Bank Tower Renovation Update, 12/2017

28 12 2017

Not everything can or should be new construction. Today, it’s a look at the Bank Tower renovation on the Ithaca Commons.

Bank Tower, a seven-story building located at 202 The Commons, dates from 1932, with two two-story additions from the mid-1960s. It suffered from a common issue with older office buildings – as they age, they become less suitable for the needs of today’s businesses. Reasons cited include smaller and less flexible floor plates, fewer amenities, less sustainable and ecologically-conscious structures, accessibility, and utility concerns (telecommunications/integrated wireless networks). A look at your typical office photo gives some insight to the changes –  rows of desks and file cabinets gave way to cubicles and desktops, and in many places those too are being replaced with portables and open office formats. That means that the owner either invests in significant updates to keep a building competitive to its newer peers, or letting it slip downmarket – from Class A (premium/prestige), to Class B (mid-market) and Class C (below-market) space.

However, the first question any owner asks when deciding whether or not to renovate is, will it be worth the investment? In the case of Bank Tower, that answer wasn’t clear. Over the past several years, Bank Tower had lost a number of tenants – law firm Miller Mayer moved into renovated space in the Rothschild Building, which left two floors vacant, and Bank of America sold its local presence to Chemung Canal Trust Company in 2013, which moved out of the building under acrimonious circumstances in the spring of 2016. The average office building is about 90% occupied, and Bank Tower was clocking in with far less than that.

It’s also important to look at the larger trends in the local market. In Ithaca’s case, office space is typically small-scale, and very little is built without a tenant already in mind. Ithaca’s economy is growing steadily, but since meds and eds just build their own space, and tech jobs tend to be “asset light”, the demand for rental office space isn’t growing much. Also, with Tompkins Trust Company building a new headquarters a couple blocks away, which would consolidate several rented spaces into their spacious new digs, it looked likely that there would be a glut of office space by the end of the decade.

The Fane Organization had purchased Bank Tower in 1997, and was well aware of the market’s challenges. They were also aware of the hot apartment rental market. The first plan, announced in July 2016, called for a $4 million conversion of Bank Tower into 32 units of housing with 51 bedrooms (mostly 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units). Renovations typically don’t require planning board review, but any exterior changes, or changes visible to the inside from the outside, would require Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) approval, since the building sits in the Downtown Historic District. John Snyder Architects has been retained to design the new interior floorplans. In accordance with the city’s zoning, the first floor has to remain an “active use”, generally retail or commercial services, but some traffic-generating public and community options are permitted.

Around Spring 2017, rumors began to circulate that the residential conversion plan had been cancelled, and that the Fane Organization was in negotiations with a potential tenants. Those rumors panned out when CFCU Community Credit Union announced plans to move into a renovated Bank Tower next year, renting the building for use as their new headquarters. The credit union, established in the 1950s, has ten locations and about 184 staff, and has been in an expansion mode over the past several years. The move is expected to relocate 30 employees to downtown Ithaca from the current HQ in suburban Lansing, and create 20 new jobs as the credit union continues to expand.

According to a press release, the fourth and fifth floors will retain a traditional layout, while floors three, six and seven will move to an open-office format. CFCU will host a service branch on the ground floor. New windows, communications systems, and high-efficient utilities will be installed in the building. The sixth and seventh floors appear to be spec space, with tenants TBD.

On the ground and second floors, it appears the lobby area is being opened up to give it a more spacious feel, and interior demolition work continues, given the rubble chute off the side of 111 North Tioga Street.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 12/2017

19 12 2017

Most of the scaffolding and netting has been taken down on the Tompkins Financial Headquarters in downtown Ithaca. Most of the glazing has been completed, and the Endicott “manganese ironspot” brick veneer is being attached, which isn’t so much a jet black as it is a dark grey. Definitely not as dark as the waterproof coat going on over the gypsum sheathing on the front facade, which will be finished with a grey stone veneer. Not sure why the change of materials on the front facade between U.S. Gypsum panels and Carisle CCW-705 air/vapor barrier, since it doesn’t look like barrier is being applied over the whole of the front before the coating is applied. If someone from HOLT Architects or LeChase Construction knows, feel free to chime in.

It appears there was one design change made late in the process – the rear stairwell, which was initially face with light grey aluminum panels, has instead been faced with the dark Endicott brick. Adds more variety perhaps, but I think the panels made for a less imposing rear face. We’ll be seeing the exact same color and brand of brick on another project, The Lux in Collegetown, where it will face the lower floors of the Dryden Road facade.

There’s still plenty of work left with the exterior finish work, stone veneer and granite base, not to mention interior work like drywall, fixtures and finishes. TFC staff should be moving into the new digs by the end of May.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 10/2017

27 10 2017

Work continues on the new Tompkins Trust office tower in downtown Ithaca. The official topping-out, which means that the building has reached maximum structural height and framing is complete, was earlier this month. U.S. Gypsum sheathing can be seen on the east and south (front) sides, with fireproofing and interior stud walls clearly visible from street level. You can see some of the HVAC rough-ins on the lower floors. Meanwhile, on the north (rear) and west faces, the exterior facade has been bricked and paneled with aluminum metal, tan brick, dark grey brick, stone sills and aluminum window fittings. It’s a little surprising the sunshades are already up, since exterior details typically don’t come until later in the construction process – and it’s clearly not that far along, given the rough openings still present at ground level. The base will be finished with brick and granite.

To be honest, I was concerned the back side would end up looking cheap, but it seems to be coming up nicely, but I’m holding off on final judgement until I see how the rear stairwell turns out.

About the biggest change at this point is that the $31.3 million, 110,000 SF building may not be finished and completed occupied until mid-May 2018, two months later than initially planned.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 8/2017

25 08 2017

At the new Tompkins Financial Headquarters under construction at 119 West Seneca Street downtown, it looks like most of the structural steel has been erected, and gypsum sheathing has been installed over the skeleton. The top (seventh) floor is set back slightly from the lower levels, and will use light colored aluminum metal panels on all sides except the front, which will use black brick and stone veneer. With the exception of the rear stairwell, the side and rear walls will be faced with a tan brick veneer on the lower floors.

Brick veneer can be tricky because it’s porous. Water can penetrate the brick and make its way to subsurface coatings, where moisture can do damage over time. As a result, builders have to use a water-resistive barrier (WRB) between the sheathing and the brick. This can be done a few different ways – with Simeon’s and DiBella’s, for example, they used a polyurethane spray foam.

In this case, it looks like there’s a bright blue-colored vapor barrier being applied over the sheathing, probably Carisle Coating and Waterproofing (CCW) 705 or similar. CCW-705 is a rubberized-asphalt adhesive laminated with a smooth, durable plastic film. Construction crews spray an adhesive (CAV-GRIP) onto the sheathing, and then roll out the air/water barrier sheets over the top, kinda like wallpaper. These unfurled sheets are then pressed over with a seam roller to ensure it’s firmly and completely applied to the building surface.  The edges of the sheets are then filled in with a liquid mastic, which is a putty-like waterproof filler and sealant. Once the surface is completely sealed by the barrier, tie plates are fastened with washers and screws, and the brick veneer is laid over the top, typically with a 2″ spacing for drainage and ventilation. It appears the brick may be underway on the western wall of the building, as shown in the first image below. Meanwhile, the bottom floor looks like a different sheathing material, some variety of Dow Thermax panels (fiberglass embedded in polyiso) from the looks of it.

Based on building elevations and girder brackets, the JPW Erectors crane located at the southeast corner of the site will eventually be replaced with the last steel sections for the building. The steel decking is in, and there’s ductwork for the HVAC rough-ins. Curious to see if they’ll have the building closed up before the first snow flies.

LeChase is the general contractor, and it looks like they have some union crews doing work on site – the Carpenters’ Union Local 277 and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 241 have signage up, as do project team members JPW Erectors, Elwyn & Palmer (structural engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and HOLT Architects.

 





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 8/2017

19 08 2017

The Breazzano Center is occupied, so for practical purposes this project is complete. The interior and exterior finish work is wrapping up (interior moldings, some cosmetic exterior panels), and it looks like the new street seating, curbing and bike racks are in – the development team may hold off on plantings until next spring, depending on how well the project team thinks the new landscaping will grow in to its new environment, and by extension, its ability to withstand the winter months.

The interior is relatively dramatic for an office and academic building. There’s lots of natural light thanks to the glass curtain wall, the natural wood paneling gives it a warmer look, and the lighting underneath the staircases in the multistory atrium is a nice touch. If I have any interior critique, it’s that there’s so much transparent glass and bright light, it can feel a little disorienting, creating a feeling of space that makes the 76,000 SF building seem much larger than it is. Some of the breakout rooms and one of the tiered large-group classrooms are also included in the photos below.

The exterior is a big change of pace from the CMU-faced residential buildings (much of it from Jagat Sharma’s hand) that define much of Collegetown. The glass curtain wall is unique, for the time being. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the aluminum panels on the sides and rear, though I recognize the cost utility provided, and necessary protection of certain interior spaces like the broadcast studio on the fourth floor.

Speaking to some construction workers on-site (the same ones who kindly gestured me to go in and take a look), they were uncertain when construction would start on Novarr’s complementary 24-unit apartment building at 238 Linden Avenue next door. But a timeline from April suggests next month, with completion next summer. That sounds reasonable – finish with one building, transition immediately to the next. Work on Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue townhouse project has yet to start either; it appears to be a makeshift parking lot for construction crews and company trucks.

Overall, it seems the recent work in this part of Collegetown and Ithaca is a net positive. With projects like the Breazzano, 238 Linden and Dryden South, within just a few years, a corner of Ithaca that once housed a few student-oriented businesses and mostly-rundown/vacant apartments will have been replaced with dozens of beds, office space for hundreds of Cornell staff, and classrooms for deep-pocketed students who visit for only a few weeks a year. Plus, it adds up to an additional $15 million or so in taxable property (and that’s accounting for the reduction as a result of the Tompkins County IDA PILOT agreement).  There’s a clear financial benefit to Collegetown business owners and to the city. Add an aesthetic bonus point for removing the power poles and shifting moving the electrical utilities underground.

The $15.9 million project will be 100% occupied by Cornell on a 50-year lease. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse is the general contractor.

Before:

After:

 

The wording on these sheets conjures images of a stuffy, tense maître d’ addressing his staff.





602 West State Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

The new Elmira Savings Bank is open in Ithaca’s West End, and this project is done. A former restaurant is now 5,000 SF of renovated space plus 1,600 SF in a contemporary addition. Design-wise, it’s a smart re-use of a century-old structure, modernizing it but maintaining the integrity the original structure. Kudos to HOLT Architects for a successful blend of old and new. Elmira’s Edger Enterprises brought the $1.7 million project from the drawing board and into reality.

There’s no doubt that the project is further proof in the increased vitality and attraction of Ithaca’s long-forsaken West End, and another step on the the path to turning it into a stronger neighborhood. Within just a block, one has the new Planned Parenthood (2014), the 17-unit Iacovelli Apartments (2013), the renovated HOLT Architects office (2016), a gas station renovated into the Jade Garden restaurant (2015), and the new microbrewery opening up in the rear of the Cornell Laundry warehouse.

If there is one thing I wish had gone different with this project, it was the sale of the property and removal of three low-income families. That got ugly, and it tarnished what was otherwise a decent project. The story I’ve been told in the two years since is that the bank were mislead by the previous owner, who gave them old rental paperwork saying tenants were month-to-month, and ESB mistakenly assumed it was still accurate. So there’s something to be said about due diligence and taking a couple hours out to meet with tenants before any notices go out.

The northern end of the property has preserved a few mature trees, and in the long-run ESB would like to partner with a developer, affordable or otherwise, to do something along West Seneca. Plus, there are organizations like Lakeview, who coincidentally looked at doing a development where ESB is nowand are moving forward with affordable housing in the West End. More opportunities for mixed-use plans with market-rate and affordable housing will open up as properties go on the market and Ithaca’s economy continues to develop – and plans like Cayuga Med’s are big if auspicious question marks.

While it’s great to have new housing plans brought forward, it’s also important to maintain existing affordable housing (and programs to assist) while adding those new options. With Lakeside and Parkside scooped up and pushed upmarket, and Maple Hill now market-rate Ithaca East, that takes hundreds of units out of the equation, and this is a significant concern. It’s no surprise that tensions boiled over given the difficulties in preserving existing LMI housing options, and in approving and building new ones.

Anyway, enough with the final thoughts. Enjoy the photos.

Before:

After:





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 6/2017

20 06 2017

Over to the Tompkins Financial HQ. The rear face is a bit strange-looking at first glance because there’s a set of steel beams projecting right next to the first layers of gypsum sheathing, so it’s not clear where the back of the building is. A look at the plans indicates that the rear steel extension outlines a future stairwell, which projects a little further back from the main body of the building. The eastern segment of the skeleton has yet to be built past the elevator core, and consequently the rest of the rear/north wall projection has yet to be erected. As the rest of the structural steel is bolted into place, that will be boxed up, decked and sheathed.

The lower floors have been sprayed with an undercoat of fireproofing, and are starting interior build-out with steel stud walls and concrete masonry units (cinder blocks). Under the safety cover, the fire-proof gypsum panels extend the full height of the building, with rough openings for future windows. Note that the top floor is set back a little bit from the lower floors, which can seen a little better in April’s update; this will be faced with a black brick veneer, while the projecting wall of the lower floors will be faced with a lighter stone. This feature was designed to make the building’s bulk a bit more subtle, and to respect the size and fenestration (window arrangement) of the DeWitt Mall next door.

Still a ways out from its March 2018 delivery date, but it looks like LeChase has things on track.