Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 10/2017

31 10 2017

Tompkins County benefits from being a regional tourism destination. A combination of amenities like the colleges and wineries, scenic gorges and and convenient location have made it a popular weekend getaway from the big cities of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as well as some of the major Great Lakes cities. In the past ten years, the hospitality and tourism sector of the economy has grown over 20 percent, adding several hundred jobs even after seasonality is taken into account. An additional benefit is that the room taxes are used to fund arts and culture grants, community festivals and part of TCAD, the economic development agency.

Representative of that growth has been the growth in the local hotel industry. Around 2014 or so, one of the big questions was, how many hotel rooms is too many? The Marriott was in the works, the Hilton was in an earlier stage, two hotels were planned on the Route 13 corridor, and the Hotel Ithaca had its plans. For practical purposes, it was a good question.

However, the situation evolved over time. As is often the case, the hotels opened later than anticipated. The 159-room Marriott finished late last fall, the 76-room Holiday Inn Express was completed a couple months earlier, the Hotel Ithaca went with an expansion that actually reduced the available number of rooms by ten and opened earlier this year, and one of the suburban hotels, a 37-room independent boutique hotel, was cancelled. They all came onto the market later than expected. and the number of rooms added was less than originally planned. All the while, the economy continued to grow at a consistent 1.5-2% annual pace, Cornell continued to add students and the population slowly grew. Had all the hotels opened at once with their original plans, the impact might have been a big problem. But the reality was that the Hotel Ithaca’s impact was modest, and the HIE’s and Marriott’s supply is being absorbed (though the market does need over a year to fully adjust to a 12.8% growth in supply). For the record, Airbnb and similar services have their impacts as well, but the county estimates it’s the equivalent of roughly 40-60 hotel rooms.

With the market still adjusting to the influx, it’s probably a good thing that the Canopy Hilton isn’t opening until Spring 2019, well after a new equilibrium is achieved. However, it’s been a long road to get to this point.

First, a brief history of the site. In recent years, the Hilton site was a mix of private and municipal parking. From 1916-1993, the Strand Theater occupied the site. The Carey Building was designed to match the Egyptian Revival motif of the theater, but unlike the Carey, the theater closed in the late 1970s, attempted and failed at a reopening as a community theater, and after being vacant for over a decade, the building was deemed too far gone to save, leveled by the wrecking ball during the deep recession of the 1990s.

The first mention of a hotel on the 300 Block of East State/MLK Jr. was back in December 2012. Lighthouse Hotels LLC (Neil Patel) proposed a six-story, $16 million Hampton Inn on the site (v1). The 92-room hotel, designed by Jagat Sharma, would have resulted in the demolition of the Carey Building – recall this was before the Carey overbuild.

However, Patel violated an important rule when it comes to development – unless you have made previous arrangements, don’t propose something for someone else’s property. The proposed Carey demo caught Frost Travis by surprise, and he and parking lot owner Joe Daley were less than amused. Nor were Planning Board members, who were fond of the Carey and not fond of the surface parking proposed with the hotel. The project went nowhere, and a major reworking was required. Negotiations with the city and neighbors were needed to acquire the necessary land, and the IURA and Common Council agreed to have the IURA represent the city on divestiture discussions.

Fast forward 18 months to June 2014. Having hired on Whitham Planning and Design to handle the review process on behalf of Lighthouse Hotels, a new six-story sketch plan was presented (v2). This plan did not impact the Carey (by then undergoing review for the overbuild), and opted for a more modern design by Boston’s Group One Partners Inc., which specializes in urban hotel plans. By August 2014, a site plan review request was formally submitted, along with a modestly revised design (v3) – at the time, the six-story, 120-room hotel was pegged at $11.5 million. These early plans also called for a 2,000 SF retail or restaurant space on the ground level. By this time, Patel was a vice president at Baywood Hotels, a national hotel developer and management firm with over $1 billion in assets, and regional offices in suburban Rochester. The firm is so large, they have 26 hotels currently under development from Miami to Minnesota, but that might be conservative. Their planned downtown Syracuse Hampton Inn isn’t even listed, and the render for the Hilton Canopy Ithaca is out of date.

Technically the phrasing is “Canopy by Hilton Ithaca”. It will be either Canopy or Canopy Hilton on the blog.

The Canopy brand was launched in October 2014 to be the lifestyle brand geared towards younger leisure travelers. Of the eleven locations announced at launch, Ithaca was the only one not in a major city, and is arguably the only one still not planned for a major city. A month earlier, the newest 74,475 SF, 123-room, 7-story design rolled out (v4), with industrial warehouse-style aluminum windows, buff and “dark blend” brick veneer, stone base with precast concrete accents, and grey fiber cement and metal panels carried over from the previous design. The second floor would open up onto a terrace overlooking the front of the hotel, and the first floor had folding windows that could open the lobby area to the outdoors on nice days. 

By January 2015, the designed had been tweaked some more (V7 in the link, but the changes were pretty minor from V5-V7, facade materials and window treatments), the cost had risen to $19 million, and LeChase Construction was signed on to be the general contractor. In fact, Patel and Frost Travis has even worked out a clever plan to share construction equipment as both their buildings were underway. However, Patel and Baywood’s schedule fell behind Travis’s, so the plan never panned out.

During this time, the project had applied for the IDA’s enhanced tax abatement, and underwent Common Council review after its public hearing in November 2014. While concerns were raised about not paying a living wage to all staff, the council decided the pros outweighed the cons and endorsed the project. Baywood planned to hire 33 to 47 staff, of whom 11-20 would make living wage (multiple sources with different figures). Room rates were expected to be $160/night.

According to the 2015 application, the project’s combined hard and soft costs were $24.17 million, and the property tax abatement (the enhanced 10-year abatement) was $3,528,081. Another $980,928 was waived in sales taxes, and $45,000 from the mortgage tax, for a total tax abatement of $4.55 million. About $3.28 million in new taxes will be generated on top of the existing taxes on the land, along with room taxes and payroll taxes. During the public hearing, attendees went after the project for union labor, living wage and sustainable energy concerns, but the project was still approved by the IDA. They might have switched over to heat pumps, I’ll need to check into that.

After the original project was approved in March 2015, the city voted to approve the sale of its land in April 2015, and the IDA approved a tax abatement in July 2015, the Hilton plan sat dormant for a while before undergoing a major redesign in January 2016 courtesy of Philadelphia’s spg3 Architects, now Bergmann Associates. It turned out the project had struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, and underwent some “value engineering”. The general shape was kept the same, but the exterior materials were swapped, the building increased in size to 77,800 SF, the room total was brought up to 131, and the restaurant space was omitted, among other changes. This required re-approval by the city. The much longer comparison is here.

The very last version of the project, V9 in February 2016, added inset panels in the northwest wall, and some cast stone was added to the base. The second floor roof deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised.

The final form is faced with a few different shades of red brick veneer, topaz yellow and grey fiber cement panels, metal coping and cast stone trim. Floor height (ceiling of seventh floor) is 80 feet, while structural height (top of mechanical penthouse) is 92 feet. It’s not really a big impact on the downtown skyline, but it broadens the city’s shoulders a bit.

After approval and IDA approval, things were slow to start. Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, representing the Patel family, was reorganized slightly to include other family members in the ownership, and afterward it purchased the properties for the hotel project in August 2916. $1.8 million went to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. A $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union (formerly Eastman Saving and Loan of Rochester) was received at the end of September 2016, but things were stalled for a while, and only now is the project on its way to a Spring 2019 opening, two and a half years later than initially planned. William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor.

Long story, but at least someone wrote it up. Goes to show that property development can be a very complicated process.

It looks like foundation excavation is currently underway – I had head many of the underground utility work was taken care of when the Carey was under construction next door. A plausible schedule has foundation work done by the end of winter, with structural steel framing underway during the spring and summer.

October 15th:

October 28th:





News Tidbits 10/8/16: No Rain, But the Money’s Flowing

8 10 2016

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1. The Sleep Inn project at 635 Elmira Road went back to the town of Ithaca planning board last Tuesday. The initial write-up looked good – town planners were very pleased with the proposed changes, and the developer, local hotelier Pratik Ahir, proposed two different concepts to the board to see which one they were more comfortable with. The one that the board likes would be finalized in the plans and submitted for final approval later this year. No media were at the meeting, so I do not know which concept they preferred.

Both concepts by HEX 9 Architects attempt to maintain the rustic character that the town seeks to maintain for its part of the Inlet Valley Corridor. Concept one at top uses stone veneer (Elderado Stone), timber trusses, Hardie plank lap siding, and asphalt shingles. This design features balconies on both the front and rear of the building. Concept 2 incorporates a more varied roofline and building face, metal roof panels, stone veneer and a couple different types of Hardie Board. Concept 2 has less timber and no balconies. The town planning department felt that both concepts were unique enough and rustic enough to get its benediction in the SEQR analysis they sent over to the board. The concepts are a big improvement over the rendition we saw in August.

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2. Looks like the Canopy Hilton is a go. The project secured a $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union on Friday September 30th. ESL is a new face to the local market – “Eastman Savings and Loan” was founded in Rochester in 1920 to serve employees of former photography giant Eastman Kodak. The 7-story, 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2018.

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3. Also funded this week – the second phase of Poet’s Landing out in the village of Dryden. Citibank is lending $7,702,326 to Rochester-based Confier LLC to build the 48 affordable apartment units across the street from Dryden High School, just west of 72-unit phase one. The documents were filed on Tuesday the 4th. The design of the second phase’s will be the same as phase one’s, an eight unit per building design by NH Architecture that is one of Conifer’s standard designs. The total project cost is $10.8 million, with the balance come from state affordable housing grants and tax credits. The build-out is expected to take about a year.

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4. So a few news bits about 201 College. The partially-deconstructed house at 201 College is now getting torn down, which had nothing to do with approval, and everything to do with break-ins and safety issues – there was evidence of squatters taking up residence, and the expense of a tear-down is worth avoiding a lawsuit or tragedy. Speaking of which, although a ruling on 201 College has yet to be issued and won’t be for a few weeks, Neil Golder’s lawsuit has already been re-filed. The court hearing is scheduled for December. According to an exchange with my colleague Mike Smith, Fox is planning rowhouses along Bool Street, within a 45-foot height limit but spanning the block, as it seems he has a purchase option on neighboring 202 Linden.

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5. According to Nick Reynolds at the Times (yes, he jumped papers), the buildings to be deconstructed for the Harold’s Square project are to be vacated by the end of October. Developer David Lubin plans to start the deconstruction process, which is a little more intensive and lengthier than a typical demolition, in November. Things have been complicated by the city’s decision to forego the project in the Restore NY grant application, where the $500,000 was allocated to pay for demolition, and must now be sourced from elsewhere. Once secured, the plan is to file for the permit, and by law they have up to 30 days to start deconstruction from the day the permit is issued. Construction should go for about 18 months, once the site is cleared.

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6. The 8-unit 607 South Aurora project will be seeking “Declaration of Lead Agency” at the Planning Board meeting, and materials have been filed with the city. Project narrative here, SPR application here, drawings here. The big changes since sketch plan were sidewalk and parking lot revisions, and rotating Building D to establish harmony with Hillview Place. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million and aims for a construction timeline of March to September 2017. This is the next incremental step up for Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, whose M.O. is to quietly pursue modestly-sized infill projects in less dense parts of the city (ex. the two duplexes planned for 312-314 Old Elmira). In a change of pace, the staff of Sharma Architecture are the designers this time around.

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7. From the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the new two-family house at 123 Eddy Street has been granted zoning variances. Expect the Sharma-designed two-unit, six-bedroom rental property to start construction next year in time for the 2017-18 academic year.

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6. House of the week. Instead of one underway, this week will show two recent completions. Leading off is this house on West Hill’s Campbell Avenue, built by Carina Construction. This project came up in a weekly roundup back in late May – it’s a $320,000 project per the permit filing with the city, with $280,000 lent by Tompkins Trust. The contrast between the wood siding and the (fiber cement?) vinyl siding is a nice touch, as is the two-story porch. Definitely a unique house, and a showcase of just what kind of variety one can do with modular pieces if they’re willing to get creative.

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Now for house number two. This isn’t a new build, but a very thorough renovation. Every time I take photos, I run into the owners, and normally I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But, given that I’ve run into him twice, he’s familiar enough with me that we’ve had a conversation about his work.

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This is in Fall Creek on North Aurora. The couple who own this place moved in from Pennsylvania, they were just starting retirement when the wife’s father was no longer able to take care of it. It had been a duplex, but the other unit was more workshop space. The building was in good shape, but these folks wanted to modernize and refresh it, so they decided to do a to-the-studs renovation, basically turning it into a new home within an existing shell. Fiber cement, wood shingles, a few modern touches (the south bumpout, the unusual gable/shed hybrid dormers), a carriage house, a lot of work went into it over the past year and a half and it shows.





News Tidbits 8/13/16: The Forward Advance

13 08 2016

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1. In the news, Neil Golder’s lawsuit against the planning board and the 201 College project was dismissed on technicality. The Tompkins County State Supreme Court decided that since the lawsuit was based on preliminary site plan approval and not final site plan approval, the project was subject to further changes and that it wasn’t appropriate for the court to hear this case at this time. So in other words, Neil will probably file his lawsuit again if/when final approval is granted, since changes between preliminary and final are unlikely to be significant. The scorched earth approach will likely continue.

It’s going to be a couple of weeks before that happens. In what the Times described as “an odd move”, the project is heading before the BZA for a zoning interpretation. Even the city’s planning department director, JoAnn Cornish, thinks it was a strange move on the board’s part, and one that kind of upends her department’s authority since they had looked at the facade length and decided it fit the zoning. More about the planning board’s (John Schroeder’s) odd decision and reasoning here.

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2. Looks like there’s a twist in Tompkins County’s plans to redevelop the NYS DOT site on the Ithaca waterfront. The DOT is no longer looking at moving to Enterprise Drive in Dryden, even though they bought the land there in 2005. Now they’re looking at a site along Warren Road up by the airport. So close to the airport, in fact, they apparently needed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to sign off on it. The FAA has agreed to a location and the DOT is working out a long-term property lease. The cost of moving is now estimated at $11-$12 million, slightly less than the $14 million estimated for the Dryden location in the Fisher Associates study, but estimates being as they are, it would be prudent to keep an eye on those projections.


3. The Dryden town planning board recently reviewed plans to convert the former Stevens Furniture at 2085 Dryden Road into an auction house specializing in books. The 10,000 SF would be renovated with no substantial exterior modifications. It’s a fairly small, unobtrusive plan, and by itself not much of a write-up.

However, this project is being proposed by Danby’s David Hall. The same David Hall who wanted to create the Summit Enterprise Center on Danby’s Gunderman Road, and led to all sorts of rancor among town residents and officials. His company, National Book Auctions, was to be one of the tenants of the business center. Danby’s planning board notes are online up to June only,  so the question is, is the Danby plan still moving forward and this is a case of filling a pressing need, or is the Summit project done and out?

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4. For this week’s eye candy, here’s the first image of the two-family home that Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou wants to build at 123 Eddy Street. Jagat Sharma is the architect. The land is currently a double lot with 125 Eddy, and at present it’s part of the lawn. A planned subdivision would create a building lot on which Lambrou could put up the home. As part of the East Hill Historic District, the design has to pass ILPC muster, and at a glance, the projecting window bays (not sure they meet the definition of bay windows?), porch and comparably-pitched roof should help.

Note the lack of a garage. The street is up to 13 feet below the houses on that block, and there are no off-street parking spaces planned for either of the 3-bedroom units. The BZA would have to grant a zoning variance for a deficiency of two spaces.

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5. Tiny Timbers and the Evergreen Townhouses were both up for review by the town of Dryden’s Planning Board. Tiny Timbers once again had only a few minor quibbles among board members, who voted to approve the sketch plan and send it to the Dryden ZBA. The Evergreen Townhouses had much more resistance, but the PUD concept was approved with some stipulations on fleshing out the project further before it may continue in the process. In Dryden, the town board gives final approval to project proposals, so both of these are moving along, but not fully approved just yet. In the meanwhile, Tiny Timbers is finishing construction on prototype #2.

6. Someone’s had a busy week. On Wednesday, a Rochester-based LLC picked up the Chateau Claire Apartments, a ca. 1960 64-unit apartment complex in the village of Lansing, for $5.3 million. The same day, a second Rochester-based LLC picked up the adjacent 37,400 SF shopping center for $1.3 million. The properties are collectively assessed at just under $6 million, so the purchase price seems pretty reasonable for a decent if not especially desirable stretch of property.

With a little digging, it turns out under the LLCs, the sellers were the same for both, and the buyers the same for both. The sellers were the Goldberg family who owned Bishop’s of Ithaca, a home improvement store. After enjoying success with growing Bishop’s into a small chain, Stan Goldberg turned to development and was a major local developer from the ’60s through the early ’90s. He sold Bishops to his employees in 2003, and passed away last year. The buyer was Park Grove Realty, a startup real estate firm out of Rochester staffed by former Conifer LLC employees and making waves for proposing a 140-unit apartment complex on Bomax Drive two miles away. A little piece of old Ithaca fades, and a newcomer makes their first foray into the region.

Park Grove has taken out a $1.14 million construction loan to renovate the Chateau Claire units – kitchen and bathroom remodeling, washer-and-dryer installations, roof repair, new balconies, gutters, landscaping and lighting.

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7. And the other big sale(s) of the week, also from Wednesday – Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, the Patel family, finally purchased the properties for the 131-room Hilton Canopy hotel project. $1.8 million to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. This marks a big step in moving the 77,800 SF, $20+ million project forward.





News Tidbits 5/28/16: A Battle Between Neighbors

28 05 2016

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1. It seems the Planning Board had something of a philosophical crisis at their meeting, per the Times’ Josh Brokaw. The cause of the crisis is Neil Golder, Todd Fox and 201 College Avenue. Here’s the backstory.

201 College is a 2.5 story, 12-bedroom house on the corner of College and Bool. Local developer Todd Fox has a proposal on the boards for a 5-story apartment building (shown above). Neil Golder lives next door at 203. He moved into 203 in 1972 when he was a grad student at Cornell, bought the place in the early ’90s, lived there with his partner Kathy until she passed a couple of years ago. He still lives there, and rents out spare bedrooms.

201 and 203 were rezoned as part of the 2014 Collegetown rezoning to MU-1. This came only after years of debate, and Neil was one of the residents who pushed to have the properties rezoned in 2009 with a payment in lieu of parking scheme that upset a lot of the landlords, who mounted a significant legal challenge that prevented the rezoning from happening – more about that can be found in this Voice explainer.

For the record, Golder has never been much of a fan of development in Collegetown. His two big things have been that density is bad (but he seems to have mellowed on this issue since the parking push in 2009), and that Collegetown needed a grocery store. He was supportive of Collegetown Crossing because the developer (the Lowers) live next door at 205 and Greenstar will be opening a grocery store on the ground floor.

So, back to the zoning. There are nine MU-1 properties. The four between Catherine and Cook belong to Novarr – he has not expressed any intent to redevelop them. The other five are 215, 209, 205, 203 and 201 College Avenue. Novarr has expressed intent to redevelop 215 starting in late 2017. 209 is Grandview House, a historic landmark, and pretty much untouchable. 205 is Lower’s house, 203 is Golder, and then you have 201.

201 is the southernmost of the nine, and therefore most likely to stand out. The thing is, zoning consistent, when development happens organically, it means the parcel most likely to stand out isn’t necessarily the last one to get developed, nor will it necessarily be the smallest. In this case, the physical transition is from 2.5-3.5 story houses, to 5-story apartment, to 2.5 story house, and then a 3.5 story house and 5-story boarding house.

As of right, Todd Fox can build up to 5 floors and 70 feet tall as an average height. The site slopes slightly, so the building is shorter on the north side than the south side. The design fits the zoning – but it has to go to the BZA for a couple of minor area variances, one for entrances off of Bool, and the other, the board requested the project incorporate – the building was moved northward slightly to allow for street trees and a wider sidewalk on College Avenue. The May agenda noted that the Board had no concerns with either variance.

Golder has sent letters to the Times and the Voice (directly to my colleagues Mike and Jolene but not to me, interestingly), he has been stopping people on the street to sign his petition, he’s tried the ILPC, Planning Board, Historic Ithaca, friends in city government, even the city forester, everything and everyone he can to try and halt the current plans, but there has yet to be a compelling, objective counter-argument.

Countering some of the claims in his many letters, the individual pine trees at the front are not historic landmarks or city-owned, the city has to review and approve of construction plans anyway, and the traffic issue had already been discussed back during the rezoning. The developer has agreed to push the building back, which will give more visibility to Golder’s driveway, and a curb bump-out at the corner is proposed as part of the project. So that leaves the aesthetic argument of “I don’t like it”, which puts the Planning Board in a really difficult spot because as long as the form districts say the design is fine, that argument won’t stand up to a legal challenge.

There is a strong argument with his solar panels, which have been a part of broader discussion within the city. 201’s height would marginalize Golder’s solar panels, so in that case the project causes non-subjective hardship; this could be mitigated if 201 has solar panels (they are being considered) and shares electric, or by other compensation. Although, it might depend on when the panels went in, before or after rezoning. If people start rushing to put up solar panels as a back-door method to thwart development, the city’s going to step in.

So here’s the essence of the issue – after years of fighting over zoning, and finally settling on a compromise in 2014, the city is faced with a development that is legal, but it’s vehemently opposed by a venerable and high-profile neighbor, where the objections can be effectively mitigated, but not necessarily the way he wants them to be. A planning board member has to find the balance between allowing everyone to have their say, and acknowledging valid issues that should be addressed, without letting individuals exert too much control over their neighbors and infringing on property rights.

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2. Okay, onto other things. The city might be acquiring a couple of sizable West End/Waterfront parcels from the county. The properties, which consist of a pier/boardwalk, informal parking and vacant land, are located at the end of West Court and Cascadilla Streets, and are being seized as a tax foreclosure. The county is looking at selling them to the city in exchange for the $42,844 in back taxes. The larger one is 2 acres, the smaller 0.6 acres, and in total they’re valued at $630,000. The owner, an LLC, picked them up for $156,625 in 1999.

If the city picks them up, they’ll be filed into the IURA’s holdings for potential sale down the line. As it is, the parcels have issues – the railway, accessibility, and soils down here are known for being difficult to build on. But in the long term, there’s potential for water-focused amenities, private development, or a combo of the two. It looks like a good investment given the city’s still-in-the-works plan to encourage redevelopment of the West End and Waterfront, so this is worth keeping an eye on as things move forward.

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3. The IURA reviewed funding proposals for affordable housing earlier this Spring, and the minutes are now online. the duplex at 622 West Clinton, and the affordable unit with the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga project were not funded. The IURA is encouraging 622’s applicant to re-submit for next year, and the minutes note that 402 is likely to still go forward, but without the affordable unit.

It’s also been noted that there is some discontent with INHS because the cost of their projects are coming in high, and that they would like more diversity in applying entities. However, the seven townhomes at 202 Hector and the single-family house at 304 Gector (all for-sale housing) are fully funded. The Habitat for Humanity duplex on the 200 Block of Third Street is also fully funded.

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4. Another piece of news from the IURA – the new occupant for the Rumble Seat Music building. It appears to be a drink bar called “Watershed Union“, serving coffee and juice by day and adult beverages by night. Five or six living wage jobs would be created. There might be some grumbling over the moral evils of alcohol, but the business plan has the support of neighboring businesses and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Also, the Canopy Hilton is still moving forward. But are doing a minor LLC ownership change to allow another Patel family member to be a part of the ownership team.

5. Hitting the market this week, for all those big-potato investors out there – the Belmont Townhouses at 324 Spencer Road. The listing from local realtor Brent Katzmann has the price set at $2,595,000, for a 14-unit complex that opened in 1995. The posting mentions the possibility of a 1031 Exchange, which allows an individual to sell a currently-owned investment property, and buy a new investment property of equal or greater value while avoiding capital gains taxes – continuity of investment locks up the profit gained from sale.

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6. House of the week. This house is on the 100 Block of Campbell Avenue on Ithaca city’s portion of West Hill. This home is being built by Carina Construction, an Ithaca-based modular home specialist. The foundation and garage were poured and the pieces were probably craned on and locked together sometime in the past few weeks – a little bit of siding has started to show up on the front. The process is a lot like the one Carina used to assemble the Belle Sherman Cottages across town.

Color me impressed, the design is unique, and once exterior details like the porch and second-level deck go on, I imagine it’ll look really nice. Tompkins Trust lent $280,000 back in April, and the construction permits were issued not long thereafter (the total project cost is in the $320k range, per the permit filing). The land was created in a lot subdivision last year, and sold for $35,000 last August.





News Tidbits 2/13/16: A Week of Uncomfortable Prospects

13 02 2016

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1. We’ll start off this week with some zoning and land-use discussion. the village of Lansing, which tends to have a very tight grip on their zoning, modified their code for a new addition, called “Commercial Medium Traffic” (CMT). The zone, which has taken about two years to get to this point, will override what is currently zoned a Commercial Low Traffic (CLT) area. As a result of the rezoning, some previously-okayed uses in their CLT zone – clinics, group homes, construction storage, sit-down restaurants – have been removed, but adds cafeterias and assisted living facilities. Splitting hairs, one supposes. Looking at the use guidelines, about the only big use the CMT allows that CLT doesn’t is “small-scale sales” like boutique shops, and “low-traffic food and beverage”, which covers bars and sit-down restaurants.

The reason for this change comes from a couple of angles – the village has a number of vacant or underutilized parcels in the affected area, which they feel is detracting. Developers have approached the board about building retail/restaurant space on some of the land, but that would have required rezoning to commercial high traffic. But the high traffic zone also allows “hotels and big boxes”, so the village needed an in-between. Now it’s finally in place.

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2. Now for another land use debate. The town of Ithaca has authorized doing an analysis on what a fair bid would be for the development rights of 33 acres of land off of Seven Mile Drive and Route 13. These parcels are currently farmed by the Eddy family, and a mini-golf facility was previously proposed on one of the properties. Before that, they were to be included in the 2014 Maguire development before the Maguires pulled their project, partially because the town said the dealership and headquarters proposal wasn’t in line with their new Comprehensive Plan.

The problem is, neither is this. The town would buy this with the intent on keeping all of it farm fields. The comprehensive plan called for TND Medium Residential (townhouses, elder cottages, small apartment buildings and compact single family) and the “Inlet Valley Gateway” (quoting the plan, “intended to be a setting for a mix of office, small-scale retail, hospitality, and tourism and agritourism uses, with low-impact light industrial, artisanal industrial, and skilled trade uses”). The concern is, if the town starts displacing development from the areas recommended, developers will start looking at areas where it’s not recommended.

For the record, the 22.38 acre parcel is for sale for $425,000, and the 10.59 acre parcel is for sale at $325,000. The assessed value is only $188,800 total. The development rights will probably fall somewhere between. This definitely isn’t as cut-and-dry as the 62 acres the town picked up for $160k in December. The town will have an idea of the cost for the rights later this year.

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3. A few notes from this week’s TCIDA agenda. The Hotel Ithaca project is up for final approval of its tax abatement, which given that the public meeting drew not a single commenter, shouldn’t have any issues going forward. 210 Hancock also has some slight tweaks to its agreement, and Simeon’s is applying for a sales tax exemption on construction materials and refurbishment. The $660,000 project’s exemption would be worth $27,079 by their calculation. Simeon’s estimates 27 jobs at opening, and 14 new positions over 3 years, about half of which appear to be living wage. The tax exemption amount is small enough that it seems like a non-issue, but we’ll see what happens if the application is accepted and a public hearing scheduled.

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4. From the city Planning and Economic Development Committee – the Commons street-level active-use ordinance and the waterfront Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development (TM-PUD) were moved to go ahead to the Common Council next month. More on the Commons ordinance here, and the TM-PUD here.

Committee members were favorable to an amendment to the cell phone tower fall-zone law, though perhaps not in the most ideal way for Modern Living Rentals’ 87-unit 815 South Aurora proposal. On the bright side, a draft law for circulation could be ready by April. On the not so bright side, the city’s going with the 120% value used by other municipalities – that would give the 170 ft. tower near the project site a 204 ft. no-build fall zone instead of the current 340 ft. (200%), but it’s still greater than the 180 ft. MLR requested. This means the project would probably need to be revised somewhat if that’s the version of the law that moves forward. But, something would be better than nothing.

Oh, and the chicken law was voted for circulation, which opens the possibility of a council vote in April, for 20 test subjects in a pilot program.

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5. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is in a bit of a dilemma. INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project, which has 4 units of affordable owner-occupied housing, is stalled. The construction costs are rapidly rising out of the range of feasibility. The only way it moves forward is if it’s a rental project, which is easier to finance.

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Ostensibly, the IURA would like owner-occupied housing. And a rival proposal has been offered by local architect Zac Boggs and his partner, former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández. It would offer four rentals for 2 to 5 years, and then go up for sale – in the $180-$230k range, which is somewhat more than the $110-$130k range typically offered by INHS. So what do you do? Sacrifice some affordability for some home ownership, or vice-versa? The IURA needs to figure that out. Additional renders and cover letter here.

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6. I think this is the ninth iteration of the Canopy hotel; quite possibly the most version of a single project I have on file. What’s changed since last time? Well, the inset panels in the northwest wall are back. Some cast stone was added to the base,  the second floor rood deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised. It looks like an improvement, and hopefully one that Baywood Hotels can bring to reality after being stuck in finance limbo for so long. Additional imagery here, cover letter from local architectural consultant Catherine de Almeida here.

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7. The Times’ Michael Nocella ran a really nice piece this week looking at the past, present and future of development in Varna. According to the article, Modern Living Rentals (my sympathies to Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, since all of their projects seem to be wrapped up in one debate or another) needs a unanimous vote of approval for the 8-unit, 26-bed addition to 902 Dryden Road to be able to move forward (a 6-bed duplex already exists on the property). In Dryden, the five-member town board does the vote, and the current Dryden town supervisor helped close the sale of the parcel to MLR, so he must recuse himself. Shooting it down at this point, after the project’s cut its size by 40% from 18,000 SF to 11,000 SF, would be very unfortunate, and create an uncomfortable disconnect between the Varna Master Plan designed with community input, and what the board thinks Varna should have.

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As mentioned in the article, the northeast corner of Rt. 366 and Freese Road is one of those parcels where the town and Varna residents think development should happen, but really isn’t feasible. I remember when Todd Fox shared his proposal (STREAM Collaborative’s drawing above) with the town for that corner, and the reception was very positive, much more so than the owner’s earlier plan for 20 modular townhomes. Then not long after, everything ground to a halt. MLR decided not to buy the parcel after it turned out the land was incredibly unstable (there used to be a huge pile of material on the site, dubbed “Mount Varna”; the story of which gets written about extensively on the Living in Dryden blog, since Simon St. Laurent and the owners had quite the feud going). The chances of anything but grass growing on that corner is pretty low.

So, with the former “Mount Varna” land in mind, a master plan is not an exact thing; if it shows for three sets of five townhouses on a parcel, that’s not what may necessarily may happen. It just indicates the kind of density and scale of development the plan deems appropriate. 902 Dryden isn’t drawn on the master plan, but the plan welcomes the idea of townhouses on Forest Home Drive, which 902 abuts. So a vote in favor of the 8 new townhouses is, indirectly, a vote of support in the Varna Master Plan.

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8. The town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee will be looking into writing up and establishing a moratorium on all 2-unit residential buildings at its meeting next week. Doesn’t specify location, or rental vs. owner-occupied; just a ban on buildings with two units.

On the one hand, this is probably an attempt to curb student housing being built near IC; the town’s Planning Committee chair is someone with a long history of fighting development, and is seeking greater input on the Planning Board’s discussions. Students and student-amenable housing are just his favorite topics as of late. But the agenda doesn’t specify the type of unit or location, and that is very concerning. From a number of reasons, a broad-brush moratorium, without regard to neighborhood or owner occupancy, doesn’t seem like a good idea.

1) If the goal is to limit student housing, only a small geographic subset of the town is really necessary. IC students, which seem the primary cause of concern, congregate only in the neighborhood adjacent to campus.
2) The moratorium could harm affordable home-ownership. In a number of cases, one unit is occupied by the owner, and the other is rented out as a source of income.
3) Limiting new supply keeps housing costs high and pressures them to rise higher, since demand will not be altered by the moratorium.
4) The town only permits a small number of units each year. In 2014, it was 10 single-family and 2 2-unit properties (so, 14 units total). In 2013, it was 25 single-family, 10 2-unit. The preliminary 2015 numbers are 21 single-family, and 3 2-unit. There were no permits for structures with 3 units or more.

I asked Ithaca town planner Dan Tasman, and while his email notes that it’s targeted at student rentals, it doesn’t assuage my concerns of being too broad of an execution.

“The Town’s zoning code allows accessory apartments in some zones.  The intent is to let a resident have a close family member or friend live with them, or a tenant to help pay the mortgage, in a space that’s more private.  Basically, an in-law apartment.  However, a few builders are taking advantage of the privilege.  They’ll build a house with an accessory apartment, and rent out both units, with student tenants in mind.

There’s also concern about a growing number of “student specials” — very utilitarian duplexes, purpose-built for student rental.  There’s quite a few of them on Pennsylvania Avenue and Kendall Avenue, near Ithaca College.  Their design and siting can often seem institutional, and out of place with the neighborhood’s residential character.”

I’m not a proponent of moratoriums at all, but I’m hopeful this proposal isn’t as broad as it looks. If the net is cast too wide, this is going to do a lot more harm than good.

 





News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with locations from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





Comparing and Contrasting the Canopy Hotel Designs

26 01 2016

Now with Chain Works published and State Street Triangle covered, it’s time to turn to another project undergoing some major changes, the already-approved Canopy Hilton hotel slated for downtown Ithaca. The cover letter from local project consultant Scott Whitham can be found here, new drawings/renders here.

Some of the figures stay the same – the height, for instance, is still 80′, 92′ to the top of the rooftop mechanical. Some figures have changed a little bit – the gross square footage (GSF) has gone from 74,475 SF to 77,844 SF, which is an enlargement of about 4.5%. The number of hotel rooms has also increased, from 123 to 131.

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It looks like the bumpouts (“nooks and crannies”) were reworked, which would explain the revised square footage. The biggest changes appear to be along the western and southern (left and bottom) faces. The cafe patio and restaurant patio are still in place, but it looks like the shade/rock garden went out in favor of a delivery area.

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The second-floor rooftop terrace has also been revised. It looks like the area itself has been reduced (assuming those are skylights at the corners), and the fire pits also appear to have been removed. Although not shown, terrace plantings are visible in the elevations.

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The internal arrangement has been jostled quite a bit. The hotel bar and cafe used to be towards the south side of the building, now its towards the east. The 2000 SF of standalone restaurant/retail that fronted Seneca Way is also gone, replaced by an expanded house offering. The second floor fitness center has been moved to the first floor where food prep and employee areas used to be, and the soaring two-storm meeting room was also axed.

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The outside has also been thoroughly revamped. The original plans called for “buff”-colored brick veneer, pre-cast masonry on the first floor, metal panels for the cornice and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement siding. The new scheme replaces most of the buff brick veneer with “modular” and “canyon smooth” brick veneer, topaz and “Topaz” and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement panels, and metal coping. Both plans use warehouse-style aluminum windows, although they’ve been reshaped in some areas (northeast corner for instance).

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As a matter of personal opinion, the new design feels like a step back in a lot of ways, for example when looking SE as in the renders above. But the project had also struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, which is what brought on a lot of the “value engineering”. For the record, there is financing in place now, whatever that finite amount is. If I were a hypothetical planning board member, I’d be thinking of recommendations that limit cost increase but still improve the appearance. I’d rather see the cornice atop the new southern stairwell go, and have the indents return on the NW fiber cement wall.

Another question that comes to mind offhand has to do with how this affects CIITAP. It doesn’t seem likely this has to go through the whole process again, but would these changes also have to be approved by the IDA as well? Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can chime in.