the bars stay in place, the new pour is left to dry into a solid, reinforced slab foundation upon which the building frame can be built. The building itself will have a wood-frame, so when it starts to rise, it should move at a pretty fast pace.

A summary of the project can be found here.





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 10/2017

18 10 2017

Framing is up to the top floor of the former Chapter House property at 400-404 Stewart Avenue. The plywood ZIP Panels appear to switch from the roofing variety to standard walls on the top floor and for the recessed entrance on the ground floor, and this probably has to do with the finishing materials. The ZIP panels have slightly different thicknesses. The thinner ones in green are used with fiber cement, and wood or asphalt shingle finishes. The top floor of the Chapter House is supposed to finished with asphalt shingles, according to planning docs. The lower two floors with the red ZIP panels will be faced with brick (Redland Heritage, the same brick used with 210 Hancock’s commercial building). The north wall has already been coated in waterproof spray foam, which will protect the frame from the porous brick veneer. It looks like some interior framing and roughs-ins are underway on the lower floors. Next door, the slab foundation for the new apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been poured and cured, and framing work appears to be starting on the above-ground levels.

Along with local firms Taitem Engineering (overall civil and structural engineering, with emphasis on energy efficiency) and Elwyn & Palmer (civil and structural engineering with emphasis on geotechnical work and foundations), a New Hampshire company called “Overlook Construction Consultants” identifies itself as a project partner, but their online presence is nearly nothing. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

Project description and background here.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Looking at the photos closely, there are some differences between what was shown in renders, and what’s being built. “Nt”, the corner building, has different window patterns and sizes, different dormers, and a steeper roof pitch than shown any of the renders. Taking a guess, the project team is value engineering on the fly, going with quicker or easier design options to save on costs and stay closer to the tight timeline. As long as the habitable square footage and distribution of units/bedrooms in unchanged, this is allowed, for both projects that require an EIS, and smaller ones that fall under the usual SEQR negative declaration. It is rather odd to have such a steep roof pitch on “Nt” if there’s no habitable space in the attic, because that’s not really a time saver or money saver compared to the lower roof pitch, and no windows means no legal bedrooms.

The neighboring strings on Mitchell were also modified, though at a glance at “Ot”, it only appears to be the dormers, which were combined and made flush with the exterior wall. There’s a pretty strong likelihood that Pt and It-2, which are still being framed, will show similar modifications.

The modern string that has been framed, fitted and wrapped, “Kt-2”, appears to have the same shape and features as advertised. The modern units are cheaper to build per unit, so they would have been less likely to undergo additional value engineering.

Apartment Buildings “B” and “C” are being framed, with “C” up to its top floor, and “B” still working on the first floor. There are no obvious changes to the design of Building “C” when compared to renders.

Most subterranean utilities have been laid at either end of the site, and several foundations have been completed. Excavation and utilities installation are ongoing closer to Maplewood’s center. With all the disturbed soil piled around, it’s hard to tell just how many structures have commenced with excavation and foundation work, but an offhand estimate for the number of foundations underway or complete is at least one dozen. Some wooden forms for concrete pours of later townhouse strings can be seen around the property, as is steel rebar for strengthening the concrete, and the large cement mixers towards the northern end of the site. CMU stairwells have been or are being built for the northern trio of multi-family apartment buildings, “D”, “E”, and “F”. Note the construction staging basically has the ends of the site being built first, with work moving steadily inward through the fall and winter. The first units will be finishing up around the time the last ones start construction.

 

 





News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





McDonald’s Rebuild Construction Update 9/2017

4 10 2017

Love their food or hate their food, this blog will not discriminate. McDonald’s is undergoing a rebuild of their Ithaca location at 372 Elmira Road, on the south edge of the city’s suburban retail corridor.

According to county records, a McDonald’s has been on this property since 1964, with a renovation in the 1970s. The 4,777 SF restaurant built at that time was given the corporate design language used by the franchise from the 1960s through the 1990s – a double-sloped mansard roof, bright reds and yellows, and for many restaurants like Ithaca’s, a glass-enclosed seating area that seemed to hit its height of popularity around the late 1970s and early 1980s.

However, by the early 2010s, McDonald’s decided to go with a new look. The appearance was meant to be more subdued and professional, with natural colors, flattened arches, and brick/stone finishes. In a sense, Ronald McDonald grew up.

Part of the motivation for this update is to remain competitive in an evolving fast-food market. The segment is increasingly under pressure from fast-casual chains that tend to be more upscale, but are enjoying the majority of sales growth in recent years, even as McDonald’s sales growth has stalled. The Illinois-based company is pursuing an update of restaurants in target communities (focusing on economically strong and/or affluent communities first) to improve on the dining experience and try to draw back customers from the fast-casuals like Chipotle and Shake Shack, as well as keeping up with renovations pursued by their primary competitors, Burger King and Wendy’s.

These designs include a less cafeteria-like interior, going with more refined and intimate layouts to improve the customer experience. Out with the plastic seats and primary colors, and in with wooden chairs and tables, faux-leather seating, fireplaces, flat screen televisions, and softer lighting. The new builds also offer the latest technological advances and rigging, like burger kiosks and self-service.  As of early 2016, about 20 percent of the 14,300 restaurants had been remodeled or rebuilt.

The Elmira Road location is corporate-owned, with most of the legwork handled by Bohler Engineering of Albany. Plans call for a teardown of the old restaurant, to be replaced by a 4,552 SF restaurant with a dining area for 66 seats, a double-lane drive-thru, pedestrian and bike amenities, outdoor seating area (screened from Elmira Road by a brick wall), and adequate queue space for hungry patrons on the go. Expect a soft red or terra cotta brown Belden face brick exterior with Country Ledgestone Boral USA veneer and aluminum metal accents. The number of parking spaces will be reduced from 59 to 33. The cost of the project is $1.375 million, according to the Site Plan Review application.

The project didn’t elicit any commentary; not many people live down here, and it’s a modest project. It was first proposed in March and approved by June, which is about as fast as one can move through all the stages of Planning Board review. Construction is expected to run from September through December 2017.

Although SW-2 zoning is one of the city’s more flexible options, the project applied for and received zoning variances for setbacks (it’s too far back per zoning, but McDonald’s said they needed it to safely install the drive-thru queue), building width (needs to be 35% of lot, McDonald’s is 21.4%) and signage.

Bohler was the engineering consultant, and it looks like Mulvey Construction, a commercial general contractor based out of Lockport (near Buffalo), will be in charge of the build-out. While liable to ruffle a few feathers among the local trades, Mulvey is a preferred contractor for McDonald’s, and has handled the construction of over 50 new and renovated McDonald’s. They have demonstrated familiarity with the design, allowing for better labor efficiency (cost savings) and a firmer grasp of quality control.

Looking at the project site, the old property has been fenced off and demolished, leaving only rubble at this point. The footprint of the new store is located further back in the lot, and it seems that the old slab foundation was torn out, which would explain the large concrete debris pile.





Rodeway Inn Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

The synopsis of the project can be found here.

This was one of the more interesting visits because I ran into the owner, Pratik Ahir of JAMNA Hospitality Inc., while taking photos. Granted, there’s often that uncomfortable initial tension of “who’s taking photos of my property and why”, but I’ve been in touch with him through email before, so once I introduced myself the mood was much friendlier.

From what Ahir told me, this project could serve as a textbook example of the perils of renovating older buildings. One of the big reasons for the change in project scope was that one wings’ exterior walls partially collapsed during the initial work. So trying to make lemonade from lemons, Ahir decided to revise the project from additions to existing wings, to constructing brand new motel wings. This change also doubled the project cost.

The motel should be fully open for occupancy around October 20th. The rooms appears to be no-frills but comfortable and tastefully appointed for travelers, and given Tompkins County’s premium on hotel room rates, a clean, economical option is welcome. The interior architecture is pleasant enough, while the exterior…I wouldn’t say it looks bad, but it is something of a hodge-podge of architectural features that aren’t ugly, but don’t quite mesh.

Ahir says he has plans to put his 70-room Sleep Inn project out for bid to a couple of preferred contractors, and hopes to start that project in the next few months. His partnership is with Choice Hotels (Rodeway is their economy motel unit), and he identified a market need for a new lower-middle segment hotel in the area, and Sleep Inn seemed like a good fit. Choice Hotels agreed, and the only Sleep Inn between Albany and Buffalo was green-lighted by the corporate parent.

We also touched on the presence of a couple other chain hotel specialist firms buying into or looking to buy into the Ithaca area. The temptation is there, and some, like Rudra Hotels/Rosewood Management, who did the Holiday Inn Express at 371 Elmira Road earlier this year, have established their footprint. Others are still figuring out their next step. On a related note, a number of smaller regional banks see Ithaca as a safer investment than other regional cities thanks to its economic stability, and this interest may result in a little more financing available for project developers over the next few years. Ahir says financing has been arranged for the Sleep Inn.