News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016


1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.


3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.


4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.


5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.


6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.

Carey Building Construction Update, 6/2016

14 06 2016

Another project that’s nearing the finishing line. Travis Hyde Properties will be wrapping up their Carey Building overbuild over the next several weeks. The target move-in day for tenants is June 15th, but there have been some last minute hang-ups with NYSEG and getting the utility services all ready to go, so I’m not 100% positive that date is still accurate. Side note, NYSEG is also the same reason why Tompkins Trust has been unable to commence with their new headquarters project.

I can finally affirm that the brown tinted glass looks different than the plywood placeholders. Actually, it’s a nice bronze shade that complements the synthetic stucco and terra cotta quite nicely. The bronze glass will also be used in the unfinished vertical section in the east facade.

Also, a really cool detail – the overhang of the fourth floor has been outfitted with color-changing LED lights, which will make going out onto Rev’s third floor rooftop patio that much more interesting. I’m willing to bet they can be programmed for standard white light, and for special occasions.

As mentioned in the weekly roundup a couple weeks back, rents on the units are going from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom. At the time of the WSKG newspiece (May 22nd), 5 of the 20 units already had claims staked. The THP webpage still lists all the units as available in the list of vacancies (although the list doesn’t look like it’s been updated since some time in May), but on another part of the website, only the lowest-price studios, the $1,225/month units, are listed as still available. There are 4 $1225/month studios, 2 $1250/month studios, 2 $1300/month studios, 6 $1325/month studios, and 2 $1350/month studios. So, assuming the website information is fully-encompassing, that would imply that at least 12 of the 16 micro-units are rented, and an unknown number of the 4 2-bedroom units, which range from $2337-$2699/month.

Apart from the specialty glazing on the exterior, a potential future wall mural, and whatever finishing work is left inside, this one’s wrapped up. John Snyder Architects and LeChase Construction have left their mark on the downtown Ithaca skyline.

However, work on this block isn’t likely to stop anytime soon – just as the Carey wraps up, the Hilton Canopy hotel will be getting underway. The Canopy is targeting an early 2018 opening.

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News Tidbits 6/4/16: A Stormy Summer Start

4 06 2016

1. We’ll start this week off with a follow-up on the 201 College Avenue debate. All discussions of planning philosophy noted, one solid request, as reported by Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times, was to try and reduce the bulk from the College Avenue side, if not necessarily the building footprint. The above drawing was submitted by STREAM Collaborative’s Rob Morache earlier this week, with a cover letter describing the changes here. The modification reduces the building by 2 bedrooms, to 74, which to go by Todd Fox’s comment in the Times article, puts the project at the borderline of financial feasibility. The middle still pops out a little because that’s where the fire stairs are located. Some minor details were changed with the accent panels, and recessing the windows slightly on the south and west facades. For the record, the panels are Nichiha and Allura fiber cement, with painted metalwork and fiberglass window sashes.

Although now outdated, a shadow study for the previous design has since been uploaded by the city. There are two versions, with and without neighboring building shadows, here and here respectively.

Expect further detail refinements; the building is set to go in front of the Design Review Committee Tuesday morning.


2. WSKG did a segment earlier this week on micro-apartments, with an interview with Frost Travis and the Carey Building project wrapping up on East State Street. A few details worth noting from the segment – 5 of the 20 rental units (which range from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom) are already spoken for and the building’s not even finished yet. For some reason, Monica Sandreczki says there will be about 35 residents at full occupancy, which is a big stretch since there are 16 micro-units and 4 two-bedroom units – going one person per micro-unit and bedroom, a better estimate would be 24.

The news piece also notes that the 201 College project contains micro-apartments – which is true, given that the building is 44 units and 74 bedrooms, and at least the early plans had a number of split-level 410-670 SF studio units.


3. And 401 Lake Street will bite the dust. The Common Council voted 8-1 last Wednesday night to have structure demolished and the tax-foreclosed properties be designated as parkland. Cynthia Brock (D-1st) voted against the measure and preferred a sale for tax reasons, and her ward counterpart George McGonigal (D-1st) argued that the city was destroying historic working-class housing, though he ultimately supported the measure. Brock did take a whack at new affordable housing in the city, commenting that INHS is getting $75,000 for each townhouse, and Habitat for Humanity getting $75,000 for a duplex even with its volunteer labor, when there was a potential, cost-efficient opportunity for affordable housing designation with this unit. Josephine Martell (D-5th) seemed to be the strongest proponent for demo, stating that the unique potential to enhance the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be taken every opportunity of. The city bought the tax-foreclosed property from the county; the background on that is on the Voice here.

The funds for the demolition, estimated at $25,000, will come from the sale of IURA land to the Hilton Canopy project. That measure was approved 6-3, with Brock, McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) opposed. With work on the Lake Street Bridge currently underway, demolition is not expected for at least a few months.

There was a thought exercise regarding the selling the falls’ parking lot to INHS for development of 3-9 units of affordable housing; it’s an interesting idea, since 401 and the adjacent are right next to the Falls, but the 0.55 acres of city property adjacent to the Lake and Lincoln Streets intersection is still over 200 feet away at its closest point.

4. The rare bit of news out of Enfield. A $612,000 building loan was issued by the Bank of Greene County to provide funds for renovating and expanding the volunteer fire station at 172 Enfield Main Road.

Give that Enfield issues no more than a handful of new construction permits each year, it’s about the only other thing going on apart from the Black Oak Wind Farm debate. One would think that arguments like “the wind does not blow as much as it used to” would be easily shot down and things would move forward, but instead it’s Marguerite Wells, the project manager for BOWF, getting raked over the coals. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do feel bad for her.

5. In case anyone was wondering – county planner Megan McDonald says the Denter housing study will be publicly available by late July.


6. Here’s something intriguing from the county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee agenda – a proposal to “Prepare airport land for future development“, seeking $500,000. None of the money comes from the county; it appears to be dependent on grants, or an interested developer. Which, given the fact that this shows up in budget docs going back to 2014, doesn’t exactly seem to be generating many queries.

The parcels are described as the “Cherry Road and Agway parcels”, which must be owned by the county since they want to lease out the land – but checking the deed records of parcels adjacent to the airport, there’s no record of an Agway in any of the deed histories. The parcels may be related to the properties in the airport business park feasibility study, shown above and awarded to the team of Clark Patterson Lee and Camoin Associates this past winter.

7. It’s unusual to see Cornell buying property these days, but this Friday, the university purchased the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road on Ithaca’s West Hill for $157,000. The house is a 19th century fixer-upper on 1.21 acres – Cornell owns the land surrounding it, some of which is being subdivided off to build the Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project. The house is assessed at $215,000, but the real estate listing notes it needs some work, and it’s been off and on the market for five years.

Several years ago, Cornell expressed intent to develop the 35 acres it owns into a mixed-use complex with a hotel institute, housing, offices and medical services, but the only part of the plan that ever really moved forward was Conifer’s project. I haven’t seen the plans in years, but I remember the early plans (there were a couple versions) were very sprawly; six, eight years ago, walkability was not as valued as it is now.

By buying the house, Cornell reduces its need to work around a neighbor and can incorporate the property into potential plans. This purchase would seem to suggest that Cornell still has strong interest in developing the rest of the West Hill property at some point. In the meanwhile, Cornell might rent it out while the school figures out what it wants to do with the acreage.

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8. House of the week. From the outside, 228 West Spencer Street is almost done, and the interior is fairly far along as well, with finishing work underway. Architect Noah Demarest says the house will be put up for sale in a few weeks, if everything goes as planned.

Carey Building Construction Update, 2/2016

28 02 2016

To be 100% honest, I was a little worried about how the building would look before the exterior materials started to go on. But thankfully, those worries seem to have been overblown. The terra cotta that graces the front and side looks good, and being a similar color to the original mid 1920s building allows the new five-story overbuild to pay its respects without mimicking the original brick.  The peach-colored material is NuTech Direct Applied Finishing System (DAFS) stucco. While not as visually interesting perhaps, the rear of the building will be mostly hidden by the new Hilton Canopy hotel when that begins construction later this spring. There have been plans for a mural on the Carey’s western wall as well.

Many of the new windows have been fitted, although in some areas like the third floor, the window openings were more likely to be covered in plastic sheets rather than panes of glass. Someone familiar can correct me if I’m wrong, but the boards on front of the curtain wall are placeholders a brown or dark brown-tinted glass. The small openings on the west face will have a clear, marble-block glass. Roofing still needs to be taken care of, and taking a guess, drywall and interior finishing is underway in the more complete areas (I want to write lower floors, but I wonder if the lower residential floors are actually further along than Rev’s third-floor space), and utilities rough-ins on the floors/spaces that aren’t as far along.

Although it’s a fairly modern shape in a city that loves its historic designs, it looks like it will be a nice addition to the downtown skyline.  Local firm John Snyder Architects penned up the design, Travis Hyde Properties is the developer, and those guys hoisting the Old Glory are either direct or indirect employees of general contractor LeChase Construction.

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Carey Building Construction Update, 12/2015

15 12 2015

Over at the Carey Building on the 300 Block of East State Street, much of the action is hidden behind layers of scaffolding, swaddling the building while construction work continues through this unseasonably warm (but much appreciated) December Ithaca’s having.

Some of the exterior has been furred out, meaning thing metal strips have been attached to the reflective surface cover (Hunter XCI polyisocyanurate exterior insulation) to help with facade installation. Documents filed with the project plans indicate that terra cotta panels will be installed over the gypsum sheathing boards, and in other less prominent sections of the building, NuTech Stucco (DAFS – Direct Applied Finished System) will be used.

Being that it is December, plastic sheeting has been hung over the future glass curtain wall, in an effort to keep winter’s (normally) icy breezes from making their way in. Looking at the backside, the dark material might be some type of waterproofing cover being applied under the exterior insulation. It looks like the new aluminum windows still have yet to be fitted into the vertical addition.

The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 SF to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it from 4,500 SF to 8,700 SF), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments, most of which are studios. Local firm Travis Hyde Companies is developing, John Snyder Architects penned the design, and LeChase Construction is the general contractor. Look for a completion date sometime in spring of 2016.

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Carey Building Construction Update, 10/2015

22 10 2015

It looks like the Carey Building overbuild has topped out. Corrugated metal decking now covers all five floors of the addition. Interior metal stud walls have been roughed-in on the third through fifth floors, and some fiberglass-mat gypsum sheathing is even starting to show up on the exterior metal stud walls of the third floor. Look closely and you can see the window openings.

Looking at the Rev Business Incubator’s photo from the 19th, plastic sheeting now covers the front of the addition, and a little more progress has been made on those stud walls. Like the Lofts project, they project may end up looking like it’s trapped in a plastic bubble as the cool air gets frostier, and the need to keep those chilly winds at bay becomes more urgent. They also help in water proofing.

From October 11th:

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From Rev, October 19th:

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Carey Building Construction Update, 9/2015

7 09 2015

Just a quick update on the Carey Building addition at 314-320 East State Street in downtown Ithaca. As of the end of the month, structural steel has reached the top floor of the five-story addition, though it has yet to fully build out. The lower floors have been decked with corrugated sheet metal, and concrete floor pours might already be underway on the lower levels.

Paperwork filed with the county last Friday indicates that Tompkins Trust is providing the construction loan, with a value of $4,736,000, of which the very precise figure of $4,642,554.46 is going towards “hard” construction costs. Hard construction costs leave out legal fees, permit fees, and other costs not directly related to construction. The paperwork indicates a February 2017 completion date, but that’s more of a legal date than an actual date. The addition is likely to completed early next year.

The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 SF to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it from 4,500 SF to 8,700 SF), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments, most of which are studios. Local firm Travis Hyde Companies is developing, John Snyder Architects penned the design, and LeChase Construction is the general contractor.

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Carey Building Construction Update, 7/2015

28 07 2015

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At the Carey Building in downtown Ithaca, work continues on the structural steel beam assembly of the new 5-story vertical addition. It looks like the lowest two floors of the addition have steel decking, and cross beams are being installed on the third floor. The top two floors, which are smaller, have yet to be built, but one can get an impression of their height by looking at the joining plates attached to the vertical steel columns. Note the “kink” in the structural steel above the front entrance, and how it relates to the design of the apartment floors.

The previous estimates of a late summer/early fall completion have been too aggressive, especially since the addition had to sort out fire code issues, as well as anything else that comes up when working on a 90 year-old building. It would seem that late winter or early spring is more likely, but the steel work should be completed by the end of this summer. No word on if the Canopy Hotel developers still plan on sharing the telescoping boom construction crane.

The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 SF to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it to 8,700 SF), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments. Floors 4 and 5 will have 16 studio apartment units that average only 400-500 sq ft, their small size enabling them to be rented at a lower price. The 4 units on floors 6 and 7 will be larger 2-bedroom units. The $4.1 million project is being developed by local firm Travis Hyde Companies. LeChase Construction is handling the build-out process.

Carey Building Construction Update, 6/2015

15 06 2015

At a quick stop at the Carey Building Friday before last, workers at the Carey Building site were busy preparing a utility duct line for the new Hilton Canopy Hotel next door, according to one gentleman I spoke with at the site. Building contractor LeChase Construction has completed the underpinning work on the Carey Building, strengthening the foundation to support the five-floor vertical addition. LeChase will also be handling the construction of the Canopy Hotel next door.

The Carey Building itself has sidewalk scaffolding up, and a section of the rear facade has been removed. I think that would be for the construction hoist, and the swing cab telescoping boom construction crane in the second photo is the one that’s being used for assembly of the structural steel. Quick disclaimer, if I’m wrong, please call me out. My day job of studying pollutants and puffy clouds isn’t helpful here.

I also had the good fortune to run into developer Frost Travis while having lunch, and he happily stated that steelwork would begin the week of June 8th (which is about two weeks behind schedule, but let’s not begrudge him given that whole issue with the building design that arose a couple months back).

So of course, swinging by to take updated photos was a must. One week later, there’s steel columns five stories high (the height of the addition), with steel crossbars for stability, and joining plates to secure the steel framing for the floors. My marginally-educated guess is that this is the frame for the elevator shaft, based off the floor plans.

The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 sq ft to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it to 8,700 sq ft), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments. Floors 4 and 5 will have 16 studio apartment units that average only 400-500 sq ft, their small size enabling them to be rented at a lower price. The 4 units on floors 6 and 7 will be larger 2-bedroom units. The $4.1 million project is being developed by local firm Travis Hyde Companies.

Expect this project to finish sometime in the very late summer-early fall timeframe.

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Carey Building Construction Update 4/2015

20 04 2015

Readers living or working in downtown might have noticed the lack of progress on the Carey Building, where a five-story addition is underway on top of the two existing floors.

A look at the site shows that the underpinning (foundation-strengthening) process has been completed and covered up, but work doesn’t appear to have moved much farther than that.

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Well, there’s a reason for that. The building plans can’t move forward as approved.

The currently approved design calls for interstitial space between the second and third floors. Interstitial space is an intermediate space between floors sometimes used for housing mechanical equipment. These type of designs, while expensive, are often employed in multi-floor lab or hospital space, where remodeling or re-purposing of floor space is common. The existing second and new third floors of the Carey Building are used/will be used for business incubator space, where that type of flexibility is a huge asset.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t comply with code, which no one realized until recently.

The new plan is to put in what’s called a plenum space between the third and fourth floors. A plenum space is between the structural floor and a dropped ceiling or raised floor, and it’s used to house HVAC, communication cables, or other mechanical equipment. The change in layout will result in an increase in building height from 77 feet 10 inches to 83 feet.

A few other modifications are also planned – a glass railing on the third floor will be changed to metal, and juliet balconies are being removed from the northern facade (back side, facing the new hotel) because the removal of an old chimney during the foundation-strengthening forces the need for an area variance that the developer doesn’t want to pursue. The old chimney encroached on the rear setback, but with it gone, that grandfathered privilege went with it. The top floor southern balcony (front side) may also be removed as a cost-cutting measure down the line. An emergency stairway for the sixth and seventh floor has been moved from the exterior to the interior.

These changes have to be approved by the Planning and Development Board, as well as the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Planning Board is set to review and make its decision later this month; the BZA, probably early May.

Here are some new renders with the proposed revisions (more in the link):


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And here are the old ones for reference:

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The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 sq ft to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it to 8,700 sq ft), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments. Floors 4 and 5 will have 16 studio apartment units that average only 400-500 sq ft, their small size enabling them to be rented at a lower price. The 4 units on floors 6 and 7 will be larger 2-bedroom units. The $4.1 million project is being developed by local firm Travis Hyde Properties and built by LeChase Construction.