Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 2/2019

17 02 2019

I’ll admit I’ve actively avoided writing this one up because it has more twists and turns than a soap opera, and it ends up being extremely hard to follow as a result. There are over forty articles from local outlets regarding the site, and Travis Hyde Properties compiled about two dozen of the pieces it liked onto their website. The Voice has eighteen Old Library articles on file, but because of a tag mix-ups, it’s more like thirty. Here’s an attempt to distill everything into one post.

The Old Library site refers to the former Tompkins County Library, located at 310-14 North Cayuga Street. From 1967 to 2000, the library was housed there. However, once the library moved downtown in 2000, the building was used for day reporting for low-level criminal offenders, and for records storage. These were eventually relocated to other properties, and the 38,630 SF would be vacant by early 2015. However, the county didn’t like the idea of hanging onto it. Its unusual interior design (a large atrium) was difficult to adapt to other uses, inefficient from an energy standpoint, and the building’s utilities systems were running short on useful life, and would be expensive to replace. As a result, the building was declared surplus.

The idea of a Request for Expressions for Interest (RFEI), was hatched in late 2013. An RFEI is basically a prerequisite to a Request for Proposals (RFP), feeling out interest by asking for less paperwork – an RFP to RFPs in a sense. While the building was no longer useful for the county’s needs, it sits on a site close to downtown Ithaca, next to historic DeWitt Park (and in the DeWitt Park Historic District). It’s walkable, and the city’s 2013 rezoning allows up to four floors and 50 feet. The RFEI stressed mixed uses with an emphasis on senior housing, and compatibility, energy efficiency, and growth of the tax base. The hope was that someone would use the site to help the county meet its goals, though the county was unsure how it would go – an earlier RFP in 2000 garnered no interest in the property.

As luck would have it, there were six responses to the RFEI, which can be found here. Two, INHS and IAD, dropped out before an RFP went out – INHS had acquired the 210 Hancock site and decided to focus on that. The DPI condo proposal declined to respond to the county’s RFP, citing frustrations with the county’s frequent delays, and that had one of the favored proposals in the feedback I received. The other two “reader’s choices” were Cornerstone’s affordable housing plan, and Franklin Properties collaboration with STREAM Collaborative, which called for reusing the structure of the building.

By the time the RFP has been issued and responded to in April 2015, three projects were up for review – Cornerstone’s 73,600 SF 54-unit affordable housing plan (<80% AMI), Travis Hyde’s 72,500 SF, 60-unit market-rate senior apartments plan, and Franklin/STREAM’s 58,000 SF building, with 22 higher-end condominiums and medical office space. All would pay the county $925,000 for the site.

The next few months were not enjoyable. The Cornerstone project asked for a PILOT tax agreement and lost county support. That left Franklin and Travis Hyde and Franklin Properties. The Franklin project had strong public support. But in June 2015, the county Old Library Committee of legislators recommended the Travis Hyde project 3-2. Two legislators genuinely favored Travis Hyde, one voted in favor just to move it out of committee, one liked the Franklin proposal though expressed some unhappiness with all of them, and one thought all three proposals were outright terrible.

A week later came the full county legislature’s vote – 6-6, a hung vote with two absent. Neither proposal had the eight votes of support needed to move forward. That’s when things started to get ugly. The city’s Common Council and Planning Board submitted letters recommending the Franklin proposal, which ruffled some feathers in the legislature. One legislator was accused of an ethics violation because the Travis family donated to her congressional campaign two years earlier, and recused herself from future votes. The Old Library plan was sent back to committee, where the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. There was a very good chance neither plan would get the required eight votes, and the county would be unable to make a decision on how to sell off a property they didn’t want. More failed votes ensued.

Finally, in early August, the Travis Hyde proposal got the nod in an 8-5 vote. There was definitely some bitterness afterwards, and an air of unscrupulous behavior. A legislator who switched his support to Travis Hyde would lose re-election to a strong advocate for the Franklin project later that year. He moved districts and into Fall Creek just as the other deciding vote retired from the Fall Creek district; there have been accusations it was orchestrated, but nothing was ever proven, and believe me, my then-editor, Jeff Stein who’s now at the Washington Post, had worked hard to find something.

For the record, this is why I have a strong aversion to RFPs. It works well when there’s one clear choice. But here, the disconnect between suburban and rural legislators, and passionate city residents, as well as all of the fighting and accusations that went with it, really created an unpleasant and rancorous experience. I dread the RFP for the NYS DOT site, which will come up in a year or two.

The project wouldn’t begin to move through municipal review until early 2016. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), who had stated a strong preference for the Franklin proposal, was first up – there was no point in going to the planning board if the ILPC isn’t on board (and the Planning Board is generally the more accommodating of the two). The project they were first presented had 51 units, 6,500 SF of space for senior services Lifelong, community space (2,000 SF), and a modest amount of street-level commercial space (4,000 SF).

There were eight different designs that the development team submitted in an effort to satisfy the ILPC. Here’s the major ones – One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight, the final design. If you want to be picky, there are some minor revisions too, for things like facade materials tweaks. As review continued, it was decided that it would be more efficient to hold the ILPC and Planning Board meetings on the project at the same time in one group, so that one panel wouldn’t contradict the other.

After several months and several major redesigns, it wasn’t looking good. The ILPC felt that every design was simply too big and one called it “an impossible building”. County staff and officials were getting angry because they felt that the city was trying to spite them, and one planning board member’s comment was effectively “you should do what we tell you to do,” so once again, the project site was in an uncertain and acrimonious situation.

By October 2016, the plans had been modified to be 17 percent smaller, 73,400 SF with 57 units. This included a 950 SF ground-floor commercial space and a 1,900 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, which had made the decision to stay in its building next door and not move into the new building. Some of the indoor parking was moved to an outdoor rear lot to shrink the structure further, and the fourth floor was set back from the rest of the building. This too was turned down, but there was just enough of a window for possible approval that Travis Hyde decided to give it one more shot.

Frankly, this project was hanging by a thread. Travis had informed the county that he was “bruised and battered”, but would make one last attempt. The last shot was February 2017’s meeting. The foundation of the old library would be reused in the latest design, and the third floor was pulled back from the street. It passed, 4-3. One vote essentially made all the difference. That allowed the project to move forward with environmental review SEQR) from the planning board.

This reviewed version called for 54 senior apartment units, 32 parking spaces, a 2,000 SF community room, 1,160 SF of retail, and 86,700 SF of total space, as the interior parking was now underground as part of the reused old foundation. The sale of the site was approved by the county after the project was greenlighted, in September 2017. The 3 no’s in the 11-3 vote were two Franklin proposal advocates and the legislator who said all the projects were terrible two years earlier, so points for consistency.

The actual interior layout at this point, is something of a question mark. In May 2018, it was announced that the project would be partnering with luxury senior services provider Bridges Cornell Heights on the project. As part of that, the design was updated to 67 units, though there was no change in total square footage. According to the press release, “(o)n site, there will be a restaurant, a la carte home health services from an on-site agency, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, pool and parking. The partners will also work with Lifelong to provide on-site activities and programs.” Units will be a mix of 1-3 bedrooms, market rate and available to renters 55 and older. The name of the project also changed, from “DeWitt House” to “Library Place”.

Continuing the theme of controversy with the project, by the time financing was secured for the now $17 million plan (up from $14 million in 2014), the building’s roof had become structurally unstable. The fear was that construction workers could be inside if it suddenly collapsed. An engineering report filed by Ryan Biggs/Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying in August led the city’s director of code enforcement to condemn the building. The initial demolition plan was to seal the building up and cart out the asbestos in sealed containers, a “contained” demolition. The new plan was to demolish on site with spraying to prevent airborne contaminants, a “controlled” demolition. This led to community protests, and the mayor threatened to torpedo the project unless a second engineering report was carried out by a third party engineer of the city’s choosing, with no affiliation to Travis Hyde. The second report, from Dende Engineering, confirmed the first report’s findings, so the city okayed, if somewhat begrudgingly, the new demolition plan. In response to the demolition, a neighboring couple wrapped their nearby home and rental buildings in plastic as a dramatic show of concern, which caught the attention of broadcast media.

The project is seeking a tax abatement, but the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) has yet to schedule a meeting to review the application and take a vote.

Demolition and site prep is expected to last through the winter, and construction will begin during the spring. A fall 2020 opening is anticipated. Alongside Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights, the project team includes HOLT Architects for the building design (all eight of them), TWMLA for the landscape architecture, LeChase Construction as general contractor, and Hayes Strategy for marketing. Gorick Construction of Binghamton is handling the demolition, with Delta Engineers, Architects and Surveyors doing the air quality monitoring. The project website is here, as are the air quality reports.

December 9th:

January 19th:





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 12/2018

6 01 2019

This post was supposed to go up a week ago, but was delayed by a bout with the flu. Sometimes, things get delayed and health concerns have to take precedence. 128 West Falls Street is an example of that.

128 West Falls Street is a single-family rental home situated on a mostly empty 0.375 acre urban lot on the northwest side of Fall Creek. The property was bought by Heritage Park Townhomes back in December 2012. Heritage Park, recently rebranded Perfect Heritage, is the umbrella organization for a few different businesses run by local builder Ron Ronsvalle and his family. Those include Perfect Painters (home painting), Heritage Builders (home construction), Heritage Park Rentals, and a few years back, there was even an auto repair business.

On the development side, Heritage Builders has built or renovated a number of small-scale residential and commercial projects around the greater Ithaca area, tapping into a variety of markets. These include student rentals on South Hill, apartments and commercial retail/office space in Lansing, some smaller multi-family infill in the city of Ithaca, and some for-sale housing on South Hill. There isn’t really a pattern, it’s more or less what’s available at the time they’re looking to take on something new.

In March 2014, plans were first announced for infill apartments at 128 West Falls Street, consisting of three new buildings with six rental units. The design of these was rather awkward and somewhat larger than the typical 1.5-2.5 story homes that comprise nearby blocks, so there was a fair amount of pushback from neighbors. This was problematic because the Board of Zoning Appeals was required to sign off on setback and parking variances needed for the project to move forward; the property is being subdivided into three parcels, one for the existing single-family home, one for the to-be-built duplex (later a single-family home) to the east, and the third for the two duplexes on the west end of the parcel. The existing home will have no on-site parking within its (middle) lot, instead sharing with the west lot.

The project team met with neighbors, heard their concerns, and reworked the design – it was a bit smaller, with five units in two two-family homes and and one single-family home, and the designs, created by architect/engineer Lawrence John Fabbroni of Fabbroni Associates, showed a more traditional aesthetic when the revised site plan review was submitted in October 2014. At the time, the planning board hailed it as a successful example of working with the community to create a mutually acceptable outcome. The plans were approved by the planning board in February 2015.

However, the project didn’t move forward, and after two years, the approvals expired. Not long after the project was approved, Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. As the letter from Fabbroni stated, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.” For a while, it had looked like the project was unlikely to ever happen. However, the request for re-approval was submitted in June 2018, and with no changes, the project generated little discussion and was re-approved the following month. The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period in two phases from August 2018 to August 2020.

The project includes seven off-street parking spaces, one driveway, sidewalks/walkways, stormwater facilities and landscaping (new trees, pavers, raised plant beds). The three units facing West Falls Street are designed to resemble typical older homes in the neighborhood. Building 1 is a single-family building with three bedrooms, finished in LP Smartside wood lap siding colored Sherwin-Williams Aurora Brown on the lower floors, LP Smartside wood shake siding on the gable level and colored S-W Roycroft Brass, and trim panels in S-W Roycroft Vellum. Building 2 is two units with three bedrooms each; the massing of Building 2 is broken down into two distinct halves, connected only through the foundation and a ground level breezeway. The west unit will have a bay window and a full gable roof with dormers, while the east unit has a partially-hipped roof, creating visual interest between the two otherwise mirrored units. LP Smartside wood lap siding in S-W Renwick Olive will be used on the lower levels of each., LP SmartSide smooth wood panels with batten trim will be used on the west unit’s gable level, while the dormers on the east unit will use lap siding, both colored in S-W Roycroft Bronze-Green. The trim panels will once again be S-W Roycroft Vellum. For the record, all of these colors are from Sherwin-Williams’ “Heritage Palette” historic color series; and historic East Aurora, New York is home to the Roycroft Campus.
The building tucked back from West Falls Street, Building 3, is a more contemporary design hosting two two-bedroom units. The lower levels use LP engineered wood siding in S-W Rockwood Blue-Green, and on the gable level, smooth wood panels in S-W Downing Stone. As with the other two, the wood trim panels are painted S-W Roycroft Vellum. Altogether, there’s a total of five new units and thirteen new bedrooms in the project. The project is designed such that the whole four-building, six-unit assemblage can be converted into condominium housing at a later date, if Heritage Park chooses to do so.
The photos below suggest a quicker timeframe for construction than suggested in the 2018 Site Plan Review – framing is substantially underway for all structures, with the first two floors framed out for Buildings 1 and 2, and above-ground framing just getting underway for Building 3. The concrete foundations are complete. A good estimate would be an August 2019 completion for all five units, or in other words, they decided to merge the two phases back into one. The designs don’t totally match the drawings. The elevations don’t show windows in the basement level concrete, and some of the other window patterns don’t totally align either.





Tompkins Center for History and Culture Renovation Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

The new Tompkins Center for History and Culture is progressing towards its April 2019 opening. There’s not much to see from t he outside, since this is an interior renovation, albeit a major, to-the-studs renovation. Some non-load bearing walls have been removed and the interior has been opened up. Back in October, the History Center spearheaded a community effort, called “Moving History Forward”, to move its thousands of historical artifacts from their old location in Gateway Center to the new TCHC a couple blocks away. Not only did it engage the community (the move required 330 volunteers), it also saved about $40,000 in moving expenses.

According to the building permit from October, LeChase Construction is on board as the general contractor for the $1.8 million project. Although based out of Rochester, LeChase maintains offices throughout the state – the firm opened an office in Ithaca, but the company website does not suggest it’s full-service, if it’s still used at all. Most Ithaca work is overseen by the Syracuse office. Matco Electric Corporation of Vestal is in charge of electrical work and rewiring, Lansing’s DFM Mechanical is doing the plumbing, and Eagle Mechanical of Wolcott (Wayne County) is doing the general mechanical work. Local firm Hayes Strategy is serving as the construction project manager, and STREAM Collaborative is designing the interior renovation. New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area within the renovated space, and some of those images are included below. From Tessellate’s website:

“The intent of the exhibits at the History Center in Tompkins County is to connect audiences to meaningful history and narratives about the past, present and future of the region through the use of interactive, immersive, media and object-based experiences. For this project, Tessellate designed a flexible series of modular Story Pods to work as a physical, visual, and technical system to accommodate current and future needs of the museum. This allows for an open floor plan, use of vertical space and height, dynamic header text/images, visitor seating, accommodating for groups, and the blend of physical, interactive and media design offered an optimal storytelling experience.”

Quick aside, Marchuska Brothers Construction was the county’s general contractor, Johnson Controls had the mechanical contract and Richardson Brothers the electrical contract for the initial renovation work. Not sure why there was a switch. The switch was because the History Center hired their own set of contractors for their buildout needs. From the architect, Noah Demarest: “The county owns the building so they had a contract to deal with some core facilities issues. Now the History Center is using their own contractors for the tenant build out. So it wasn’t a change, just the result of the open bidding process of two different entities working in the same space.”

A project description and development timeline can be found here.





City Centre Construction Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

Facade installation continues on the exterior of the City Centre project on the 300 block of East State Street. According to project representatives, all three commercial retail spaces on the ground level have been reserved. Along with the Ale House, the other spaces will be “a financial institution and a new dining experience from a beloved local restaurateur”. The rumor mill has suggested a couple of names for that restaurateur, and that the initial concept was to be Italian, but with the opening of Pasta Vitto across the street, the tenant is taking the restaurant in a new direction.

For those interested (and not necessarily looking for a new apartment), City Centre has finished out a few model units for hard hat tours. You can stop by the leasing office on the Commons to schedule a walkthrough.

Some of the project team members have started to tout their involvement with the project, which is generally a good sign (it means they’re proud of their work). The image above comes from Whitham Planning and Design, of which I’m kinda jealous. Meanwhile, the regional Carrier equipment dealer is touting the project’s use of a Toshiba-Carrier VRF HVAC systemVariable Refrigerant Flow, the technical name for the electric heat pumps the building utilizes. The heat pump system and its units are being installed by Petcosky and Sons, a heating and plumbing subcontractor out of Vestal. Purcell Construction is the general contractor (and their City Centre webcam is here).

The project is still on target for a June 2019 opening. The project background and description can be found here.





Bank Tower Renovation Update, 12/2018

27 12 2018

Plodding along here; it’s been a year since the project description and introductory post was written. The Fane Organization, which owns the building, is touting January 2019 availability for office suites on Floors 3-7. Floors 1 and 2 are “the new world headquarters for CFCU Credit Union”. Given the windows opening tarped over and awaiting replacement, and the state of the ground level (drywall and rough-ins ongoing, but fixtures and finishes still a ways out), that seems a bit optimistic. I have not heard of any changes to the original plan for CFCU to open at 202-204 East State Street next spring.

The new building logo, courtesy of the Fane Organization.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 12/2018

27 12 2018

Just noting that the structural steel frame is fully built out up to the fifth floor and that fireproofing and sprinkler system installation is underway. The project utilizes SidePlate Systems for lateral steel connections, which utilizes a lighter frame design that is still durable. This has a higher upfront cost in design, but may balance out much of that with reduced materials and labor costs, as well as being able to stick to a tight buildout schedule. The IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 241 is proudly touting their involvement with the buildout, and local labor advocates will be pleased by the commitment to local union labor. Taylor the Builders is the general contractor.

The apartment units have begun showing up online, though they are not able to be reserved just yet and no prices are given. The units come in the following sizes:

Studio 1 Bath 42 units 435 SF
1 Bed 1 Bath 32 units 686 SF
2 Beds 2 Baths 34 units 945 SF

Retail and office spaces are available for lease through Pyramid Brokerage’s David Huckle. The first floor Commons-facing units are being offered at $24/square foot (3-5 year lease), and the second and third floor office space is being offered for $22.50-$24/square foot. The retail spaces are 2,674 SF, 2,900 SF and 9,210 SF, which can be combined by a deep-pocketed lessee for a maximum of 16,241 SF. The minimum leaseble office space is 2,900 SF (which Pyramid describes as being about enough for seven people in a Class A environment), and the maximum is 33,832 SF (enough for 135 workers). The online as says a 2022 completion, which is overly, overly conservative. I would take a guess at Q4 2019 or Q1 2020. Obviously not the Spring 2019 they originally hoped for, but there have been numerous weather issues that delayed the concrete pours for weeks. The rest of the steel frame should rise faster since the tower portion (floors 6-12) is only a fraction of the building’s overall footprint.





Cornell Fine Arts Library (Rand Hall) Construction Update, 12/2018

22 12 2018

Cornell’s new Fine Arts Library (FAL) is coming along. The Mui Ho Fine Arts Library will occupy the top floors of Rand Hall, a ca. 1911 structure that long housed the design studios of the Department of Architecture. My own memories of Rand were relegated to the outside, usually a small throng of architecture students getting their nicotine fix just beyond the entrance (and on a few occasions, substances more illicit).

Rand has always been the workhorse of the Architecture School and a fine example of early 20th century industrial architecture, but for the past twenty years Cornell actively made one attempt or another to get rid of it – in their attempts to build Milstein, the university proposed to tear down Rand not once, but twice. However, there was significant pushback by alumni and historic preservation groups against the idea, and it was one of the factors that weighed into the Koolhaas design for Milstein Hall, which functions as more an addition to the AAP School than a replacement.

The interior will consist of three levels of mezzanine shelving for the 125,000-volume Fine Arts Library’s collection, as well as interspersed work/study spaces. The library stacks will consist of “inverted ziggurats” accessed by stairs and walkways. Floor-to-ceiling space will range from 48 feet on the north side of the reading room to 7.5 feet in some sections of the library stacks. Long, unobstructed hallways will run the length of Rand Hall. The large variation is meant to convey both grand spaces and “private engagement” with the books. 8,000 square feet of shop space for the AAP program will occupy the first floor. Other features will include reading carrels with built-in monitors and lockable book storage, public computing stations and a seminar room. The roof will host a 1,500 square-foot structural deck, outfitted with base plates for temporary structures as well as power, water and digital connections. The semi-elliptical roof pavilion will be built at a later date.

In this renovation and expansion, Rand’s daylight-factory windows were replaces with single panes, the east stairwell was removed, and a steel canopy is going up over the roof. The building will have two entrances, one public and one for AAP only. In an attempt to limit energy use, the building utilizes rigid foam insulation, installing double-glazed windows and all mechanical systems are being replaced. Like Cornell’s other Central Campus building, Rand/FAL is tied into the Combined Heat and Power system, which uses a mix of renewable and conventional fuel (mostly natural gas) sources.

As previously covered, the architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. More of Tschapeller’s very avant-garde designs can be found at his website here. The project is being funded in part by a  $6 million dollar donation from Cornell alumna, architect and UC-Berkeley professor Mui Ho ’62 B. Arch ’66.

The $21.6 million project is expected to be completed in June 2019, after a construction period of 18 months. Welliver is the general contractor.

Now at about the two-thirds mark, most of the new windows are in, with clips still in place for the newly installed windows on the east facade. The area of “damage” was the result of the teardown of the eastern stairwell, which was a much more recent construction and not original to the structure. The Carisle VP 705 on the roof is a self-adhering waterproof and fireproof fabric to limit moisture penetration from the aluminum panels.