Cornell Law School Renovation Update, 1/2018

22 01 2018

Finally, the glass for the new western staircase bump-out makes its debut. There appear to be visible brackets between glass panels in the curtain wall, so this is quite recent – the aluminum frames have yet to be finished. The copper flashing up top is nice and fresh, and if the renders are any indication, the wood panels just below that will be finished with steel panels. Peer inside closely and you can see the outline of the new staircase and the metal railings on each landing.

Worth noting, there is a major difference between the approved drawings and the built product – notice that the bump-out is four floors. The renderings show five, it was expected to extend down to ground level. That bottom section with the Lowes Green Guard (polystyrene foam insulating boards) might still be finished with steel panels and decorative “Cornell Law School” lettering, given its width; but, can’t be sure at this point.

With the newly-enclosed loggia already finished, this $10.2 million renovation project is in the home stretch; although a January 2018 was initially planned, a March completion seems fairly likely.

Background info on the project here.





News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 1/20/18: Here We Go Again

20 01 2018

1. It looks like Cayuga Orchard will be moving forward this spring. At the moment, the 102-unit apartment project is going up for a few tweaks to the town of Lansing planning board, mainly just to get approvals for a pair of monument signs. Whitham Planning and Design is handling those last details. The project already went out for construction bids, and with a cost estimated at $25 million, which will surely help Lansing’s bottom line. With no tax abatements, and about $26.50/$1,000 assessed, the back-of-the-envelope suggests about $660,000 in taxes (however, using the hard costs alone is likely low-balling the tax assessment). The project is able to move forward thanks to a plan to pay for a sewer line extension to meet the needs of residents; the plans had long been held up by issues and red tape regarding a modular on-site sewer treatment system.

On the site plan, from left to right, are three roads – to be named “Harvest Drive”, “Blossom Road” and “Liberty Lane”. Positive connotations as most are, except one case I know – here’s a story of a downstate project where the Staten Island borough president used his right to rename roads to give a project names meaning deceit and greed. Liberty Lane is designed to be extended for whenever local developer Jack Young decides to go ahead with his 117-unit “English Village” single-family home and townhouse project on the 100-acre property to the west of Cayuga Orchards. Right now, Young’s focus is on a few home lots he’s subdividing on East Shore Circle.

The housing is intended to be rentals in the upper-middle (premium) market, and the 26 1-bedroom and 76 2-bedroom units are welcome in a community with a tight housing supply. As for the design…meh. It’s not terrible, but the dispersed home strings and front-facing garages over-emphasize suburban aesthetics (nothing against Stampfl Associates, they actually have some neat projects). Look for the first units to come onto the market in Spring 2019.

2. For sale, another chunk of Ithaca’s near-waterfront. 798 Cascadilla is a 18,271 SF one-story flexible office space building that was renovated in the 2000s, and is home to Palisade Corporation, a software firm specializing in decision making/risk analysis tools. Palisade is doing just fine, but this is a case where they might be sniffing out an opportunity.

Consider the location. It’s next to Carpenter Business Park, which was just picked up by a team of businesses led by Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty, ultimately expected to be a large mixed-use development. That purchase was $10 million on a property that had sold for just $2.7 million less than two years earlier; a bidding war drove the purchase sky high. Next door, Guthrie Clinic picked up Palisade’s neighbors, a storage facility and a former printing press/warehouse of Cornell University, for $2.85 million, $150,000 over asking price. Paying at full or above asking price is pretty rare for commercial real estate in Ithaca. Guthrie has recently been in talks with Greenstar Co-Op to convert the storage facility into a new grocery store and cafe. In the City Harbor plans, where Guthrie and Greenstar are involved, there have been some site plan concerns note around issues like parking, that a purchase here could help solve.

Zoning on the site is newly-minted “Market District”. Hotels, restaurants, retail, housing, healthcare facilities, food production facilities, and housing. Up to five floors/63 feet, 100% lot coverage. But honestly, given the recent PUD-OD proposal, zoning regulations are not the end-all, be-all; if someone wants to try for an additional floor by throwing in a few affordable housing units, they could. Not saying that’s a great idea, but they could.

If I had to take a guess, Palisade is feeling out the market and seeing what kind of deal they can get for their building. It was an unusual choice of locations when they bought it in 2004, but they might make a tidy sum for being in the right place at the right time. Maybe.

The asking price for 798 Cascadilla is $2.7 million. The tax assessment is for $2 million. Pyramid’s David Huckle is the sales agent in charge.

3. A long time ago, back in 2009, a West Hill property was talked of as a potential development site. Now that property has exchanged hands. For the moment, its future is still fairly murky.

Kaderli Trade, a Panamanian business with Swiss ownership has owned a 68.5 parcel of land just west of Warren Place since 1977. The property is vacant, and assessed at $320,000. It just sold on Thursday to the Rancich Family for $360,000, a modest gain, and a pretty good price for vacant land.

The Ranciches are probably best known for being the original planners of the Enfield Wind Farm, and for Carrowmoor, a mixed-use project that would have had retail space, office space and up to 400 units in clustered housing on a 158-acre parcel just northwest of Kaderli’s parcel. The motif was a traditional English village. Buildings would have aesthetic half-timbers and gable roofs. It would have used alternative energy (heat pumps were practically unheard of at the time) and been priced mid-market for for-sale units. However, this was 2008-09, the recession was biting hard, and Carrowmoor never moved beyond the drawing board. Most of the renders have disappeared, but I still have one from 2009, before I knew how to crop screenshots. Less known but still important, the Ranciches also played a role in the development of the Conifer Linderman Creek affordable housing.

If someone were to ask what the development likelihood were based on the above information, it would get a shrug from me. The Ranciches haven’t had much success, but this purchase suggests they have some sort of interest, and the location is one the town has noted for potential development – existing zoning is Medium Density Residential, and the 2014 Comprehensive Plan plans traditional/new urban design medium density. That’s T3-T5 for the New Urban transect buffs, averaging 5-8 units/acre by the town’s count. It’s close enough to the municipal water that new pump stations and tanks wouldn’t necessarily be needed. In sum, the town would be open to something substantial. But who knows.

4. 46 South Street, this Claudia Brenner/INHS mixed-income mixed-use project in Trumansburg (Hamilton Square is no longer the official name) continues to go through the boards. My Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor covered the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, where about ten people spoke for an against the proposal. It’s probably better that she cover 46 South, because I would find it hard to maintain impartiality.

On the one hand, there is the opposition. The “Trumansburg Neighbors Alliance (TBNA)” turned in a Change.org petition with 492 signatures, along with paper petitions they say brings the number up to 669. They say 432 are in Trumansburg, Ulysses, or the Trumansburg school district, which includes large sections of Schuyler County and Seneca County. From their Facebook page, they don’t have accurate numbers.

At this time, there are actively trying to re-impose a village-wide moratorium after the previous decade-long moratorium expired. The zoning was revised in 2012 and re-analyzed in 2016. The South Street housing fits its zoning.

There are plenty of others who have already spoken in favor of this proposal – the Lansing Star has had a harsh word for the opposition, and some residents in Trumansburg are speaking out in favor of the South Street housing.

Let’s go through some of the fallacies with the opposition’s issues:

Too many rental units, not home ownership, out of balance and character with the neighborhood .

46 of the 73 units are affordable (LMI) rentals – most (40 of 46) are in the two story building in the middle of the property. Here’s the thing with lower-moderate income families; a lot of folks are getting by paycheck-to-paycheck. They don’t have the money for a 15% or 20% down payment on a house, for which the median sales price in Trumansburg in 2017 was $255,000, up 38% from the $184,500 in 2012. Thankfully, groups like INHS will work to cover the down payment and sell homes to LMI buyers well below market-rate, like the townhouses on Hancock going in the $110-$145k range, about half of the market rate for a new townhouse in Ithaca.

However, funding for purchasable units is much more difficult to get. A bank isn’t going to fund a plan that doesn’t generate a good profit, so they have to turn to state and federal funds. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. In short, this argument boils down to ‘these people are too poor to live in our village’.

Does not fit ‘village character’ and 2008 Village Comprehensive Plan priorities

Character is always a bad argument to give a planning board; it overly relies on demographic perceptions, which include details like age, income and race. The 2008 Comp Plan notes historic buildings, non cookie-cutter design, and tree-lined streets. Homes are 1-3 floors. Well-designed multi-family buildings that fit the village fabric, especially those with design features friendly to seniors, were encouraged. Affordable housing is strongly encouraged.

Below are some of the building elevations, pulled from the submission here. Let’s gauge based off the Comp Plan statements – there are no historic buildings on site, it’s vacant land surrounded by housing of varying ages. Designs incorporate porches, gables, bracketed eaves, dormers and other features of Trumansburg’s older housing stock. They are generally two floors. There will be several townhouse and single-family home designs interspersed throughout the site.

At 40 units, the apartment building is not unlike the existing Juniper Manor; as with other INHS projects like Breckenridge Place and 210 Hancock, many of these units are expected to rent to seniors – about 60% of Breckenridge is seniors, and although I don’t have stats for 210, I’d say it’s a generous percentage. The project is 72 units, 140 residents, over a 19.12 acre parcel. That is 3.77 units/acre, 7.3 residents/acre. That is less dense than the older part of the village.  Even the Tamarack/Larchmont housing, which is one of the areas of strongest opposition, has about 2.5 units and 7-9 residents per acre.

So density’s in line, it has affordability within a mixed-income layout, the apartments are senior-friendly and designed to blend in; it meets the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

The developers did not ask residents how best to fulfill Village needs…they just decided!

No, they didn’t. Remember the community meetings to get ideas and feedback last July? The August listening sessions? The major plan revisions in response to community concerns? They’ve been listening.

Now that we have that covered, let’s take a look at some of the comments from the folks who are opposed:

From the petition:

“…we do not have the police to keep track of this ridiculous project.”

Ithaca problems must remain in Ithaca and not be spread to us

“These kind of “developments” only bring low income, low quality people.”

From the TBNA facebook page:

there is enough drug dealing on the other end of town probably not a good idea to add to it”.

“Turning trumansburg in to [sic] ithaca have fun with that will have a lot of crime”

I’ve not hidden the fact that I grew up in affordable housing. So these comments that say its occupants are drug addicts, criminals, problems and burdens is very hurtful. I can appreciate TBNA’s attempts on their page to celebrate when housing is announced in Ithaca, but honestly in this context it just reads as a selfish desire that those less well-off will go elsewhere and stay out of the village. For a community that prides itself on its social progressiveness, it’s very disappointing.





News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 12/2017

31 12 2017

Grab a cup of coffee or tea for this one, it’s a long introduction.

Touching on a familiar topic again, downtown and urban living has enjoyed a revived interest in the past fifteen years, and coincident with moderate but steady economic growth in Ithaca, it has created plenty of opportunities for those with assets and expertise. Succeeding in those opportunities is a slightly different story – money and a strong project team are important, but some projects have an easier go of it than others. Harold’s Square has experienced substantial obstacles in its long pre-construction period, but thanks to developer David Lubin’s flexibility and tenacity, as well as an accommodating local government and growing market, it has surmounted those challenges and is now underway.

The first version of Harold Square at 123-139 The Commons was proposed back in October 2012. At the time, the plans called for first-floor retail, a few floors of office space, and 60-70 apartments on the upper floors of the 11-story building. The Sage Block (Benchwarmers) and W.H. Miller Building (Home Dairy) would be renovated, while three less historic buildings would be taken down to make way for the new development. The estimated price was $30 million and the plan was to have the 126,000 SF building finished by summer 2014. At that time, the building would have needed a fairly substantial zoning variance – the entire site was CBD-60, and it reached about 135 feet.

With the exception of the first-floor retail and Sage Block renovation, none of the other details have remained the same. However, the five major design iterations have all been by the same architect – CJS Architects (formerly Chaintreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects), with offices in Rochester and (later) Buffalo.

Lubin already had some familiarity with the project site – one of the storefronts to be removed used to be home to Harold’s Army Navy Store, a business started by his father and expanded to sixteen locations across the region. These stores were closed in the late 1990s as Lubin chose to focus on his development project and other business endeavors, like his computer recycling business. Harold’s Square is a nod to his father’s store, and the famed Herald Square of New York City.

The project design was critiqued and reviewed thoroughly over the next ten months, which also produced the first major set of design changes – in fact, if you’re googling Harold’s Square without prior knowledge, images of this version, v02, turn up enough that even many current agencies and organizations (and even the posters on the construction fence) treat it as the final design. The 2015 image from the contractor’s website, Taylor the Builders, is shown above. It did away with some of the less-liked design features of v01, but retained a clean, contemporary profile with a curtain wall of glass, and terracotta panels that extended to the roof canopy. During this period, plans to acquire the W.H. Miller Building were dropped.

This was the version that was approved in August 2013, and received CIITAP tax abatements two months later in October 2013. It had 162,750 SF, with basement utilities/storage, ground-floor retail (20,670 SF), three floors of office space (56,855 SF) and 46 apartments on floors 5-10. The eleventh floor was a 5,000 SF penthouse for tenant use. The price tag was about $38 million.

At this point, post IDA approval, we kinda enter a publicly dormant period. Publicly, apart from the occasional reassurance from Lubin that the project was still alive, and the re-application for approval permits since those expire after two years, there didn’t appear to be much going on. Behind the scenes, it gets a little more interesting.

The project was having trouble securing a construction loan, and that was for a couple of reasons. For one, Lubin (as L Enterprises LLC) was having trouble securing a major office tenant, and office space made up about a third of the building. No one had any concerns about the apartments since the residential market was (and still is) strong, and retail is not hard to sell when it’s on The Commons, but office space is a different matter altogether. The demand for new space is modest, and often custom built for a tenant, rather than speculative space to be filled by tenants after it’s complete. So if we’re being fair but critical, the project team made a fair gamble but ended up overestimating the market for office space. Unless that space was spoken for, there would be no financing.

Re-examining the mix of uses, Lubin decided to revamp the project when seeking re-approvals in August 2015 – two floors of office space would be replaced with apartments. The first mention of this actually came through the New York Times, followed by the Voice and the Ithaca Times. With the drop in office space, the number of apartments jumped to 86. This also required some design changes, which were going to be reviewed by the city in Fall 2015. My notes show August 2016 ended up being the review date. We’ll call this version 3, v03.

Now Harold’s Square was 180,090 SF, with basement utility/storage space, ground-floor retail, second floor office space, and ten floors of apartments. The project had grown from 11 to 12 floors, but the height was nearly the same since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling heights than Class A office space. The total unit count was now 108, with 40 micro units (all the rage these days), 30 1-bedroom units, and 38 2-bedroom units. This version was approved in September 2016. By the time the project was up for re-approval, the city zoning had changed such that 140-foot buildings were allowed on-site, so no further height variance was needed.

With the space utilization issue worked out, the project was still seen as a sizable risk to potential lenders – it was at its inception the largest project proposed in downtown Ithaca since 2005’s Seneca Place, and Lubin had some experience with smaller projects, but nothing this size. Finding a partner to buy in to the plan would reduce the loan needed and add experience, making the project an easier sell to lenders. This is where McGuire Development, a major interest in the Buffalo market (3.5 million SF), came into play. They saw the potential in Lubin’s vision and the value in the Ithaca market, and agreed to buy in as a development partner. This appears to have been finalized in January 2017.

Fast forward to May 2017. With McGuire playing a role on the project team, major design iteration #4 (v04) removed the terracotta panels in favor of metal, and reconfigured the Commons storefront retail to use a common entrance, for “financial viability”. The enclosed atrium was removed and a mechanical penthouse added. It seems likely that McGuire wanted to ensure a certain return on investment. This version was approved without much further comment, except perhaps a bit of exasperation from city officials. Concurrently, the project team re-applied to the IDA for a revised tax abatement – the project’s price tag was now up to $42 million, and they were seeking revised, slightly more generous terms, which were granted with some grumbling. Complaints include a lack of explicitly affordable housing units, local labor concerns, and gentrification. The use of heat pumps and 60 kW of rooftop solar panels assuaged the sustainability crowd.

By October, the project was underway, courtesy of a construction loan from Norwich-based NBT Bank. The bank is a regional player with about 1.5x the assets of Tompkins Trust. This is new territory for NBT, which typically limits itself to single-family home loans in Tompkins, and has no service branches within county lines. The loan is for $33,842,000. L Enterprises and McGuire have each put up $5 million to cover the $43,842,000 cost of the project.

So here we are. The site has been cleared, and shoring and excavation by Paolangeli Contractor will take place over the next six weeks. After that comes ten days of pile driving, using a zero-resonance hammer to reduce vibration and noise – ostensibly, because is probably the second-most high-profile project site in the city after City Centre (which used the same method). Project completion is expected in Spring 2019. Sorry folks, but the Commons playground will remained cocooned and closed due to safety concerns.

The project team includes L Enterprises LLC (led by David Lubin) as lead developer, McGuire Development as co-developer, Taylor the Builders as the general contractor, CJS Architects, Fagan Engineers and Land Surveyors handling the application and civil/structural engineering work, and Brous Consulting for public relations. Those who want to follow the project without this blog as an intermediary can sign up for update on the project webpage here.

With the latest update on their webpage also comes the latest version of the project design, v05 – which doesn’t really affect the program space, but it does have several visual changes. The corner units now have exposed balconies vs enclosed rooms, the dark metal band on the top floor facing the Commons has been removed, and the retail frontage was reconfigured a bit on the Commons facade (the north module was stretched, one of the entry doors moved, and different fenestration patterns have been applied to some of the modules and the northwest face).

Pre-demo photo:





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 12/2017

29 12 2017

So there’s a lot going on. You can scroll through the 40+ photos below, or you can check out the conveniently placed webcam that EDR installed at all their projects. It seems like Mother Nature is out to stop this project at just about any cost – as explained by the Voice and the Times, EdR has lost 25 days of construction time due to weather (rain) delays, and that forced the project team to not only ask for extended hours earlier this year, but they also had to request earlier this month to be allowed to work on Saturdays. Now LeChase and their subcontractors have to contend with multiple days of subzero temperatures, in what is likely the longest and most severe cold snap in over a decade. It’s one complication after another. The webcams shows they’ve put up heavy-duty plastic sheeting to keep the extreme cold at bay as the crew continues work on the townhouse strings.

There are 27 buildings in some state of construction, from foundation work to framing to exterior facade application, and all manner of interior work from framing, to rough-ins, and for the furthest along, insulation and perhaps drywall hanging. Fixtures, primer coats of paint, and trim pieces (moldings, baseboard) will follow. There are have been some minor exterior design modifications (like the dormers in the buildings along Mitchell Street), but otherwise it’s as-approved.

More specifically:

Apartment Building B: Framing (top floor)

Apartment Building C: Framed, sheathed, windows fitted, some exterior facade materials attached

Apartment Building D: Foundation finished, stairwells erected, framing just starting

Apartment Building E: Foundation slab work

Apartment Building F: Foundation slab work

Townhouse Strings:

At, Bt, Ct, Dt, Ht1, Jt1, Jt2, Kt1, Community Center – unclear, not above ground level or readily visible

Et1 – slab

Ft, Gt2, Kt2 – framed, sheathed (partially for Gt-2), exterior facade work for Ft and Kt2

Gt1 – slab (in photos, now framing first floor based on webcam)

Ht2 – first floor framing

It1 – framed, sheathed, windows being fitted

It2 – framing

Lt, Mt – framing (top floor)

Nt, Ot, Pt – framed, windows fitted, fiber cement siding attached

I have to say, based off the work so far, I’m liking what I’m seeing, even with the tweaks the architectural designs and materials appear to be good quality. Here’s hoping the project team can maintain their tight schedule against the environmental odds.





Bank Tower Renovation Update, 12/2017

28 12 2017

Not everything can or should be new construction. Today, it’s a look at the Bank Tower renovation on the Ithaca Commons.

Bank Tower, a seven-story building located at 202 The Commons, dates from 1932, with two two-story additions from the mid-1960s. It suffered from a common issue with older office buildings – as they age, they become less suitable for the needs of today’s businesses. Reasons cited include smaller and less flexible floor plates, fewer amenities, less sustainable and ecologically-conscious structures, accessibility, and utility concerns (telecommunications/integrated wireless networks). A look at your typical office photo gives some insight to the changes –  rows of desks and file cabinets gave way to cubicles and desktops, and in many places those too are being replaced with portables and open office formats. That means that the owner either invests in significant updates to keep a building competitive to its newer peers, or letting it slip downmarket – from Class A (premium/prestige), to Class B (mid-market) and Class C (below-market) space.

However, the first question any owner asks when deciding whether or not to renovate is, will it be worth the investment? In the case of Bank Tower, that answer wasn’t clear. Over the past several years, Bank Tower had lost a number of tenants – law firm Miller Mayer moved into renovated space in the Rothschild Building, which left two floors vacant, and Bank of America sold its local presence to Chemung Canal Trust Company in 2013, which moved out of the building under acrimonious circumstances in the spring of 2016. The average office building is about 90% occupied, and Bank Tower was clocking in with far less than that.

It’s also important to look at the larger trends in the local market. In Ithaca’s case, office space is typically small-scale, and very little is built without a tenant already in mind. Ithaca’s economy is growing steadily, but since meds and eds just build their own space, and tech jobs tend to be “asset light”, the demand for rental office space isn’t growing much. Also, with Tompkins Trust Company building a new headquarters a couple blocks away, which would consolidate several rented spaces into their spacious new digs, it looked likely that there would be a glut of office space by the end of the decade.

The Fane Organization had purchased Bank Tower in 1997, and was well aware of the market’s challenges. They were also aware of the hot apartment rental market. The first plan, announced in July 2016, called for a $4 million conversion of Bank Tower into 32 units of housing with 51 bedrooms (mostly 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units). Renovations typically don’t require planning board review, but any exterior changes, or changes visible to the inside from the outside, would require Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) approval, since the building sits in the Downtown Historic District. John Snyder Architects has been retained to design the new interior floorplans. In accordance with the city’s zoning, the first floor has to remain an “active use”, generally retail or commercial services, but some traffic-generating public and community options are permitted.

Around Spring 2017, rumors began to circulate that the residential conversion plan had been cancelled, and that the Fane Organization was in negotiations with a potential tenants. Those rumors panned out when CFCU Community Credit Union announced plans to move into a renovated Bank Tower next year, renting the building for use as their new headquarters. The credit union, established in the 1950s, has ten locations and about 184 staff, and has been in an expansion mode over the past several years. The move is expected to relocate 30 employees to downtown Ithaca from the current HQ in suburban Lansing, and create 20 new jobs as the credit union continues to expand.

According to a press release, the fourth and fifth floors will retain a traditional layout, while floors three, six and seven will move to an open-office format. CFCU will host a service branch on the ground floor. New windows, communications systems, and high-efficient utilities will be installed in the building. The sixth and seventh floors appear to be spec space, with tenants TBD.

On the ground and second floors, it appears the lobby area is being opened up to give it a more spacious feel, and interior demolition work continues, given the rubble chute off the side of 111 North Tioga Street.