News Tidbits 1/9/2016: Better Late Than Never

9 01 2016

Call it the big news round-up. This is what I get for not writing my weekly roundup last week.

339-Elmira-Road-cancel

1. We’ll start off with some bad news. The plans for a boutique hotel at 339 Elmira are very likely done and over with. The 37-room, 6,468 SF hotel announced in February 2014 was planned for the 0.59 acre former Salvation Army property on the Southwest side of the city. For whatever their reasons were, the developer, (Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Buffalo, decided put the property up for sale for $395,000. After several months, it finally sold at the discounted price of $300,000 to its next door neighbor, Arizona-based Amerco Real Estate, the parent company of U-Haul. Discounted is a relative term, by the way – Rudra had acquired the vacant property for $143,000 in a land auction in 2013. Back when Salvation Army was still there in 2009, the site sold for $175,000.

So with that sale to Amerco, it’s likely the property will be used for an expanded U-Haul parking lot. It’s unfortunate, but them’s the breaks. For what it’s worth, Rudra has commenced work with the other hotel they had planned, the 79-room Holiday Express at 371 Elmira Road, just down the street.

2. In modest but notable projects, the William George Agency in Dryden received a $2 million construction loan to conduct renovations and roof repairs to its cafeteria area. The non-profit residential treatment center for adolescents had secured building material sales tax abatements from the county to help cover their expenses (the project has originally been planned to start in Q1 2015). The agency, established in the 1890s, employs over 340, making it one of the larger private employers in Tompkins County.

20150613_194544

3. Thanks to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal for reminding readers that not every construction project is private. Noted in his writeup of projects that the city intends to fund this year – $430k in road repair projects, another $407k for parking stations, $1.3 million to replace Cass Park rink’s roof, $214k for design work for the new North Aurora street bridge, and $735k for design work for city dam reconstructions.

Perhaps most interesting to readers here will be the $500k that the city intends to spend on design and planning the new Station No. 9. With the awarding of funding from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the city can formally explore the possibility of a new fire station on a Cornell parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue. Once a new station is complete, the city could then sell the current Station No. 9, nearly 50 years old and in need of major renovations, to a private developer for redevelopment (the developer who expressed interest in the site is still unknown, but given Collegetown’s expensive real estate market, they must have really deep pockets).

biggs_2

4. More talk of the Biggs Parcel. Jaime Cone at the Ithaca Times provides more details regarding neighbor Roy Luft’s proposal to build for-sale senior housing using the site. Luft is arguing his project is more environmentally friendly than the NRP project, it would take two to three years to come to fruition, that the units would be 700-1,000 SF, and he’s serious about building the senior housing, which is an under-served market. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, which has actively fought any sale, seems to at least be open to the idea, if not necessarily a fan of it.

For the record, since the ICNA doesn’t clarify it in their blog post, the county didn’t develop the NRP project. The county put out a request for proposals (RFP) just like they do with every other large development study or offering. Better Housing for Tompkins County and NRP happened to think they had a good project idea and responded to the RFP. It’s been made clear, multiple times, that the county has approached neighbors, Cayuga Medical, INHS and others for months, shopping the land around, and no one has made offers. To be completely honest, even if this land hit the real estate listings, it’s not as if anyone is clamoring to snatch this up; there’s demand to live in and near Ithaca, but land still takes several months to sell on average, and it’s not a stretch to think that developers would avoid this one after the NRP flaying. The county plans to start the listing process later this month if the ICNA doesn’t make an offer by the 15th.

Just a thought, but if $340,000/25.52 acres = $13,333/acre, and the acreage closest to Dates Road is probably developable, than shouldn’t that allow a ballpark fair-value estimate? I know NRP was to pay $500,000, but that had some transit and pedestrian cotingencies attached. Has the ICNA contacted NRP to ask how extensive the wetlands were, is the information on file with the county?

1317 Trumansburg is 10.17 acres, The Biggs parcel 25.52. Combined, they would be 35.69 acres. From the sound of it, Luft would like to reform the parcel boundaries to let his project, however big it may be, to move forward. The site is zoned low-density residential, which means a cluster subdivision can be 2.3 units/acre at maximum. Each structure can have up to 6 units. Taking a guess here, but Luft may be looking at more than 20 units, because anything less than 20 could be done with a subdivision of his current property. For comparison’s sake, the BHTC/NRP project was 58 units.

There is at least the potential that the county gets additional tax dollars from Luft’s project, and the woods would be protected, and there would be a happy ending to this story. But that’s dependent on both sides’ goodwill. Given the years of acrimony, that’s a big leap of faith.

5. For the restaurant-goers out there – Fine Line Bistro’s old spot at 404 West State has a new tenant called “The Rook” opening this month. Mark Anbinder provides the foodie rundown at 14850.com. Mid-tier American bistro/pub fare.

More importantly to this blog is the economic rundown, provided thanks to their application for a loan courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA). The three co-owners, all local restaurateurs, are seeking a $40,000 loan (3.5% interest, 6 year length) to complement their own dollars and a private loan. 8 hired staff (cooks/servers/dishwasher), but none living wage. With cash flow statements, restaurant plans, the menu, loan filings and resumes of the owners, this looks like a Cornell Hotelie’s senior class project.

It’s the IURA’s decision make, but at least it’s nice to know that good restaurant space in Ithaca is in strong demand.

Pg-3-Rendering

6. Out for bid, Cornell’s Ag Quad renovations. The bid filing estimates the budget at $6.6-6.8 million, and a construction timetable of late March 2016 to Summer 2017. Quoting the first write up from October:

“The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).”

state_st_triangle_v5_1

7. Folks love a good rumor, and the Times’ Josh Brokaw had an interesting one to report in his 2016 futurecast regarding State Street Triangle

“Don’t think that the Austin-based developer is abandoning Ithaca, though a look at their previous projects shows this sort of downtown, mixed-use development is a new frontier for a company accustomed to building student housing mostly in green fields in the South and Midwest. CEO Mike Peter was spotted downtown at Mercado in December talking to consultant Scott Whitham; it wouldn’t surprise if the company came back this year with something conceptually similar—lots of rooms, ground-floor retail—but a much different look.”

Brokaw makes a reference to the inclusionary zoning slated for discussion next month, which is rumored to mandate affordable units in return for a larger footprint (rundown of how that works here). I also wonder if it will make reference to the “pillar” that Myrick mentioned previously – a taller, skinnier building, not as massive and perhaps only 3-4 floors over most of the site, and maybe a quarter of the site has a taller tower that’s 12 or 13 floors, whatever is permitted by the inclusionary zoning (strictly hypothetical, just one guess of many). Campus Advantage has plenty of time since they missed their original start date, but maybe later this year in the spring.

8. It’s always a brow-turner when a real estate listing is advertised as “a large corner lot ideal for a multi-unit development. In this case, it’s a 0.2 acre double lot at 404 Wood Street in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. The listing offers the ca. 1938 house and lot for $250,000 (tax rolls say the property is assessed at $125,000; the current owner picked it up for just $34,000 in 1993).

Playing with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.

If one were more brazen and tear down the 1938 house, one gets about 3,485 SF per floor, 13,940 SF at max height. That allows about 14 units using the same figures as above. But that might be tougher for neighbors to swallow. Anyway, if it sells and it looks like there’s a possibility, it’ll get a followup in a future news post.

morris_avenue_2

9. Nothing to exciting on municipal planning agendas this week. The town of Lansing cancelled their meeting, and all the town of Ithaca had was a cell phone tower on West Hill. The city has a little more interesting. The duplex at 424 Dryden is examining unusual parking arrangements to save trees, and Habitat for Humanity is planning an affordable-housing owner-occupied duplex for vacant lots at 101-107 Morris Avenue in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

morris_avenue_1

Morris Avenue has always had a focus on worker housing. As described in Ithaca’s Neighborhoods by Carol Sisler (1988), local businessman Morris Moscovitch built 16 nearly identical houses in 1908 to house worker’s families. But, with the effects of urban decay and urban renewal, only one of those 812 SF houses (109 Morris) is still standing today.

What Habitat for Humanity is proposing is to take the vacant lots at 101-105 Morris and 107 Morris (total 0.138 acres), combine them and create two new lots that will face Third Street. The new lots would need a zoning variance since they’re not wide enough (30′ and 30.98′, 35′ required). Being Habitat, these might take a little while to build and they probably won’t wow anyone design-wise, but there’s a lot of value to be placed in their “sweat equity” approach, and affordable owner-occupied housing is in severe need in Ithaca. Planner George Frantz is handling the application.

hotel_ithaca_final_1

10. Lastly, for what is a very long post, the Hotel Ithaca’s revised CIITAP application to the Tompkins County IDA. Now that the project is approved by the city, they can work on a revised tax deal. According to the project memo, the sales, mortgage and property tax abatements will total $1.781 million on the $15 million project. The property tax abatement is the standard 7-year abatement, and will generate almost $1 million in new tax revenue during the abatement period. The project would retain 71 positions and create 21 new jobs, most of which appear to be less than living wage. The application does note, perhaps ominously, that non-approval would result in functional obsolescence – the hotel shuts down. The IDA plans to examine the application at their meeting in the county office building next Thursday.

 





130 East Clinton Street – Proof Ithaca Has Room To Grow

15 05 2013

Rounding out the trifecta of major developments from which I’ve learned where to obtain renderings and elevations, thanks to the guys at Ithaca Builds. 130 East Clinton (click for PDF) is the latest project of local residential overlord Jason Fane, consisting of a 3-building, 36 unit project built into the hillside right next to the IPD Headquarters.

130eclinton1

The design of the buildings come from the regionally prolific Sharma Architects, the same firm responsible for the large majority of the midrises that occupy Collegetown. Nothing particularly exciting about these structures, some minor variations in the third floor exterior facade, and some sort of structure between each 12-unit building. The project will add 36 bedrooms and 12 studios to the growing downtown core.

130eastclinton2

Construction is slated to start this fall and run through to mid-2014.

 





Where Have All the Drinkers Gone?

13 01 2012

I had first seen rumors of this on facebook, but it was only verified by the Sun sometime last night: The Royal Palm Tavern, or rather, “The Palms”, is closing, after 70ish years of service to the inebriated community (I’ve seen opening dates ranging from the late 1930s to 1944; the Sun went with 1941). The Palms closing next month will mark the third Collegetown bar closing in less than year, following in the footsteps of Dino’s and Johnny O’s.

I think most older readers of this blog have some memory attached to one or more these places. The Alumni Magazine did a nice piece about drinking-holes of yesteryear just back in November, complete with the line “the Royal Palm Tavern—still open, despite recent rumors to the contrary—has served a steady stream of students since the Thirties.” To some extent, I worry with the closure of multiple bars and the restrictions on fraternity parties are only furthering the move to drinking in the rundown houses of Collegetown, arguably a more dangerous environment than the aforementioned options. Let’s be honest, if a third of the drinking establishments in Collegetown have closed, and traffic was pretty high on many nights as it was, the traffic that would go elsewhere might just get frustrated with the lines and crowding and just drink at a private party. For the record, Johnny O’s closed after legal issues and their landlord opted for another tenant, and Dino’s was not allowed to renew their lease. The Palms is closing because of financial issues, and the owners are retiring.

As much as I could pursue an entry just on drinking culture/concerns, I’d rather stick to what I do best – Ithaca history and development. First, the Palms’ property, at 209 Dryden Road,  is not for sale, it has already been sold.

That is, unsurprisingly, a prime, prime piece of property to tap into the more expensive segment of the Collegetown market. Now, being such a prime property carries a hefty price tag, so the developers would have to be fairly deep-pocketed, and in fact they are; it’s the firm Novarr-Mackesey, the same developers of the massive Collegetown Terrace project. The rumor mill has been cranking out the possibility of a mid-rise or high-rise apartment building on the site of the Palms. Unfortunately, at this early stage, it’s hard to say what the proposal will look like.

However, there are two certainties – they’re going to have one hell of a time tearing the Palms down, and if it goes over 60 feet (or over 6 stories, whichever comes first), then it’ll be even more difficult because they’ll need a height variance (B-2b zoning says building should be 6 stories or less, and no more than 60′ feet from base to roof). The zoning could be pliable depending on any fringe benefits for the city or any public enhancements (for example, offering public meeting space). The building was built around the early 1920s, and has operated as a restaurant/bar for virtually all of its life, and is seen as a potential historic landmark. Notably, some of the members of the Planning board also put together the historic buildings document. If Novarr-Mackesey wants to build anything, I see this being a prolonged battle, especially if it needs to go up to the Zoning Board of Appeals, where more objections can be raised.

Honestly, I hope to see something, because if buildings appear totally vacant like this, giving a poor impression to visitors and potential students, that is unacceptable:

Update: The Palms and two neighboring buildings on Dryden were sold last year toan LLC associated with Novarr-Mackesey for $3.75 million, well over their assessed value. In the Cornell Sun, Novarr claims there are no set plans for the location yet, but there will probably be a housing component. Considering his work with Collegetown Terrace, which will not be finished until 2014, it could be a couple years before financing and plans are lined up for the site’s redevelopment – leaving that part of the street rather blighted in the short term.





The Blessing and Curse of Anonymity: CollegeACB

20 11 2010

It seems increasingly common these days to read editorials and columns in the Daily Sun that reference the extremely controversial website CollegeACB (Anonymous Confession Board). That and the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko seem to be the two things that dominate the collegiate news articles this semester (personally, all the news I hear about the drink just makes me more tempted to try it, but I don’t find myself at convenience stores often enough to remember to do so). Reading through the threads on the CollegeACB Cornell page is like a lesson in everything that is “wrong” with people; the website is well-known for its tirades that seem to know no ethical bounds, which include posts that are racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, classist, fetishist and all sorts of other comments that play up the darker side of human character.

I think most people who are on the internet these days have seen something like this before. Before CollegeACB, it was Juicy Campus, before the internet people made use of public spaces; I think there was a stump that used to be near Olin Libe on the Arts Quad in the late 60s and early 70s that was used extensively for spray-painted or paper-posted anonymous messages. Anonymity gives people the guise of security; their comments can hardly be traced to them unless they write something that clearly indicates it was them, or someone sees them typing and posting onto a forum. The sex columnists (the people may change, but the pattern is familiar) go by initials or self-created nicknames so as to avoid the coming up on the radar of potential employers and put up an extra barrier to protect against unwanted attention. Sure, a lot of folks might have a pretty good idea who the writer is, but unless it can be concretely proven, they can feel somewhat secure.

CollegeACB is a site that I can despise, and in some perverse sense, understand at the same time. I think ad hominem attacks on certain individuals is wrong, but censoring those opinions isn’t exactly the right thing to do either, since people value the concept of “personal freedom” so much. It’s a moral gray area to me; I would never do it myself, but I wouldn’t necessarily take away people’s ability to do it for a site that advertises anonymity as its big asset (I am being a bit hypocritical here; I have prevented a couple offensive comments, both of which were personal attacks because I mocked the now-cancelled Ithaca Olive Garden, from being published here on the blog; I initially okayed them, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving them on the blog and deleted them within hours).

Yet, sometimes that anonymity is what it takes for someone to take their guard down and see what they really think. People at Cornell are just as capable of being racist and homophobic and sexist as anyone else, and while those posts are offensive, and some of them are just grotesque attempts at grabbing attention, I can’t help but think there’s at least an ounce of someone’s personal beliefs in there. Objectionable as those posts may be, they demonstrate that Cornell is not a perfect world, and a lot of the tension that gets swept under the rug publicly will rear its ignorant head if given the opportunity.

In a previous post, I compared finding useful information on that site to finding a diamond in a pile of crap. Occasionally, the guise of anonymity can be helpful, and an honest, valuable opinion that would otherwise been kept silent is voiced. But you never know how much truth there is in a post, so the “diamonds” might just turn out to be pebbles of glass. I think a statement and a little research can go a long way in proving a comment right, but that’s not always possible.

I guess the topic really sticks out to me because of Ithacating in Cornell Heights. This blog is written semi-anonymously, in that although I’ve never written my name once, there’s enough information out there that I write as if the posts had by name on the top of each entry…which defeats the purpose of anonymity. My major reasons for continuing it like this are partly because of routine and partly because I prefer what I write to be dissociated from me.

The posts that make up the site are unpleasant, certainly. But I think it’s more a reflection of the people writing anonymously than the existence of the site itself. Maybe people just hold themselves to a low standard. Maybe I’m holding people, myself included, to a low standard because although I don’t condone it, I accept it.  My view is pessimist because I don’t expect people to hold themselves to higher standards, which that website proves every inflammatory day.

I’m too much of a curmudgeon to put a smiley face on this and write how we should behave better. It would be nice, perhaps, but I think it would be unrealistic as well.





(UPDATED) Cornell’s Library Shutdown Count Up to Three

23 06 2010

So, I log into facebook and find this page being posted into my news feed.

So, this comes as a bit of surprise. But I don’t buy into it. First of all, there’s nothing online — nothing on the Daily Sun, nothing on the engineering website, no data to back this up at all. Secondly, decisions like this are usually made over the span of months, even years (for example, the physical sciences library’s shutdown was formalized in March 2009 (an attentive reader of this blog actually told me about it before the Sun even had published the story); the library did not shut down until nearly a year afterwards (and no offense to Munier, but that library was definitely one of the lesser-used and therefore more expendable library facilties on campus). Decisions like this aren’t just “made” without a great deal of debate beforehand.

The one grain of truth I can throw into this is that the master plan indicates that the facilty to replace Hollister and Carpenter is under way — but that would suggest Carpenter getting demolished, not reappropriated. Plus, that’s still in the planning phases. Maybe a library would be in the Gates Hall plans, which are currently at the very beginning of the funding and approvals process; but I doubt it at this time.

I call bullcrap on this one until some information is published that indicates otherwise (see update). If there is any truth to it, going all alarmist  and calling the office staff (like the page suggests) is just going to make matters worse.

(UPDATED) So the author of the facebook page attached several official-lloking documents detailing the removal of the library’s book to Olin and Uris. IT would appear that the ACCEL computer labs would be kept and the labs would be made into a 24-hour unit (but isn’t that the lab in Upson exists?). Meanwhile, Munier has posted onto their page a link from Mann Library saying that the Entomology Library will be shut down and merged with Mann. So it would appear Cornell’s cost-cutting will shut down two more libraries they consider “less-used”.

I hope Cornell doesn’t release any more ads touting their expansive library system anytime soon.





Bob Saget Loves Seal and Serpent

22 04 2010

So, some folks might have noticed today that Bob Saget is on campus (again). Their seems to be some buzz going about as to what he’s doing far above Cayuga.

Well, first things thing. According to former (retired?) Ivygate editor Max Wasserman,

“…he’s filming for his new A&E show about interesting subcultures. So the specific subculture he’s covering at Cornell is fraternities and the plan is that he will actually go through initiation. The reason why he’s in Ithaca following Seal & Serpent  is that the producers approached national fraternities about filming, but the national chapters were reluctant to have their secret rituals filmed at any of their houses. The producers then decided to look at independent fraternities as they don’t have to deal with national chapters. They approached S&S (oldest independent fraternity in the country) who agreed. The producers were present at the frat’s initiation dinner a few weeks ago.

So that’s why Bob Saget is at Cornell. He’ll be there through the weekend when I believe he will go through initiation himself (though I could be wrong). There also may be another going-on at the frat related to the filming, but I’m not sure about that yet.”

Well, one of my best friends at Cornell happened to make it the topic of our lunch discussion, before I even heard Bob Saget was on campus. Originally I included how they knew so much. I removed it in case some hypersenstive brother goes on a witch hunt (ed.) Apparently, the program is paying for Seal to do a formal Friday night, tuxes, dates and all. Opinions of Seal aside, just about any fraternity (I’m not even humoring the thought of it being anything else but a normal Cornell fraternity) would love to have the cost of a formal covered. Also, though perhaps stereotypically so, the program is paying Seal to host a toga party Saturday night. I have no idea whether that is open or not.

Yeah, so, congrats to Seal. I think.





Rumor Mill: Alpha Xi Delta’s New House?

9 06 2009

Being in another part of the country sort of limits my ability to keep this blog as active as it usually is. That being said, occasionally some tip or rumor comes along, and if it piques my curiosity, I’ll sooner or later get around to addressing it.

In this case, it would appear that popular rumor is ciruclating that Alpha Xi Delta sorority would be moving into Alpha Omicron Pi sorority’s old house. To make a long story short, AOPi closed this past year for a number of reasons, leaving their recently renovated (and rather luxurious, if I dare say) house on Ridgewood Road open. The house itself has a long storied history of being involved in the Greek system, with no less than four different Greek organizations calling at home at some point or another in its nearly one-hundred year history (see other entries).

The rumor has its plausible points. For one, Alpha Xi Delta doesn’t own their house at 115 The Knoll. That house is still owned by Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, which closed about six years ago [1]. Rumor mill seems to suggest that Alpha Xi Delta’s moving to Ridgewood may not be permanent, as AOPi stated that once the last sisters graduate (2011?), the sorority is hoping to reactivate itself, persumably in the house it owns.

I guess my question is, if the rumor turns out to true, then what’s being done with 115 The Knoll? Is Delta Phi Epsilon reactivating, or is the house intended for another purpose? I s’pose only time will tell on this one.

 [1]http://www.rso.cornell.edu/DPhiE/DRhistory.html