Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 4/2016

27 04 2016

Demolition and site preparation are the task du jour at the Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street. The north wing of hotel rooms is being demolished now, and the west wing of hotel rooms will be demolished once the new building is complete.

The new 30,000 SF, 5-story wing will contain 90 rooms, 2,900 SF of additional meeting space, breakout rooms, and a new fitness center. 100 hotel rooms are being taken offline and demolished, reducing the number available at the hotel from 180 to 170. But, the primary goal of the project is to modernize the Hotel’s offerings, and stay competitive with newer hotels downtown, including the Marriott currently underway, and the Canopy Hilton due to start later this year.  The project applied for, an received a 7-year tax abatement under the CIITAP program, making it the only project that has pursued the 7-year option over the more common 10-year enhanced option. CIITAP may not be popular from a P.R. standpoint, but as shown on Ithaca Builds, the high property tax rate downtown plays a large role in the program’s necessity.

 

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

The Hotel Ithaca originally opened in 1972 as part of the city’s urban renewal plans, initially operating as a Ramada. At the time, it only consisted of the two-story wings, as seen in the 1973 photo above; the 10-story “Executive Tower” was added in 1984/85. The hotel was rebranded as a Holiday Inn until the start of 2014, when it switched to an independent operation as the “Hotel Ithaca”. The Hotel Ithaca was also the working name of the Marriott project early on, so the two projects are easy to mix up. As part of the change, the hotel carried out $2.4 million in renovations (phase one) to the tower rooms and utlities.

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Early plans called for a $17.8 million, 140,000 SF addition with a 9-story, 115-room hotel, restaurant and conference center designed by Buffalo-based Roberts, Shackleton and Boy Architects. The conference center was very well received by local officials and business leaders, and is seen as really crucial to Ithaca’s business interests – the city lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest. The plan was later revised to 8 stories and 97 hotel rooms, and then that didn’t move forward due to financial difficulties.

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The current project was proposed last September, and as the project had evolved, the tax abatement had to be re-voted (and passed 6-1). A potential third phase calls for a 3-story addition to the 5-story wing, and the coveted conference center, on the corner of W. Clinton and S. Cayuga Streets.

The $15 million second phase is aiming for a completion in May 2017. About 21 new jobs are expected to be created, most of those service positions near or a little above minimum wage.

Hart Hotels of Buffalo, founded by David Hart in 1985 and operating locally under the name Lenroc L.P., is the project developer. Krog Corporation, also of Buffalo and a favorite of Hart Hotels, is the general contractor. NH Architecture of Rochester, another frequent partner of Hart Hotels, is the project architect.

 

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News Tidbits 3/12/16: After Much Discussion, Even More Discussion

12 03 2016

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1. The community meetings have begun for Maplewood Park’s replacement. The Cornell and Professional Graduate Student Assembly (GPSA) held a discussion with the developer EdR and project architects Torti Gallas this past Monday. According to the Sun, some of the features planned in the new graduate housing development include-

“[S]omething like the Big Red Barn but on a smaller scale as a community room so you can open it up and have events…there will also be a business center for group projects and work. We are also planning an outdoor recreational space like tot lots for people who have families and volleyball courts.”

Concerns about affordability were raised, but the developer said that rent prices are still being sorted out. From the meeting, the four big goals of the project are “affordability, walkability, sustainability and community,” with streets that also serve as public gathering spaces, and a variety of unit sizes and types. Definitely something to keep an eye on as plans are fleshed out.

On the bureaucratic end, the Maplewood Park sketch plan is set to be presented to the Ithaca town planning board next Tuesday by Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design. A sketch plan has no votes involved and is merely an informational session, and an opportunity for the board to give preliminary thoughts and input. The board will also be hearing a much less interesting proposal for a new bus shelter in B Lot.

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2. Looks like Kraftee’s in Collegetown will be shutting its doors. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, the book and apparel store, which opened its Ithaca location in 2002, will be closing for good at the end of the month. Owner Pat Kraft did have plans to move the store into the first floor of the Dryden South mixed-use project currently under construction at 205 Dryden Road, but now with Cornell’s new Executive MBA building underway on the lot next door, he plans to “explore other more complementary uses for the commercial space.” Since the project is in MU-2 zoning, Kraft is legally obligated to have “active use” commercial on the 2,400 SF first floor: hotel, bank, theater, retail, and/or food service.

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3. The city’s CIITAP production at the Wednesday PEDC meeting was productive. The board seemed comfortable with the pre-payment option preferred by the IURA. The question now comes down to what length abatements to offer. The 10-year has strong support, but there was discussion on whether or not to offer the 7-year option (only used once by the Hotel Ithaca) and the 12-year option with the enhanced benefits. So while this a few months of discussion left ahead of it, there’s a better idea of what the revised CIITAP will look like. For the record, the 1% fund payout would be based on hard construction costs only, not soft costs. So for example, the Marriott currently underway, it would have paid 1% of $19 million instead of $32 million (would it have still moved forward? Dunno).

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4. Also at the PEDC meeting, the development policy topic du jour finally moved forward – incentive inclusionary zoning. Discussion on the law here, and a primer on the topic here. So, stemming from a debate with the Times’ Josh Brokaw on Twitter, my initial reading of this law was mandatory. But I was mistaken, it’s voluntary and the city will want a couple years to gauge its effectiveness.

The Sun writeup is here, but eventually you;ll be able to find live video archived from the meeting here. I think Mayor Myrick pretty much nailed it with this quote –

“This proposal is an opportunity for those of us who claim to care about affordable housing but oppose large-scale subsidized housing.”

The unpleasant truth is, classism reared its ugly head during the 210 Hancock debate, and thanks to the online petition, everyone saw it. After all the prep and community meetings that went into the project before it was even proposed, there were still people who said it was unsafe, uncivilized, would breed trouble, that the residents would cause crime, they’d all be on welfare…pretty unnerving commentary from a community that considers itself progressive. Abhorrent as it is, these comments aren’t going to go away. Many of these folks are older, some have been here for decades, and they’re set in their beliefs. It’s regrettable to say this, but the more subtle and intermixed the affordable housing is, the less likely it is to face neighborhood opposition.

Along with the removal of parking requirements and +1 floor option in certain neighborhoods, the reduced site plan review option (only affecting the plan layout and design, not the environmental aspects) was judged to be the most appealing by developers. To be fair, a project redesign based on board input can be expensive, so reducing that prospect in neighborhoods with pre-established form guidelines (currently only Collegetown, but the Waterfront is likely to have its own form-based hybrid code in a year or two) is a big positive.

The PEDC voted to circulate the law for review, with only 1st Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Brock dissenting. There will be more typed about this law as it moves forward.

On a semi-related note, it looks like the town of Ithaca is now starting to look into some kind of inclusive or incentive zoning as well.
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5. For this week’s eye candy, here’s the latest revision for Travis Hyde Properties’ DeWitt House senior apartment project at the Old Library site.  This was the version presented at the March 8th meeting. HOLT Architects has been tuning in to both the ILPC’s and the Planning Board’s comments (the two have been conducting joint meetings to avoid extra bureaucracy and contradicting each other) and is trying to hem down the general design idea such that SEQR and SPR and the rest of the approval process paperwork can begin.

As can be seen, the design is quite a bit different from the original plan with the “dorky roof” as one county legislator called it (for the record, I liked the dorky roof). This is an idea of where the design is going, but not the final revision, since the ILPC and Planning Board still plan on commenting further. For those still simmering over the decision last summer, just remember that even if the Franklin/STREAM proposal for condos had been selected, the ILPC and Planning Board would have had a heavy hand in that design process as well. The design for DeWitt House will continue to evolve, and updated images will be shared as they become public.

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6. Meanwhile, out in Lansing, lawmakers are under pressure because NYSEG cannot accept any new gas service requests because the current pipeline is fully tapped. About half of homes nationally and many commercial and industrial structures use natural gas an an energy source, so this could potentially put the kibosh on a lot of home and commercial construction. Definitely not welcome at a time when the town and village are at high risk of losing their biggest taxpayer.

NYSEG is still actively pursuing construction of a new gas pipeline from Freeville, one that has garnered considerable opposition from Dryden and some eco-activists. The environmental advocates have pushed for renewables, but the recent opposition to the Black Oak wind farm in Enfield, and to solar panels in Ulysses for the Sciencenter have created yet another complication to the county meeting its green energy goals, let alone overall energy needs. The area can’t afford to be self-defeating.

The Lansing Star is reporting that NYSEG has obtained about half the easements it needs, and could eminent domain the rest as a last resort. It’s a tense and complicated situation.

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7. Wrap this up with a quick house of the week update on INHS’s 203 Third Street affordable home project. These photos are a couple weeks old now, but most of the trim has been attached with the exception of the porch, and with that, finish-out of the interior and landscaping, this 2-bed, 1.080 SF house will be good for sale. INHS is asking $129,000 from qualified moderate-income homeseekers (buyers making 70-80% of Area Median Income, I think offhand), and is expected to change hands this summer. Claudia Brenner did the design, and Rick May Construction did the buildout.





Coming Up: Yet Another Round for CIITAP Revisions

9 03 2016

The city is trying yet another approach to CIITAP. This one involves cash payments.

Previously, the city considered a multi-faceted set of revisions, but a number of issues were raised – namely, there isn’t good documentation on stats such as the proportion of local labor typically involved in a CIITAP project. While the IDA voted in February to adopt a labor policy that requires solicitation of bids from local contractors and local labor participation in CIITAP projects, that’s more to provide future guidance after some projects have submitted documentation, and doesn’t achieve any near-term changes in CIITAP as requested from some corners.

So here comes the latest iteration, a lump sum deposit into a “community benefit fund” for general use (hopefully a formalized HOME/CDBG type of disbursement and not just a grab-bag for different programs). The idea was raised at the last PEDC meeting and the IURA explored options.

The overlying theme is to select a plan that doesn’t change affect bottom lines – not to make any easier on developers (the accusations of the current CIITAP being too easy is what brought about this revision in the first place), but to not chase them out to a hay field in Lansing either, costing the city a fund payment, jobs and future tax revenue, not to mention encouraging suburban sprawl. The IURA looked at a bunch of different proposals, shown below.

ciitap_revision_round2

The preferred option goes for a 1% upfront cost and a total abatement on increased property taxes for three years, and then moving to a 70% abatement on new construction for year 4, tapering to full taxation after year 10. This option was determined to have the least impact on a project’s financial feasibility.

ciitap_revision_round2_2

There’s a positive and a negative to this approach. If a developer is proposing a $20 million project, forking over $200,000 to the city right off the bat could be a major obstacle towards getting a loan and bringing an approved project into reality. But it might be overcome if they can effectively explain to an investor or potential lender the tax benefits in the financial analysis. It definitely makes the development picture more complicated, but this might be the only way to keep the current version of CIITAP, which has done a lot to help redevelop downtown. The Common Council members will share their at their Wednesday meeting.





The Swinging Pendulum of the CIITAP Program

17 11 2015

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If I had seen this before the Friday news roundup, I’d have included it there. But since I have no Monday night post scheduled this week, discussing the latest changes to CIITAP will be a fair substitute.

So, background. CIITAP stands for Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program, and it’s a property tax abatement program that gives developers the opportunity to apply for abatement for a portion of their property taxes for a period of up to 7 years, or for an enhanced abatement of up to ten years if they can demonstrate financial hardship (i.e. without the abatement, there’s no way the project will be cost-effective; if it’s not cost-effective, a bank won’t offer construction loans, and the project doesn’t happen). Basically, it’s a tool designed to promote development in certain parts of the city where density is expected and/or encouraged, rather than lose tax-generating and job opportunities to the suburbs. A more substantial description can be found in a write-up for the Voice that I did back in January here.

The first version, which went into effect in 2001 as the Downtown Density Program, led to five projects being built, six if you split Cayuga Green into its garage and mixed-use components. The projects were worth about $62 million, and the earliest ones are now paying full taxes. Then the city decided it wanted more from the density incentive, and it created the CIIP Program, which was created in 2006. Over the following six years (2006-2012), that led to just one project, the $3.5 million Ital Thai renovation on the Commons. Part of it was that from 2006-2007, there was a moratorium on abatements, and another part was the recession. But another part of that was that CIIP was really lengthy and burdensome it had 48 stipulations, and a project had to meet 15 for partial assistance, and 23 for full assistance. It was so much paperwork that developers were disinterested and opted for other parts of the county.

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Onto round three, the current CIITAP – much more simplified, it initially had three stipulations – one, that it be in the density district; two, that it was a $500,000 investment in either a new building, or in the renovation of a historic building; and three, that if a new building, that it be at least three floors. A fourth was later added that said that all your other properties had to be up to code and have no outstanding violations, which arguably was a tacit response to Jason Fane’s application for 130 East Clinton while he let the Masonic Temple rot. However, in the past couple of years there have been complaints from various groups that the city wasn’t getting enough out of the bargain. You can kinda see how the pendulum swings – the political consensus is that the first version was too generous, the second version two burdensome, and the third version too generous.

The city put together a study group to examine revisions to CIITAP, chaired by a Common Council member (Ellen McCollister of the 3rd Ward), and consisting of City Planning and IURA staff, a representative from TCAD, a representative from a local labor union, a developer, and a representative from the Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development. In short, the city’s trying to get a broad spectrum of perspectives. The revised CIITAP is to presented at the PEDC meeting Tuesday night.
Here are the goals:

1. Retain the program as an effective tool to incentivize smart growth and discourage sprawl
2. Improve the program’s ability to deliver broad community benefits that may include:
*** An increased use of local labor
*** An increase in living wage job creation
*** More environmentally friendly building
*** Increased economic opportunities for people of all backgrounds

Note that given the previous versions, they’re easier said than done.

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In addition the standard 7-year and 10-year abatement, there’s also a new very stringent “enhanced” 12-year abatement option. All the 7-year and 10-year stipulations carry over, but now there’s a few more requirements on the list in four categories – “Environmental Sustainability”, “Local Construction Labor”, “Diversity and Inclusion”, and “Living Wage” .

  • In the “Environmental Sustainability” category, the new rule on the standard 7-year abatement and 10-year abatement is one of two two choices. The first choice is an annual benchmarking of energy usage during the abatement period using free software from the EPA. The report would be given to the city, IDA and made public, to prove the building is using energy at the level designed. The second choice is that they could submit paperwork indicating they’re pursuing LEED Certification, and provide proof of certification upon completion.
  • The “Local Construction Labor” category defines “local” as tompkins or any of the counties it borders (Cayuga, Seneca, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga, and Cortland Counties — so no Syracuse, Rochester or Binghamton). In order to be eligible for a tax abatement, an applicant must commit to the City in writing and submit to the IDA proof that the general contractor has solicited bids from local sub-contractors for all major trades required for the construction project, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing, carpentry and masonry. Secondly, they must submit a copy of their monthly payroll monthly payroll reporting of all workers on site during construction with a summary of how many employees are “local”, using the address, zip-code, and total payroll amount per employee. I’m not sure if all this will be public info – privacy advocates might push for keeping the employee address and payroll information confidential to the city and IDA.
  • In the “Diversity and Inclusion” category, the new requirement for all applicants is a company or primary tenant’s workforce demographic analysis by gender, race/ethnicity, age, disability, job class with gender, and job class with race/Hispanic ethnicity; as well as acknowledgement they have read and understood the City’s Anti-Discrimination employment ordinance; and a statement of their company’s or the major tenant’s goals for workforce diversity.
  • The program does touch on an affordable housing fund or mandate, but it’s stated that members don’t feel CIITAP can adequately address affordable housing, and the committee recommends exploring inclusionary zoning.

Under this plan, the number of stipulations for the 7-year and 10-year abatements goes from four to seven. The rest of the procedure is as before – the city holds a public meeting, then decides whether or not to endorse the project, and it goes to the county (TCIDA) for their vote, which is typically in line with the city’s recommendation.

Now, a new option is the 12-year “super-abatement”. Along with the demonstrated financial need, a project must also commit to one of the following – 40% local labor, energy usage 20% less than NYS Energy Code Requirements, or living wages for single-use entities like hotels. This is in addition to the previous stipulations for 10-year abatements.

So now’s the magic question? Will it be acceptable to the broader community? The city’s HR director wrote in an email attached to the PEDC agenda that the program doesn’t do enough for diversity, and needs to mandate rather than encourage it. Without a doubt, this whole program, as we’ve seen in the past fifteen years, is a delicate balance between encouraging density while getting community benefits. Hopefully, the abatement pendulum stops swinging and it finally comes to rest in a comfortable middle ground.





News Tidbits 2/7/15: It Snows In Ithaca, But Verizon Makes It Rain In NYC

7 02 2015

1. As relayed by several outlets, Cornell just received a very generous $50 million donation from telecommuncations giant Verizon. I might make more news about this, but this donation is strictly for the shiny new tech campus down in New York City. The “Verizon Executive Education Center”, in the left of the above render, will be part of the first phase of the campus, set to open in 2017. This goes along with a 6-story, 236,000 sq ft building design by Weiss/Manfredi, and a 4-story, 188,600 sq ft building by Morphosis Architects, both of which are already underway. The skyscraper on the right of the render is a 26-story, 500-room dormitory for students and staff designed by Handel Architects; while not yet underway, it is also slated for a 2017 opening. A design for the tall building on the far left has not been released.

I’d like to see a breakdown of what proportion each campus received from Cornell’s $546.1 million in donations.

2. Looks like some Sun writers decided to do some digging regarding the potential Fine Arts library relocation and expansion. There’s not a whole lot more to add since the Ithaca Voice article; just that the timeline and final design haven’t been set, although the renovation is a “key academic priority”. Students of the AAP school also have mixed opinions about the growth of the library and the possible loss of studio space. But don’t fret dear readers, if a render comes out, it and any pertinent info will be shared here.

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3. A subdivision filed with the city of Ithaca indicates plans for a new two-family, 6-bedroom home at the intersection of Oak Avenue and Oneida Place. The house would be built on land that currently serves as a rear parking lot for 424 Dryden Road. Application here, drawings here. The site falls into the CR-2 Zone of the Collegetown Form District, meaning 2-3 floors, and pitched roofs and porches are required. The architect is Daniel Hirtler of Ithaca, and the developers are William and Angie Chen, also of Ithaca. While not particularly notable, it’s an example of how the form-based zoning applied to Collegetown helps maintain the character of the less-dense outer neighborhood, while still allowing for new construction.

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4. As with virtually every other sizable project in downtown Ithaca, the canopy Hotel by Hilton is filing an application requesting a tax abatement through the CIITAP program, making it the sixth applicant since the revised program was put into affect in 2013. Application here, and the notice of  public meeting, set for 5 PM February 9th at City Hall, is here. A refresher/review of CIITAP can be found here.

The applicant, “Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC”, a.k.a. the Patel Family of the Baywood Hotels Inc., notes that the 7-story, 123-room hotel project has an estimate cost of $20.15 million. Although the value of the tax abatement is not recorded in the city’s application (it will be written out, when reviewed by the county IDA), it looks like they’re seeking the standard 7-year abatement, which will save them something in the ballpark of a couple million dollars over those 7 years.

As with the previous Marriott and Hotel Ithaca applications, the applicant will only pay one-third to one-half of its projected employees a living wage, which is probably going to earn them the scorn and opposition of the Tompkins County Worker’s Center. But the city and Downtown Ithaca Alliance have been supporters of the project. Neighboring businesses seem to be have mixed opinions about the project, with some seeing a potential business source, and others mourning the loss of a convenient parking lot.

The 74,475 sq ft project is expecting to start construction during the spring, with completion in Spring 2016. Local firm Whitham Planning and Design is the architect.

For those already planning a stay, expect room rates of $160+/night, according to the Journal.

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5. It’s PSA time again – INHS is planning meeting #4 for its proposed Neighborhood Pride redevelopment at 4:30 PM Wednesday the 11th, inside the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store. The one and only final design concept, shaped by community feedback, will be presented at this meeting. Keep an eye on the Voice for an article (and maybe a rerun here) next Thursday or Friday.

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6. Looking at the city’s project memo going out to its departments, it doesn’t look like a whole lot needs to be reviewed this month. Cornell’s Upson hall renovation, the 6-unit building at 707 E. Seneca, and the 4 for-sale townhomes INHS wants to build at 402 S. Cayuga Street are ready for final approval this month. The 3-building, 6-unit project for 804 E. State (112 Blair) still needs to be reviewed by the zoning board, and will be completing environmental review (SEQR determination of significance).

The only new projects of note are the new house at 424 Dryden, and renovations to the Lake Street Bridge. The bridge project consists of rebuilding the current deteriorated bridge with a new deck and refurbished abutments (base supports), as well as scour reinforcements (to protect from creek erosion), a bumpout for viewing Ithaca Falls, some cute light-posts, and a bridge span that isn’t so degraded that it’s liable to collapse into the creek. That project has a $1,000,000 price tag, and is expected to run from June to November of this year.

For those that use this bridge, start prepping for a detour route – the bridge will be closed during construction, to both vehicles and pedestrians. The city estimates the detour will be an extra 1.7 miles for cars, and 0.7 miles for bikes and walkers.