118 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

Finally, clearing out the last of that late April photo stash. Not many here, but a new, small Collegetown project is underway at 118 College Avenue.

This is a Visum project, and probably their lowest profile plan. In fact, this one never even went through the sketch plan part of the city review process, the project team went straight to asking for the city planning to declare itself lead agency for environmental review in March 2017. Approval was a short time later as Ithaca goes, in May 2017. Building permits were issued this past winter.

It wasn’t a rash decision by any means – the project is largely similar to a previously-approved plan a few houses up at 126 College Avenue, and there is very little difference between the two properties in terms of context. They are both CR-4 zones allowing 4 floors and 45′ heights. The original 118 College Avenue was a two-story, early 20th century rental house with six bedrooms and marginal historic value, though I imagine the house was rather pretty before some unfortunate additions threw off its symmetry. The property was purchased by Red Door Rentals (Greg Mezey and Ryan Mitchell) in April 2014, transferred to another Mezey/Mitchell company, “MPB Capital LLC” in October 2017, and then to an LLC associated with Visum on the same day as the MPB Capital transfer. It seems plausible Ryan and Mitchell are project investors, with Visum as developer.

Plans call for a new 4-story, 45′ building on the sloped lot. With that slope, the basement is exposed on the west face, so it has the appearance of five floors from the rear and sides. A back of the envelope calculation says this building is about 9,000 SF. The roof hosts a 6′ architecturally-integrated mechanical screen; hides the mechanicals, but gives the apartment building an Italianate aesthetic. The building uses electric heat pumps and is designed to be net-zero energy compatible. The hard construction cost rings in $1.415 million, according to the SPR filing – it would be assessed at a substantially higher amount. Unabated taxes her, so while people may dislike Collegetown, projects like this help fill the city coffers.

There will be 5 apartment units with 28 bedrooms – 4 six-bedroom units, 1 four-bedroom unit on the basement level. The project comes with five new trees, lush landscaping for its small lot, an outdoor bike rack, screened trash area, and bike storage and mechanical rooms in the basement. Tenants with valid licenses will be given membership in Ithaca Carshare, to try and dissuade them from bringing personal vehicles. Not a surprise here, but college students are the intended market.

Only a couple minor changes occurred from start to finish – the window on the northeast face was replaced with a patterned trimboard to keep visual interest. The rooflines ware adjusted in the render below, but not the building plan, so we’ll see which is correct.

For materials, the basement-level will use stucco mixed with Sherwin-Williams “Sawdust” paint, the first level is a combination of Belden face brick (Belcrest) and S-W “Truepenny” fiber cement clapboards, more fiber cement clapboard on the mid-section in S-W “Overjoy“, trimboards, balcony trim and window casing colored S-W “Svelte Sage”, black window frames, stucco (in S-W “Favorite Tan”) with more fiber cement trim and frieze boards on the top level, and the pyramidal roof caps will be standing seam metal, Pac-Clad “Aged Copper”. Mix of materials, mix of colors – should stand out nicely.

Expect buildout to look similar to 210 Linden and The Lux – Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level, double-stud Huber ZIP panel plywood sheathing, scratch coats on the portion to be covered in stucco, perhaps wood furring to raise the exterior clapboard and prevent dampness, and probably Anderson windows. The project is expected to be complete by August – units are going for $950/bedroom, plus utilities. Pricey, but at least they allow large dogs.

Along with Visum and Red Door Rentals for this ride through the development process is STREAM Collaborative as the building and landscape architect. Since they’re GC at 210 Linden Avenue, Romig General Contractors may be the manager of the construction crew here as well.

 

 





Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

The Masonic Temple renovation is low-key but worth an explainer. Here we go:

The 17,466 SF Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is a bit of an unusual building. It was one of the last designs by prolific local architects Arthur Gibb and Ornan Waltz, and completed in 1926. The style is Egyptian Revival, which was also used for the Sphinx Head Tomb at 900 Stewart Avenue, and to a lesser extent in the Carey Building, which was built around the same time. Egyptian Revival architecture uses what are or are perceived to be Egyptian motifs (stark facades, strong symmetrical elements, Egyptian-themed ornamentation), and experienced a resurgence in the 1920s following the opening of King Tut’s tomb – the early 20th century designs are sometimes grouped in as a subcategory of Art Deco.

Keep in mind that Freemasonry is a loose affiliation of fraternal groups, with some degree of secrecy (that they like to play up, for better or worse). Although diminished in this age, they played a role in community social life much as Greek Life does on college campuses. The Ithaca Freemasons wanted something exotic with just a hint of foreboding, so the architects went with minimal ornamentation, strong symmetry, simple, slit-like windows, and a bare, impassive facade, here a thin limestone veneer over a steel frame (a modern idea for the time). To quote William D. Moore’s Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes, “a critic claimed that Ithaca’s Masonic Temple could help visitors to imagine themselves ‘transported to the civilizations of the Pharaohs…There is no mistaking this structure for an abode of commerce’.”

By the 1990s, the Masonic Temple had fallen into disuse, and local developer and major landlord Jason Fane picked it up in 1993. Fane had made his intent clear that he preferred to demolish the building and build new on the site, a stone’s throw from the hear of Downtown. In response and concern to that idea, the building was landmarked in 1994. You could probably see some parallels to the Nines situation here, only the Nines owners aren’t already multi-millionaires and don’t have a negative public image.

It’s a difficult building to reuse. Not only does one contend with the extra hurdles and costs of working with a landmarked historic structure, but the rooms are cavernous and the building has been described as functionally obsolete – its outdated mechanical systems and lack of handicap accessibility have made it a difficult sell to prospective commercial tenants. The last tenant was the Odyssey nightclub, which moved out over a decade ago. Older folks tend to remember a restaurant prior to that, Europa.

Fane himself was never a big fan of what was considered his “white elephant” property; out of concerns he was letting it decay to the point of an emergency demolition, the CIITAP tax abatement rules were modified in 2014 to say that applicants had to be code compliant on all their other existing properties, and was targeted at Fane, who was seeking an abatement at the time for an apartment proposal at 130 East Clinton Street (it was denied and the project was never built).

The best way to describe the Masonic Temple problem is that it’s not the location, and it’s not out of a lack of interest – it was simply the cost of making it code-compliant and more accessible for tenants. Early plans considered putting The History Center here, while an earlier plan from 2012 considered buying the property from Fane and making it into a community center. The 2012 plan never made much headway – Fane was not keen on selling, and he still harbored hopes of demolishing it. The History Center plan was also seen as more expensive than a specialized space for The History Center.

The city has long hoped that they and Fane would see eye-to-eye, and finally it appears that dream is coming true. In July 2015, the city Common Council voted to support an application from Fane to the New York State Main Street Program, a state-sponsored grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers. In December of that year, the state awarded Fane a $500,000 grant towards the rehabilitation of the building (which cost a little over $1 million total). The initial plans were to get the ball rolling on construction in summer 2016, but it does appear that much-lauded renovation plan is finally moving forward now.

The renovation, designed by architectural preservation specialists Johnson-Schmidt & Associates of Corning, calls for the creation of three commercial spaces, the installation of a ramp at the rear of the auditorium, and a new elevator on the southwest side of the building. With the interior kitchen still intact, it is likely that at least one of the commercial spaces would be geared towards a restaurant tenant.

A new roof membrane will be applied, the exterior limestone and stucco will be cleaned and repaired, the street windows repaired and repainted, and the auditorium windows, which had been boarded up by previous tenants, will be replaced with similar-looking new windows. The front entrance’s stone steps would be redone, and the front doors and lamp posts would be restored. The Ithaca Landamrks Preservation Commission signed off on the work in January 2017. The plans can be seen in the application here.

At the moment, it looks like asbestos abatement is underway, and the ground-level light wells are having their deteriorated concrete removed and replaced. Kascon Environmental Services is performing the asbestos removal, and McPherson Builders Inc. of Ithaca is the contractor-of-record. I asked Fane via email if the plans had changed at all since January 2017, or if there were any tenants on board, but as is often the case with him and his lawyer/representative Nate Lyman, there is no response.

3/30/2018

4/28/2018





City Centre Construction Update, 4/2018

12 05 2018

Mostly just clearing out my stash at this point; as the webcam shows, exterior framing is up to the third floor.

A number of changes have been made to the City Centre project, inside and out. Whitham Planning and Design shepherded the alterations through the planning board, which was generally okay with them. Among the revisions:

-Landscaping Changes. Among them, street tree species and layout, and tree grates are being replaced with FlexiPave porous paved covers. The number of shrubs was decreased, perennial flowers increased. Bike racks were relocated, street lights, curbing and curb ramps were adjusted, concrete planters were added by the parking drop-off area, a pergola with string lights was added, bollards were added, the sidewalk width along East Green Street was reduced from 6′ to 5′, and pavers were changed to a slightly darker shade of grey.

-On the first floor, the lobby layout was reconfigured, and some exterior doors were relocated for ease of access. The number of retail spaces was reduced from four to three, but the total square footage for the retail is about the same (11,000 SF). A storm water vault and fire pump room were added in the underground garage, and the parking spaces were reconfigured slightly to accommodate (still about 71 spaces).

-The unit mix has changed from 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms, and 53 two-bedrooms, to 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. Still 192 units total, but with fewer studios and two-bedrooms and more one-bedrooms, basically. This might have to do with what’s easiest to rent to the target market (young professionals, a few downsizers, deep-pocketed students). Perhaps studios aren’t seen as having enough space for the upmarket market segment.

-The exterior facing materials have been changed from Nichiha aluminum panels to Overly Dimension XP Metal Systems, and Alucoil Larson ACM aluminum panels. The color palette is generally the same, perhaps slightly greyer with the revised paneling. Air intake vents were added to the building facade. Fenestration (window size/arrangement) was also changed up.

The floor buildout is a rather interesting process, because they’re practically building from the inside-out as each floor is added. The interior steel stud walls and structural steel supports go up first, then roof decking overhead, and then what appear to be prefabricated modular exterior wall panels with Marvin Windows already fitted. The dark panel is Dow Thermax Xarmor, which apart from sounding like a Star Wars extra, is a heavy-duty fire-rated fiberglass insulation board covered with a dark exterior facer that serves as a water barrier. These panels can be set into place very quickly, saving time and labor costs. The ground-level is more typical fireproof gypsum sheathing. The steel rails on the upper floors are likely for the aluminum exterior panels, so they may clipped into place.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 4/2018

10 05 2018

Ithaca weather is not accommodating. Originally, the pour for the concrete slab was supposed to take place on April 3rd. It’s tricky, because this is a large footprint and the building is very heavy, necessitating a thick slab – 30 inches thick. That has to all be poured at once, without any potential interruptions like rain or snow, which can weaken the concrete as it cures (upsets the mix and water balance). That was rescheduled the first time due to winter weather, and was expected to take place on the 11th, which was rained out. 4/16 was also cancelled due to winter weather. Finally the concrete was able to be poured on the 23rd.

In the photos below, you can see some wood forms are still in place for smaller sections (entryway, lower right of site). The vertical concrete column bases are being poured (note the squares of vertical rebar in the sections yet to be encased), with steel plates atop the finished column to tie into the steel beams. The hole in the lower right (southeast) corner is for one of the elevator cores. Taylor the Builders will have this heading skyward in short order.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 4/2018

5 05 2018

Construction continues on the Canopy, but the plans are in a state of modest flux. The fiber cement panels were changed to a different manufacturer, which uses a different paint supplier. The original Cem5 fiber cement panels use Swiss Pearl paints, while the revision proposes Nichiha panels using PPG paints. The replacement colors are very similar.

However, the dull yellow “Applesauce Cake” accent panels (itself a replacement for Cem5 “Carat Topaz”), was rejected by Canopy. The replacement color, a charcoal grey “Dark Ash”, was disliked by the board, so the project team is still trying to determine a suitable color replacement with enough to get the order filed with the manufacturer without delaying the construction timeline. I wonder if, given the orange Canopy logo and branding, if a soft “rustic” orange shade might be available? The thought being that it would tell visitors quickly that this building is a Hilton Canopy, and a warm, subtle shade would brighten the facade without being obnoxious. From what I see, one can custom order panels, which is no doubt more expensive, but I’m not seeing a list of standard colors anywhere.

While excavating, the project team did find some small fragments of the Strand Theater, which stood on the site until its demolition in 1993. The “most decorative” pieces are going to be used in a display inside the hotel lobby, and further consideration is being made for an exterior mural.

The landscaping is being tweaked to extend a sidewalk through the property to Seneca Way, as well as a curb-cut and smaller planters to fit within the property line. A pair of ginkgo trees planned for the property are being replaced with some dense shrubs and perennial instead. This is the eleventh version of the project I now have on file. Background info and specifications can be found here.

The hotel has completed foundation work and is up to the second floor. The steel skeleton and elevator cores/stairwells continue to rise, with thinner exterior steel stud walls on the ground floor and fireproof gypsum panels on the second floor. The finished product should be coming onto the market in about a year.

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 4/2018

3 05 2018

At the site of The Lux at 232-236 Dryden Road, framing continues on the new apartment buildings. I’m under the impression that, like the Ithaka Terraces project also designed by STREAM, these are thick double-stud exterior walls. Double-stud walls are built using two sets of wood stud walls used in the exterior frame, parallel to each other but spaced apart by about 5 inches. That space is then filled (if like STREAM’s other projects) with R39 densely-packed cellulose insulation. The result has its pros and cons. The cons are that it’s more expensive to build, and it reduces the interior space a little bit. The pro is that it’s very energy efficient, which comes in handy for a project trying to achieve net-zero energy use.

On top of that appears to be wood furring strips for the cladding. I think the white panels on the north side might be boards with some kind of waterproofing? The roof on 232 Dryden appears to have had underlayment applied, but no EPDM (synthetic rubber) or similar finish yet.

The Amvic ICF will be faced with grey stucco and a black brick veneer, while the upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding. The reflective material is likely insulation that’s also intended to keep out the moisture from the exterior brick.

The top floor will be finished with fiber cement panels with LP SmartTrim laid out patterned to give some visual interest to the top of the structures. The windows are Anderson 100 series units with black frames, and what will be white casings. Still rough openings in some of the walls, and the balconies are just starting to get built on the west face. 236 Dryden has yet to be fully framed, but the roof trusses are underway.

In its March email blast, the developer, local firm Visum Development group, announced that the contest to design lounge, gym and study rooms was won by two graduate architecture students from Cornell – for that, they win $2500 and will have a lounge named after them. The winning designs are here. As of February, about half of the 207 bedrooms were leased.

The project did pay a quick visit to the planning board recently to ask if they would could have permission to not screen some of the rooftop utilities – though less attractive and meant as a cost efficiency, these are less visible parts of the roof per the diagrams provided to the city. I didn’t hear any issues with it, so I assume it was deemed acceptable by the board.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update 4/2018

1 05 2018

Looks like the first stud walls are going up on the third floor of the four-story 210 Linden apartment project (note the basement is partially exposed). Quite a bit of progress from the excavated hole and foundation pad back in February. This is a wood-frame structure with Huber ZIP System plywood panel sheathing and, presumably if like the other Visum projects, Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level. ICFs are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete – they tend to be a more expensive approach, but they also tend to have a higher grade of insulation (higher R-value), making for a more energy-efficient structure, and Visum and its project architect (STREAM Collaborative) have an eye towards net-zero energy capability, meaning all energy consumed by this building comes from renewable sources. ZIP panels are an increasingly popular to the traditional plywood and housewrap method (and since the integrated water-resistive barrier on the ZIP panels is a vivid green, they’re hard to miss). The choice of ZIP panels vs. housewrap really boils down to a matter of preference by the project team; ZIP panels tend to be easier to install (lower labor cost), but more expensive as a product.

Although my October notes show that William H. Lane Inc. was the general contractor on file, it appears that Romig General Contractor is the firm on-site. Romig of Horseheads is not known locally for involvement with multi-family projects, but as partners in Jepsen Romig Development (now Jepsen Holdings Inc.), they’ve been involved with several luxury homes built around the county (Southwoods, South Pointe, etc.) and they state on their website that they’ve provided commercial services to the ScienCenter and the Cayuga Ridge supervised care facility.

Also notable is that it appears the asking price for rent on the four-bedroom units has come down a fair amount since their first advertisements in the fall, from $1250/bedroom to $950/bedroom. This may be anecdotal evidence of some slack in the Collegetown market, as Maplewood’s 872 beds enter and steadily get absorbed into the rental market mix.

Background information on the project and more renders can be found here.