Visions Federal Credit Union Construction Update, 1/2020

21 01 2020

For regional businesses, Ithaca and Tompkins County are attractive markets to try and break into. Compared to its Southern Tier and Finger Lakes peers (Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn), it’s a sizable market that’s more affluent and more economically prosperous, two things that bode well for business growth if a company thinks they can make the initial investment costs will pay off.

Visions Federal Credit Union appears to making the leap. Founded in 1966, Visions FCU is headquartered in the Binghamton suburb of Endwell (where it recently doubled the size of its headquarters) and currently hosts 52 branch offices across three states. The not-for-profit financial institution boasts over 200,000 members, $4.1 billion in assets and 650 employees. Currently, the closest location to Tompkins County is the branch office in the Tioga County town of Spencer.

Site plans first submitted to the city in May 2019 indicated that the new credit union branch would be built at 410 Elmira Road, on a vacant lot fronting the Elmira Road Shopping Plaza, which houses Home Depot, Kohl’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Widewaters Group, the Syracuse-based firm who owns the plaza, had quietly marketed the outparcel space on since at least early 2018, envisioning a restaurant or similar small-scale establishment would one day occupy the site, along with a sizable amount of parking.

Here, Visions Federal Credit Union is proposing to build a 3,320 SF branch office with a parking lot containing 20 spaces and drive-up ATMs. The building will be finished out in a fairly standard mix of painted aluminum metal panel system and fiber cement, with a CMU base and aluminum window system. More interestingly, the majority of the lot would be fenced in from the adjacent roadways and turned into an outdoor amphitheater. A 940 SF stage structure would be built at the southern end of the property, and the lawn would be maintained for use as an outdoor event and entertainment venue – rough estimates put the seating capacity at about 500, with the shopping center parking lot to double as a parking area for concert series attendees (the initial plan is five concerts from May-September, with smaller events in between). The remainder of the property would be fitted out with stormwater retention areas, landscaping improvements, a small amount of sidewalk, electric vehicle charging stations, a pet-friendly outdoor waiting area next to the building and bike racks.

According to the Site Plan Review (SPR) document, the $1.25 million project will take about eight months to build out – the original construction period was to be October 2019 – May 2020, but as these projects often go, the actual groundbreaking was delayed until just a couple of weeks ago (or rather, at least the site prep is underway; I did not see a building permit filed with the city when I visited the permits office last week, but then again, that’s an 800-page stack of paper including everything from bathroom remodels to new multistory buildings). The number of jobs that would be created is not stated in the filing, but a bank/credit union branch office of this size typically employs eight to 10 people. Design/build firm PWCampbell of Pittsburgh is listed as the project designer, with Rochester-based Costich Engineering serving as the engineering consultant.

Some details were tweaked during review – the amphitheater was adjusted away from the road because of safety concerns. There will be a heavy-duty three-rail wood fence and some trees between the road and seating area. The building itself was largely unaltered, which is rather unusual, but this is a less fussed-over part of the city and the project fully complies with the SW-2 zoning. The supplemental docs say they were looking into heat pumps and a solar canopy for their electric charging stations, but it’s not clear if those will be installed. Approval was granted in August 2019.

According to the Visions FCU press release, “Visions brings a new banking option to the Ithaca community that includes lower interest rates on loans, competitive earnings on savings, a shared network of fee-free ATMs, and more. As a member-owned not-for-profit, Visions is committed to both member and community service.” The credit union is looking to make a positive first impression through some monetary charitable donations to local non-profits, and plans to sponsor and participate in community service events to ingratiate itself with the greater community.

The site is being cleared and graded for construction at the moment. The elevated pad in the first photo is where the new branch office will be built. The third photo shows the graded site pad for the amphitheater.





Perdita Flats Construction Update, 1/2020

19 01 2020

Let’s start this off by taking the broader view. Climate change is real, and is increasingly harming our natural and built environments. In order to mitigate the worst of its effects and help ward off a potential global crisis, it is necessary to limit our environmental impacts. Building construction and urban planning is a major part of that, by using sustainable materials, construction practices, and following planning initiatives to limit the carbon footprint and wasted resources of older conventional approaches.

Ithaca and Tompkins County have approached this enthusiastically, though with mixed success. There is a robust environmental movement in the community, and many of them choose to practice what they preach, at least in their homes if perhaps not so much their site plans (case in point: Ecovillage, while well-designed structurally, is located so far from most goods and services and relies on vehicular travel and creates elevated infrastructure costs for installation and maintenance – in effect, “green sprawl”). Cornell Cooperative Extension maintains a database of local examples of sustainable housing.

One of the areas that has been severely lacking in truly sustainable housing, however, is the multi-family housing segment. The vast majority of eco-conscious housing built in Tompkins County is one-family or two-family. However, these are often on larger lots on the fringe of the urban boundaries of the Ithaca area. This has its limitations, not just the “green sprawl” issue, but affordability concerns related to land costs and single-family home construction costs. Given that it’s more environmentally efficient to invest in communities where infrastructure is in place and where goods and services allow for multiple transit options other than a car, it’s really crucial to demonstrate workable multi-family options, maximizing sustainability and demonstrating that it can be cost-efficient for a builder/developer to be green. But apart from a few examples like EcoVillage’s TREE apartment building, there are few local structures that really showcase what can be done these days with respect to sustainable building multi-family design and construction, especially in an urban setting.

Perdita Flats is an attempt to show that it can be done. In scale, it’s nothing particularly impressive. The site is an undeveloped lot at 402 Wood / 224 Fair Street, previously a double-lot with the neighboring house at 404 Wood (in fact, I noted its development potential when the lot was subdivided). The building itself will be 3,524 SF, three stories with a total of four market-rate units on a 36′ x 36′ footprint with a wrap-around porch. There will be one three-bedroom unit, one two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units – in other words, “missing middle” infill, smaller multi-family of similar unit density to many inner ring urban neighborhoods. (Apparently, the three bedroom is being reduced to a two-bedroom, but this was a very recent change.)

The building, a work of local firm STREAM Collaborative, is designed to fit in with the older homes in the neighborhood by using visual elements like the porch and the gable roof. The exterior will be finished out in natural shiplap wood siding and black standing-seam metal siding.

Where the building really shines is with its sustainability features – this is a net-zero project, meaning that all the energy it uses is provided by renewable sources. Energy-efficient features include a rooftop solar array with on-site battery energy storage, simple square shape, super-insulated building envelope (double stud wood framing and triple-pane low-e fiberglass framed windows), maximized natural daylighting through window placement and light-reflective paint, high-efficiency appliances, plumbing and fixtures, air-source heat pumps, low-emissions and non-toxic natural materials and finishes, and rainwater harvesting. To put it in perspective, the Ithaca’s Green Building Policy in the works requires a score of six points for approval, and this project would earn 17 points. The landscaping will include a shared garden plot, new sidewalk, and native greenery.

The project is the work of Umit Sirt and Courtney Royal. The husband and wife pair are staff of Taitem Engineering, a local engineering consulting firm that specializes in energy efficiency and the use of alternative (renewable) energy sources in building projects. Putting that knowledge to use, the couple recently built a net-zero energy home for their family in Ulysses — net-zero meaning that all energy produced comes from on-site or nearby renewable resources.

To give a rough timeline, Royal and Sirt bought the land for $70,000 in June 2018. The Perdita Flats project was first proposed in February 2019 and approved in April. The project sought and received a zoning variance on parking, two spaces instead of the four required, to allow for the garden space, and a reduction in the rear year setback from 20 feet to 10 feet, to better accommodate the garden and solar panels. To those fretting about the parking deficiency, on-site bicycle storage is provided as part of the project, and the Fair Street location has easy access to both stores on Meadow Street, and to Downtown Ithaca. Apart from the occasional Carshare use, life without a car here would be plausible.

The site plan review document estimated the development costs at $520,000. NYSERDA, the state’s energy sustainability agency, awarded the project $70,560 as part of its Buildings of Excellence program. Instead of the traditional hazardous refrigerants used for the internal circulation within electric heat pumps, Perdita Flats will use a more advanced carbon dioxide-based system (yes, CO2 isn’t good in large quantities, but it’s much less harmful ounce-for-ounce than refrigerant). To quote the application, “(i)n virtually every way, this building will be an example of what is possible for new construction in terms of reduced energy use and a complete lack of reliance on fossil fuels.”

Royal and Sirt’s colleagues at Taitem Engineering helped with the mechanical and plumbing design. The construction manager will be Mike Carpenter, along with the developers themselves. In case you’re wondering, Perdita is “a mythological child who brought a love of the natural world to humans”, according to the project’s website. (At this time, the website is mostly bare except for the landing page.)

At the site, not much has happened yet, though it looks like some trees were cleared. A project of this modest scale should take a half year or less once ground is broken.

 





Maguire Ford-Lincoln Construction Update, 1/2020

18 01 2020

The new exterior cladding is going up on the renovated and expanded Maguire Ford-Lincoln at 504 South Meadow Street. Generally speaking, the materials consist of Alcoa ribbed aluminum panels on the back and sides, Alpolic aluminum panels on the front, and painted panels on the old service wing being retained and incorporated into the renovation. For automakers, aluminum panels are often the desired finish of choice because it projects a clean, modern image, and automotive sales are all about pushing the latest and greatest technologically-advanced four-wheeled machines out onto the roads. You can see on the rear wall how rails are attached to the exterior wall, and the panels are attached to the rails above the sheathing. (The reason why the facade wasn’t finished out in that section is because they’ll be installing an awning atop the ribbed panels.)

Many of the windows have yet to be fitted, and the old service wing is still sheathed in Tyvek housewrap while it waits for its exterior panels given the way it was flapping in the breeze, the contractor might want to use more fasteners). The curved “airfoil” feature with the Ford blue oval has yet to be installed at the front entrance, but there are spaces on either side of the entrance that suggest where it will be attached to the main structure. The Lincoln logo will go above 2×3 black aluminum swatch on the northeast corner next to the entrance, as requested by Ford corporate design guidelines. Initially, the plan was to have an exposed concrete masonry base, but late in the review process they upgraded to stone veneer, which lends a more upscale and aesthetically pleasing appearance to the structure. It does look like some windows were changed or deleted when compared to the last set of drawings from review, but minor fenestration alterations are typically a minor enough change that re-review isn’t warranted.

According to a filing with the Tompkins County clerk on January 13th, CFCU Community Credit Union is lending the Maguire Family of Dealerships $5,362,500 to fund the renovation and expansion. This is unusually high; the Site Plan Review estimated the cost of the project at $1.5 million. The loan notes that fees and other expenses mostly related to the mortgage total $1.788 million, which still lends a very substantial $3.574 million towards the construction project itself, to be paid out in six payments, and all except about $12,000 of that going to the general contractor, G.M. Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse. The terms of the agreement stipulate a completion no later than July 1st.

Background information and project details can be found here.





Library Place Construction Update, 1/2020

17 01 2020

Library Place is making progress over at 105 West Court Street (the new mailing address; guess we should stop saying 314 North Cayuga Street now). The concrete masonry unit (CMU) northeast elevator/stair tower has topped off, and it looks like part of the northwest tower is being assembled now. The square holes above the lower levels of the tower are most likely slots for structural steel. If I’m reading the floor plans right, a third stair tower will be constructed along the south wall of the building. The concrete foundation footers have been poured, and a CMU foundation wall is being assembled; the pink materials along the outside of the wall are lightweight polystyrene insulation boards, Owens Corning Foamular from the looks of it. I see a work truck on site for subcontractor Gorick Construction of Binghamton, but rather surprisingly there’s no signage around for general contractor LeChase Construction.

Signs along the perimeter fence advertise a Spring 2021 opening for the four-story, 86,700 SF building. Prices for the 66 senior housing units are not yet available. Amenities will include a restaurant, à la carte home health services from an on-site agency, community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, warming pool, and underground parking. Senior services non-profit Lifelong will provide on-site activities and programs.

More information about the history of the project and its stats can be found here. The project website is here.





Cayuga Flats Construction Update, 12/2019

31 12 2019

Apologies for the blurry pics, near sunset and rain are a tough combination to work with.

Non-profit housing developer Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (INHS’s) next major construction project to get underway in the city of Ithaca isn’t so much a new development as it is a replacement for existing housing. The $9.2 million INHS Scattered Site Preservation Phase 2 project involves the renovation or redevelopment of 29 existing rental units at 203-209 Elm St., 111 W. Clinton St., 406 S. Plain St., 227 S. Geneva St., and 502 W. State St., including six units of housing for special needs households. Most of the projects are renovations, except for the 203-209 Elm Street project at the base of West Hill, which will replace the existing structures on-site with a new 13-unit apartment building. Most of the units will serve households making 30-60% of area median income.

The Elm Street properties have been under INHS ownership since the mid-1980s, and INHS more recently purchased the single-family home at 205 Elm Street (which is tucked back from the street). Plans for the new housing were announced in April 2016, with the advertisement of an open house for West Hill residents.

As quoted at the time, the older four-unit building at 203 Elm Street had already been vacated. “203 has had serious structural issues for the past five years. 203 is settling too much, and we decided it wasn’t safe to rent . It would also be very expensive to fix, we could build a much higher quality new building for the same amount of money,” said INHS Senior Developer Joe Bowes. My understanding is that the issue stemmed from critical flaws with the settling of the foundation. 207-209 Elm Street is a 9-unit apartment building that had been renovated in the 1990s but was in need of further work, and INHS’s cost-analysis found that a new construction would cost about the same in the short-term, and less over the longer-period since it would have new utility systems and a stabilized slope.

The new build here would be a 12,585 SF, 13-unit apartment building, two stories from the front (northwest) and three from the back (southeast), further downslope. Now, you might notice that 13-units of housing is less than the 14 units already present on the three properties. That’s intentional, and was done to minimize potential blowback from neighbors.

Of the 13 units, ten will be one-bedroom units, and three will be two-bedroom units. The building’s design, penned by Rochester firm SWBR Architects, is a fairly modern look with fiber cement siding with wood-like fiber cement and masonry accents. I’ve never been sure which render I have on file is accurate since INHS uses one dated from April 2016 on their website and the project was only 12 1-bedroom units at the time, and a 13th unit and a few more bedrooms were added during review. I suspect the elevation drawing I have below is the more accurate one.

Engineering-wise, the project will be built on a 5″ concrete slab resting on a vapor barrier and compacted stone base, with concrete masonry unit (CMU) or poured concrete walls and footings. This foundation wall will also serve as a retaining wall. The floord above will be a traditional lightweight wood frame common in low-rise multifamily construction. Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing systems were designed by Fuegel Engineering of Syracuse. T.G. Miller P.C. of Ithaca did the civil engineering, and Seeler Engineering P.C. or suburban Rochester did the Environmental Site Assessment.

The project was approved in October 2017. Located in R-3a zoning (less-dense multifamily), two zoning variances were sought and granted for the Elm Street housing – one for six parking spaces vs the required thirteen, and another for a rear yard setback so that INHS can build a two-tiered retaining wall instead of one very tall retaining wall.

As with most affordable housing, funding for the project is a rather complicated mix of federal and private funds. Unlike market-rate housing where construction costs are typically covered by the developer and a commercial lender, the low return on investment for lenders leads affordable and supportive housing to seek alternative funding to cover the financial gap so that construction can begin. Affordable housing financing is like a puzzle, to be put together from a variety of public and private funding sources, from bank loans to tax-exempt bonds to tax credits, and all these different sources have to fit together in a certain way for maximum financial leverage. Funding for Cayuga Flats includes $5,364,532 in Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs, you can read about how those work here), $1,639,911 from the NYS Housing Trust Fund Corporation, $100,000 from Tompkins County Community Housing Development Fund, awarded in 2018, $194,014 from a NeighborWorks grant, $228,662 from the City of Ithaca’s federal HUD HOME and CDBG 2019 Allocations, and INHS is providing funding in the form of a Seller’s Note for $1,340,000, and deferred developer fee for $14,774. The project is fully taxable.

At present, interior demolition and the first stages are site prep are underway. Exterior demolition will follow once any asbestos has been abated and the buildings are safe to come down (I think this is a demolition and not a deconstruction). Build out will take about 12 months.

 

 





Ithaca Tompkins International Airport Construction Update, 12/2019

29 12 2019

With the new Customs and Border Patrol station opening this spring, the airport will be able to receive charter flights from Canada, so that makes it an “international” airport. The other news outlets popped in for opening day, and these photos are from a couple of days before, which gives an idea of the mad dash construction crews were doing to have everything ready in time. Give a hand to Streeter Associates and their subcontractors for getting the job done.

The $34.8 million expansion and modernization includes a larger terminal, six new passenger gates and three new boarding bridges (for a total of four), upgraded dining, seating and amenity spaces, tech improvements, a solar canopy system in the parking lot, and a 5,000 square-foot customs facility outside the main terminal. The expansion creates about sixteen new permanent jobs and is expected to provide a boost in tourism and general business revenue. When your community is “centrally isolated” from the main highways, it helps to have a top-notch airport.

The sources of funding for the $34.8 million project include $14.2 million in state funding, $10 million in federal funding and $10.6 million from Tompkins County. The total is well above the $24.7 million initially estimated, so the additional costs are being covered by the feds and as the Ithaca Times reports, a small fee on all tickets through the airport.





3105 North Triphammer Construction Update, 12/2019

28 12 2019

S.E.E. Associates/Andy Sciarabba’s new office building at 3095 North Triphammer Road was approve for construction last spring and started construction this past fall. What’s there right now is the basic frame of the building, a fairly utilitarian clear span one-story wood-framed design with a large gable roof atop an insulated concrete slab. A projection of the front eave will give space for porch columns and smaller gables advertising five of the seven tenant spaces being built in the 9,600 square-foot building, and the exterior will be finished out in vinyl siding and cast stone veneer. Also included are landscaping improvements, stormwater facilities and parking for 48 vehicles. Alternative/renewable energy sources, likely air-source electric heat pumps, are being explored for the project.

The commercial spaces are intended for either office or commercial retail tenants. The $500,000 project is expected to be completed by next spring. Per an email from Sciarabba that came in after the Voice article:

“We have signed 1 (unnamed) office tenant already, 1300 sf and have a verbal commitment from another tenant, a primary and acute care physician. We can accommodate up to 7 tenants and we are using air source heat pumps. The shell should be ready for tenant fit up in January with first occupancy about March. Our goal is to bring services to this part of Lansing which currently do not exist. We are very flexible as to tenant sf size since the bldg is clear span.”

Local architect George Breuhaus is the creator of the design, and Lansing construction firm D Squared (Doug Dake and Doug Boles), who just wrapped up the construction of the Boathouse Landing project, are in charge of the buildout.