210 Linden Construction Update, 10/2017

21 10 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 10/2017

20 10 2017

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

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

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

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

A summary of the project can be found here.





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

18 10 2017

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

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

Project description and background here.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 





210 Hancock Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

One last walk around the block. It looks like only minor exterior finishes and landscaping/playground and basketball hoop installations left. TCAction’s daycare center has been dedicated the “Sally G. Dullea Childcare Center”, in honor of Sally Dullea, a longtime Ithacan and retired M&T Vice President who led TCAction’s Board of Trustees. Next door, The balance of the first-floor commercial space for a “Free Science Workshop”, which is a part of the Ithaca Branch of the Physics Factory, non-profit exhibition program that engages children with science. The “Physics Bus” in the parking lot is the mobile exhibit.

It also appears that either the multi-use path or the project itself has been dedicated to outgoing INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. Not a bad way to say thanks after 27 years of service. As for his replacement, Johanna Anderson, best of luck, and I look forward to being a constructive nuisance.

It’s never been a secret that I was an advocate for this project, given the clear need for affordable housing, and the transparency and responsiveness of the project team during early planning. I continue to hold the project in high regard. It is a real improvement over the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store that was once here. It helps to fill a crucial deficit in a well-thought out, contextual, urban-friendly package. While walking around, I saw a young woman moving furniture into an apartment, a man and his son heading into one of the homes, and an older gentleman walking a dog. I think that, as the dust settles, it’ll blend seamlessly into Northside’s urban fabric, and be a worthy asset of the Ithaca community.

Before (image courtesy of Jason Henderson of Ithaca Builds):

After:






McDonald’s Rebuild Construction Update 9/2017

4 10 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Rodeway Inn Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

The synopsis of the project can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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