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.





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 12/2017

22 12 2017

Since October, it looks like the foundation slab has been poured over the footers, and the construction crew is preparing to start work on framing. Judging from the materials on-site, it looks like wood-frame with Huber ZIP panels. Wood-frame structures tend to rise quickly, so once the project team is ready, it should go up at a rapid pace, and probably top out in within just a few weeks. The 11-unit, $1.1 million apartment building is expected to be ready for occupancy by July.

It’ll be interesting to find out what Stavros Stavropoulos’s next project is, since the plan for a pair of duplexes at 209 Hudson Street was kiboshed by the city after the South Hill zoning overlay went into effect. If he’s looking at other locations along the State Street Corridor, he’d likely find the planning department and Common Council more amenable. If his name shows up in any sales, I’ll note it in the round-up.

On that note, expect a brief holiday pause in the daily posts. They’ll be back next week.

For reference, project summary here.





City Centre Construction Update, 12/2017

21 12 2017

As with the Hilton Canopy Hotel under construction just across the street, City Centre is in the middle of foundation work. Steel forms with plywood facing have been erected and braced along the perimeter of the building footprint. In fact, it looks like the project team is using the same Symons Steel-Ply system being deployed at the Canopy site. The piles have been driven and the foundation slab is poured. The team is slowly making their way to the steel frame of each pile, encasing it within forms before pouring the concrete, letting it cure, and then removing the forms to reveal a concrete/steel column ready for vertical additions. The elevator cores and stairwell columns are also on the rise. – the elevator core facing East State Street appears to be the furthest along.

We finally have a named general contractor, and like the architect for the City Centre team (Humphreys & Partners of Dallas), its a new entrant to the Ithaca area – Purcell Construction Corporation, with offices in Richmond, Virginia and Watertown, New York (an hour’s drive north of Syracuse). It appears that they have plenty of experience with multi-story towers and large structures, which is no doubt an asset for the project team.

As I previously said, as structural steel takes height here and with the Canopy and Harold’s Square, downtown Ithaca is going to look like one big advertisement for TCAD.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2017

20 12 2017

Given how long this project seemed to be be stuck in post-approval financial purgatory, it still surprised me when I see construction underway at the Hilton Canopy hotel site on the 300 Block of East State Street.

One imagines that summer 2018 will be a construction nerd’s paradise, as cranes for City Centre, Harold’s Square and the Hilton will dot the city’s skyline, no doubt making their way into future TCAD imagery. But for now, it’s subsurface work. The Canopy is excavated, lagging, H-beams and steel tiebacks have been erected to hold the soil back, and wooden forms are being assembled for the concrete pours. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls. For commercial buildings like the Canopy, stronger steel forms with plywood sheet ply are used. In this case, since the walls are quite tall, workers have installed brackets and scaffolds along the forms so that they can stand and work higher up on the walls. Specifically, I think it’s a Symons Steel-Ply Forming System that is being used.

The footprint of the site also has some less imposing wood forms that have been assembled, and interior to those some steel rebar has been laid, to add strength to the concrete as it cures. Some of the basement concrete slab has already been poured along the perimeter, and some is being readied for pours. The elevator shaft and north stairwell will occupy some of the footprint of where the rebar grid is in the second and third photos below. The basement will consist of storage rooms, utility space, a fuel room, laundry facilities, housekeeping office, main offices for hotel staff and back-end operations, restrooms and a breakroom. The smaller forms with the square outline on the south side of the site look to be about where the money counting room and/or data/communications room will be.

Note the light rigging onsite – December’s short daylight hours are no conducive for outdoor construction. Floodlamps are a way around that.