607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 9/2017

2 10 2017

Landscaped, occupied, done. Modern Living Rentals’ infill project at 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill adds another 25 beds to the market, in four new two-family homes and a renovated existing home.

Strictly looking at the project, it’s pretty unassuming. This armchair critic thinks these turned out nicer than the ones on Elmira Road, though a greater splash of color on the siding would have been nice. The brackets and full-length porch are welcome additions on the Aurora Street structure.

If someone had told me 217 Columbia’s two-family infill would cause such a stir, I would have been surprised, since it’s a small project, and this and the Elmira Road pair didn’t create much a stir during the review process. But sometimes, after multiple projects of similar format, all it takes is one more to stir up enough consternation to snowball into a full-blown controversy.

I’m not going to fault anyone there. MLR’s Charlie O’Connor saw an opportunity and went for it. He is arguably one of the most reticent developers in Ithaca, preferring unobtrusive projects that he hopes will create as little debate as possible. It’s kinda funny in a way, because although he’s a business partner with Todd Fox (Visum’s property management is handled by MLR), the two of them are near-opposites in that regard. He paid a fair sum for 217 Columbia Street, so he doesn’t want to walk away from the investment, but he’ll do whatever it takes to make the neighbors happy short of cancelling the project. At last check, there was a proposal to stipulate the two three-bedroom units would not be permitted to student renters, and that the building would be stick-built and designed to better fit with the older structures of the neighborhood.

On the other side, permanent residents have a right to be annoyed if the perceived balance between students and non-students starts to shift and harm their quality of life. The neighborhood, like many of Ithaca’s more walkable parts, has experienced significant upward pressure on housing prices, and rental infill units can be a double-edged sword because the individual property is priced out of reach for homeowners (for-sale infill would be a different story). Even with the owner-occupied properties, there’s a strong whiff of gentrification, turning what was once a blue-collar neighborhood serving downtown shoppers and Morse Chain into a hodgepodge of increasing number of student rentals, and more white-collar, deep-pocketed households.

Somewhat incongruous to all this is that Ithaca College’s student population has declined almost 10% since 2010, which would suggest less pressure for student rentals; however, many of the college dorms date from the 1960s, and the utilities systems need replacement – some are already on their last legs, and that may limit occupancy as they sputter into obsolescenceThe college and students are aware of the discord and are trying to address it gently; more extreme measures like curtailing the ability or capping the number of students who can live off-campus might create major blowback, something the college may be actively trying to avoid after last year’s turmoil. A new dorm or two would help, but even modular temporary dorms can cost a fair sum, and there is nothing planned in the short-term. A long-term question mark is the impact of the Chain Works District, but that’s a few years out at best.

Landlords should at least be cognizant of this tension (and the ones on South Hill tend to be a mixed bag, to be honest), because if things turn south and the college does take drastic measures, units are going to become much harder to fill at current monthly rates. Town officials and voters were unhappy with the quality and appearance of new housing built in the Birdseye View development and in the Pennsylvania-Kendall Avenue corridor, and that contributed to the push to curtail student housing in the town’s portion of South Hill.

The local community is not easygoing or forgiving. If you do crap work, crap will hit the fan sooner or later. Even if you do good work like 607 South Aurora here, it pays to be attentive and flexible.

While legal language is being prepared for an overlay that would prevent more than one primary structure on South Hill properties until a new neighborhood plan is developed (2-3 years minimum), 217 Columbia had already started review before that was considered, so in effect it’s grandfathered in, even if it hasn’t started construction before the overlay likely gets passed by PEDC this month and Common Council in November.





Martha Pollack, Cornell’s New Madam President

14 11 2016

5-1-2012 123

As announced earlier today, Cornell’s 14th president will also be its second female leader. Univ. of Michigan provost Dr. Martha E. Pollack has been selected to take over the helm from interim president Hunter Rawlings starting in April 2017.

Currently, Pollack is the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan, as well as a Professor of Computer Science. As a student, Dr. Pollack earned her degrees at two of Cornell’s peers – a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Dartmouth College, and a PhD as well a master’s in computer science and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Her professional specialty is artificial intelligence, with years of research focused on the design of technology to help those with cognitive impairments, including natural-language processing, temporal reasoning, and automated planning.

Pollack has held a number of positions across the country. From 1985 to 1991, she was a computer scientist at the Artificial Technology Center of SRI International, a non-profit research institute started by, and still closely associated with Stanford University. In what be a good fit with Cornell’s trajectory, SRI was initially created in the 1940s to help spur economic development in the vicinity of Stanford – an area that would later become known as Silicon Valley.

Following her time at SRI, she was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh for nine year, moving to Ann Arbor in 2000 to join the computer science department at U. Michigan. It was at Michigan where she began to work her way up the academic leadership ladder – first as an associate chair of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department from 2004-2007, than as Dean of the School of Information from 2007-2010, then as a Vice Provost for Budgetary and Academic Affairs from 2010-2013, and then promoted in January 2013 to her latest position as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for the 44,000 student university. The provost role in higher education is basically the second-in-command, leading the administrations function of the university. Apparently, Michigan has a knack for turning out Ivy League presidents – Pollack accepted the provost position following colleague Philip Hanlon’s departure to take over as President at Dartmouth College.

Like many high-flying professionals, Pollack has earned a number of service and research awards over the course her career. When promoted in 2013, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman spoke of her glowingly, saying “it’s obvious to me that she’s somebody with enormous potential.” A colleague described Pollack as “gentle, kind and has always been a tireless advocate for our student body.”

The appointment to provost, originally for two years, was renewed by the university in December 2014, and came with additional praise. “Provost Pollack has been an innovative and disciplined academic and budget leader for the campus. … I appreciate her work to hold down tuition costs, provide more financial aid to our students, and her leadership of important new initiatives in digital education and engaged learning,” said Mark Schlissel, the new president of the university.

While at Michigan, Pollack has taken some heat from conservative circles for overseeing a change in student registrations that allowed students to select their own pronouns in respect those who are gender non-conforming. earlier this year, Pollack gave a speech to Michigan students and used the example of supporting transgender children as an example of how young people must “fill the empathy gap.

Regarding her personal life, Pollack has been married for 32 years to Ken Gottschlich, an engineer and jazz musician, and has two grown children.

Although Cornell is large, well-respected and multifaceted institution, so is Michigan. A computer scientist with strong research acumen and academic connections seems like a comfortable choice for Cornell president. With her credentials, at a glance it appears that her appointment is a wise decision that fits with the university’s strategic goals.





Cornell Finally Moving Forward on Maplewood Plan

3 02 2016

maplewood
Finally, finally, some real news. Cornell, through its Chronicle news outlet, has issued a statement regarding plans for the Maplewood Park Apartments replacement. Let’s look at the most important details.

– Cornell will be partnering with collegiate housing developer EdR. Cornell will own the land, but EdR will finance, construct and manage the development.

– Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with a summer (August) 2018 opening.

– Approximately 850 bedrooms are anticipated in the first phase, which is only for graduate and professional students. No undergrads here.

– Designs and unit mix are not yet finalized

– To quote Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate: ““Our goals for this site are to foster a close-knit neighborhood feel, while connecting this community through walkways and outdoor spaces to the university and surrounding neighborhoods, including the East Hill Plaza area where we are planning future mixed-use development.”

– EdR and Cornell will be meeting with neighborhood groups, the local landlords’ association, and since the project will contain a sizable portion of family housing, the ICSD.

Now, with all that acknowledged, let’s do a little more research. First, the developer. EdR (formerly Education Realty Trust) is a Memphis-based student housing developer following in the steps of Campus Advantage, CA-Ventures, and others who have tried and failed to make their way into the Ithaca market. The difference is, apart from EdR also being a Real Estate Investment Trust that finances its own projects (REITCampus Advantage was not, nor was Campus Acquisitions before it was bought), the company has Cornell’s blessing and the proposal is on Cornell land, which are very, very important cards in their hand. It would take a huge flaw to make local officials come out against this project, which will address a critical student housing shortage at the university.

EdR has been through upstate a few times before, though not in Ithaca. They developed and manage student housing for SUNY ESF in Syracuse (454-bed Centennial Hall), and developed two private apartment complexes adjacent to Syracuse University, the mixed-use 312-bed Campus West project, and the 423-bed University Village Apartments. They have a mix of arrangements with different schools – the SU projects are totally private, but Centennial Hall is owned by ESF and managed by EdR, an arrangement that sounds pretty similar to what Cornell will be doing.

Looking at the profile, I can’t find too much of a pattern in the choice of architects. In many cases, they’re local (the Univ. of Kentucky projects used Sherman Carter Barnhart, a Lexington firm, while University Village and Campus West used Holmes King Kallquist, a Syracuse firm), but there’s a few wild cards from outside a region – Centennial Hall used WTW Architects of Pittsburgh. In sum, it looks there might be a slight preference towards firms local to a project site, but apart from that, the chosen designers are literally and figuratively all over the map. EdR looks to have focused on mixed-use, compact and urban-friendly projects with their more recent partnerships.

As for price range, we’re talking some serious coin being tossed around. The Syracuse projects, which are half the size of Cornell’s project, cost $28-$30 million. EDR, in its own press release yesterday, estimates the project will cost about $80 million. Or course, it will be tax-exempt, but that much money translates to a lot of construction jobs, and Cornell is a strong supporter of trade unions. Local companies might get in as subcontractors, but with a project this large, one of Cornell’s preferred circle of general contractors (Welliver, Pike, LeChase) will most likely tackle the overall buildout.

Now, thinking about the project itself, if it’s 850 beds (rough assumption of one bedroom per person), that’s almost twice the capacity of Maplewood and its 394 units/480 beds. Maplewood is 109,000 SF of usable space (122,000 SF gross) and sits on 16.02 acres. So the current density is about 24.6 units/acre, or 30 beds/acre, in one-story buildings that cover the vast majority of the site.

maplewood_3

The 2008 Master plan, if it’s any indication, calls for 15-30 units per acre (the number of beds is left up to interpretation) and up to 400,000 SF of space in 2-4 story buildings, creating a more campus-like appearance by going vertical instead of spreading out as the current Maplewood does. While the layout in the plan was totally conjecture, the specs are not. The town of Ithaca zoning (High Density Residential) caps it at 36 feet, but Cornell could probably get a floor or two of variance without much difficulty – the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan recognizes Maplewood as one of the appropriate sites for “Traditional Neighborhood Development High Density“, dense mixed-use thoroughly integrated into the surrounding street fabric, 6-30 units/acre but averaging 8-16 units/acre with 10-20% open space.

There’s one last detail to mull over in all of this. According to the city, Cornell will be exercising its right to take back the Ithaca East apartments to the east and northeast of Maplewood (I spoke/emailed with Abbott about this a few days ago when the city docs were released, so…convenient timing). According to property manager Bruce Abbott, Cornell renews every June and he has two years to finish out his management of the property, so Cornell won’t take over Ithaca East until June 2018 at the earliest – which would be just in time for a second phase if Cornell desires, right as phase one is finishing up. Cornell also purchased the homes between Maplewood and Ithaca East, in 1998 and 2013. So looking further ahead, here’s an adjacent 8.2 acres that seems likely to fall under the Big Red development radar in the next couple years, not to mention future plans for East Hill Plaza. EdR is going to be very busy over these next few years.





Fast Facts: Ithaca College Employee Headcounts

12 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

Since the blog has previously taken a look at Cornell’s faculty and staff headcounts, it seems only fair to take a look at Ithaca College’s as well.

ic_headcount_1

Over the past decade or so, Ithaca College’s employment has grown. Since 2002, headcount has increased by 302 people/20.1%, about 1.68% per year on average. During the recession, employment at the school actually increased at a faster pace than the average, a stark contrast to the hundreds of jobs that were cut at Cornell.

ic_headcount_2

Breaking the numbers down into faculty and admin/staff components, faculty employment has grown by 155/26.96% since 2002, somewhat faster than the 147 person/15.86% growth in staff employment.

For the sake of comparison, Cornell employed 7,075 non-academic staff in 2002 and 7,018 in 2014, a 57 person/0.8% decrease. The Big Red also employed 2,756 faculty/academic staff in 2002, and 2,763 profs and lecturers in 2014, a 7 person/0.3% increase. (note, Cornell numbers are for the Ithaca campus only).

In other words, we have over the past decade or so, one school that has seen only small enrollment growth but large employment growth, while the other has seen large enrollment growth and no employment growth. I can’t vouch for whether one school’s grasp of their situation is better than the other, but the differences between the two make for an engaging conversation piece.

ic_headcount_3

Here’s something more apropos to current events – the split between full-time and part-time faculty at IC. In 2002, 18.41% of male faculty and 26.92% of female faculty were part-time. In 2014, 28.42% of male faculty and 33.71% of female faculty were part-time. Although Ithaca College has added 155 faculty over 12 years, only 57 of those positions are full-time. Part of the the growth in part-time faculty can be attributed to the growth in graduate students, who are considered part-time faculty at IC if they are teaching. But regardless, it’s clear that Ithaca has become more reliant on part-time staff to meet its teaching needs.

Not to take an official stance on any union-organizing, but double-checking with some previous Voice write-ups, the graph above means that there were 226 Ithaca College faculty that were earning no more than about $16,000/year.

Cornell doesn’t have part-time faculty listed in their data, but I assume grad students with TA assignments fill that role. As of 2014, 6.6% of non-academic staff at Cornell (468 of 7047) are considered part time, while 25% of non-academic IC staff (268 of 1074) are part time. So maybe that’s another piece in the conversation comparing schools.





The Cornell Logo That Failed

13 01 2015

Let me start with a rhetorical question: What makes a college? Academics? Athletics? The physical facilities themselves? The logo?

The last one doesn’t really seem like it should be a contributing factor. But there have been claims that it made all the difference for Cornell, causing it to lose prestige in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It seems like the silliest thing in the world, but here’s the argument. In 1999, Cornell was 6th. By 2004, it had dropped to 14th. One of the reasons for this was brand image – a clunky website, bland brochures, and the logo.  Quote:  “Imagine a flag of the old Soviet Union: a field of red, and in the middle in plain white letters, Cornell.”

Most folks familiar with the 1999-2004 logo not-so-fondly describe it as the one that looks like a J.C. Penney knockoff (J. C. Penney had a similar logo from 2000-2006). Well, funny story about that. From the 2006 NPR interview:

Ms. HEATHER GRANTHAM (co-chair, Cornell image committee): The company that designed that logo originally was the same company that designed the almost identical big red box for J.C. Penney. It’s not Cornell. It’s not Ivy, it doesn’t have that history, and so we really wanted to make that push to revert back to some form of the original crest.

It must have been a busy week for the logo designer (who oddly enough, I can’t even find the name of online). Given the complaints above, and J.C. Penney’s market tumble, I’d be hesitant to hire this company.

The student-led Cornell Image committee made it a priority in the mid-2000s to bury that logo in favor of something more traditional and “Ivy” – the simplified emblem by Chermayeff and Geismar Inc. that Cornell still uses today. It was hoped that it would make Cornell look less like Michigan and more like Harvard. The committee also had goals of reducing class sizes, limiting enrollment and increasing financial aid to minorities, all ways to game the rankings.

Some of those things may have happened (Cornell improved its financial aid, but enrollment has climbed), but rankings haven’t really changed much, hovering between 12th and 16th since the logo was changed at the end of 2004 (for the record, Cornell is currently ranked 15th by U.S. News & World Report). The rankings the NPR interview used were cherry-picking anyway. Cornell spent most of the 1990s hovering between 10th-14th; 1999 was an anomalously good year. So the change isn’t very effective on paper, but I do prefer the current logo to the old one.





News Tidbits 1/10/15: Where Will All the Students Go?

10 01 2015

student_housing_table

1. I’ll lead off with this supplement to the Voice opinion article I wrote. Here’s the work sheet I used for the bedroom tally for student-centric housing. I chose to leave it out of the submitted article because 95% of readers checking the Voice would find it obscure or just wouldn’t be interested. If you’re coming here, then you’re probably in the other 5%. Question marks are present because the county’s online records provide total number of units in mixed-use buildings, but not bedrooms (yet residential-only structures have bedroom numbers, go figure). Anyway, there is the off-chance that enough new projects will be proposed in the next 12-18 months that we could still meet the projected need by 2018, since it’s about 500 rooms short at the moment…but I’m not optimistic. There are few large sites left in Collegetown, and even fewer sites in other adjacent neighborhoods. If Fane comes back down to Earth with a project that fits zoning for 330 College Avenue, and Travis Hyde’s Ithaca Gun apartment project ends up being student-centric, then perhaps there will be another 200 or 250 bedrooms to the total. The rest of the balance will need to come from small or medium-sized projects. Anyway, that’s all speculation. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

I wasn’t being totally facetious with the suggestion of Cornell building more dorms though. A few hundred rooms could take some of the edge of the housing problem, and it’s less Cornell has to pay out in rent stipends to financial aid recipients. But even if Cornell was mulling it over, it would take years to go through planning and construction.

tech2

2. If this were in Ithaca, I’d have splurged pages of writing over it. But it’s not. Construction permits have been filed for Cornell’s second academic building at its new tech campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC – a 189,000 sq ft structure designed by some of Cornell’s favorite alumni architects, NYC firm Weiss/Manfredi. They’re the same ones who are handling the Vet School renovation, and who designed the Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove that opened last fall. The building is the one on the right in the above image, the one that looks like an ice cube breaking apart. Building number one, the design in the left foreground, is already underway.

For the record, I’m still not a fan of the tech campus.

3. The Ithaca Times has done an interview with Bill Manos that’s worth a read. It has your standard anti-regulation rant (the same one you get from your retired Fox News-watching uncle), and he calls the sale an “opportunity from Heaven” that he didn’t see coming. He says the sudden closure was so the new lessees could renovate the diner and have their new restaurant (called “Old Mexico“) ready for the Spring. I don’t think that exonerates the “bad manners” of giving his employees only eight days’ notice, but hopefully they’ve all been able to move on like he claims in he interview.

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4. Looks like the 6-unit, 18-bedroom project for 707 E. Seneca has seen some slight revisions as it goes to the ILPC (Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council) for further review (agenda here). About the only notable change I can find from the previous render is in the spacing of the dormer windows. Although the lot is undeveloped, it’s in a historic district, hence the extra step of ILPC approval. A lot of the major details have already been hashed out, so I imagine the council will only have minor suggestions, but we’ll see what happens. The ILPC is also set to review the Old Library proposals, and given their exacting approach, my inner cynic tells me it will be less about which project they like the most, but rather which one they dislike the least.

804Estate_112blair_rev1_1 804Estate_112blair_rev1_2

5. On another note, the two duplexes proposed for 804 E. State Street (formerly 112 Blair) has been upped to three. Details and drawings here. All are two units each with three bedrooms in each unit, so 18 total. They also look about as utilitarian as one can get away with; the easternmost house (building “D”) has a chamfered corner, and that’s about the only interesting architectural detail I see. Parking will now be shoehorned into the basement level  of all three buildings (12 spaces total; it’s a hilly site). The construction cost has been upped to about $600,000, but the construction timeframe of late Spring/summer 2015 is still the same. Although the lot is being cobbled together from slices of adjoining properties, it will still require an area variance from the zoning board because of how close the houses are to each other. Looking on the bright side, this development will replace a parking lot and works as appropriate infill for lower Collegetown.

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6. I finally received an email response from the Zaharises regarding what’s underway at their old furniture store at 206 Taughannock Boulevard. Unfortunately, it’s not very descriptive:

We’re renovating the building into apartments. It looks quite different doesn’t it?!

Yes. Yes it does.

 





Fast Facts: Cornell Students By Major

11 11 2014

As always, all data is taken from the Cornell University Factbook. Numbers used in this entry are for undergraduate enrollments.

Offhand, I can think of two mantras when it comes to first-tier higher education:
– Go into a STEM field.

– If you’re at a really good school for undergrad (Ivy plus), go for business.

The logic in both is fairly sound. STEM fields are in demand and pay well (and as someone in a STEM position, I say that with a very big asterisk). The other is that our most brilliant minds can get the most return on investment by going into financial services such as investment banking, where you work for for a couple years at a place like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan, go back for a couple years of B-school, and find yourself making $250k at 32 as a vice president of some random business activity. The popularity of that easily earned, highly lucrative business degree is the reason why Cornell started offered a campus-wide minor in business; one-sixth of Cornell’s students go directly the financial sector, which is actually down a little bit from previous years.

There’s also a third mantra, much more negative than the first two: humanities doom you to unfulfilled jobs in coffee shops or years of fruitless grad school labor. Unfair certainly, but the academic stigma, also known as “what are you going to do with that degree?”, is strong for liberal arts majors.

I decided to take the numbers and see if there were any trends in enrollment in certain fields over the years. Below are Cornell’s enrollments from 2002-2013 by CIP, “Classification of Instruction Programs“, which is used by government entities to track enrollments by study.

cip_trend_1

Looking at this, it’s easy to pick out some winners and losers over the past decade. Social Services, English, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Architecture have notable drops. Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture and Business have grown. Liberal Arts shows no strong trend. Computer Science shows an interesting parabolic shape, which can be attributed to the tech bubble bursting in the early 2000s, and taking a few years to recover before entering the current tech boom.

I’m going to take three years – 2003, 2008 and 2013, and split them into “STEM” and “non-STEM” for this next plot. The unknowns and multidisciplinary majors will be removed and I’m going to treat business separately. Non-STEM will be history, performing arts, social sciences, social services, psychology, philosophy, liberal arts, english, family and consumer science, foreign languages, education, personal services, communication, architecture, and area/cultural studies.  STEM will be physical sciences, nutritional science, math, biology, engineering, computer science, natural resources and agriculture. I’ve made an attempt to separate “hard” sciences from “soft” sciences, and I realize there’s plenty of room for debate which categories belong in STEM and non-STEM, but I’ll leave that out for now.

cip_trend_2

Over time, non-STEM is decreasing, while STEM and business are increase their share of the Cornell student population. It could be that there’s genuinely more interest in business and STEM, or Cornell students could simply be more pragmatic these days, choosing things that offer cold hard cash versus the educational enlightenment of the arts and humanities. Feel free to leave your comments.