128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 2/2019

26 02 2019

At a city planning committee meeting on infill housing, a Common Councillor well known for his dislike of nearly all things development described these houses at 128 West Falls Street as “an affront to the community” and “a monstrosity”. It seems rather misguided. This was a vacant lot, and the owners designed it with the possibility of future sale, either a small condo community, or in four separate lots if one includes the existing rentals between the new builds. As an argument over the issue of infill, this isn’t a good example anyway. The greater concern is adding new units to the rear yards of existing deep lot homes, not the development of vacant lots.

By and large, the built products are looking close to the original drawings, but not exact. The fully framed and sheathed out on the eastern end of the parcel was designed with its entry on the left side of the house, but the building under construction has its door on the right. Otherwise, the overall shape is true to plan, with dormers, gables, and porches, which are being framed after the primary structural frame has been built. The houses use Tyvek housewrap over plywood for the most part, except for the two-family structure with the breezeway; for fire safety, the walls facing each other in that pair have been sheathed with gypsum panels. The east hald of that building is still in the framin stages, with roof trusses yet to be fully assembled, but the other wind and other structures are framed, sheathed, and have most of their doors and windows fitted.The only worker on-site appeared to be working on utilities rough-ins in the unit with the bay window.

A summer occupancy seems fairly plausible. I haven’t seen any rentals for these yet, but Heritage Builders tends to go for the premium/upper-middle market bracket; the renovated two-bedroom house in the middle is going for $1800/month.

More info about the project can be found here.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 2/2019

25 02 2019

The timber piles are in and the 6″ concrete slab has been formed and poured, thus completing the lion’s share of foundation work for the 323 Taughannock residential project. The orange tarp is to allow curing without snow or rain penetrating and potentially upsetting the curing process and damaging the concrete, and ituility connections poke out through the slab. As previously mentioned, this a modular wood frame, and the pieces will be framed and sheathed off-site by Benson Wood Products, and then assembled on-site by local firm D Squared.

An interesting little note from Matt Butler’s piece at the Times, Flash initially intended for a five-story design, but found it cost-prohibitive. According to co-developer Steve Flash, “(w)hen we did soil samples and had a system for a five-story building, the costs of the foundation were too much for the number of units we could create. That might be different in a larger project where you could spread the costs out a little bit […] None of it was a surprise, we knew it going in […] We knew what we were getting into. It’s a challenge.”

To be a little more explicit, the larger the building, the heavier it would be. Given the waterlogged soils, the heavier the building would be, the deeper the piles would need to be, and likely, the structure would be too heavy for the budget-friendly wood timber pile system. They would have had to use much more expensive steel piles. In general, building denser is going to be more cost-efficient, but if it creates a sudden jump in hard costs, then it’s not in that “sweet spot” for construction costs vs. revenue, and out of the realm of economic feasibility.

Anyway, look for the pieces for the eight townhouse-like units (a studio and 2-BR in each), to start showing up over the next several weeks. Completion is expected this summer.





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 12/2018

6 01 2019

This post was supposed to go up a week ago, but was delayed by a bout with the flu. Sometimes, things get delayed and health concerns have to take precedence. 128 West Falls Street is an example of that.

128 West Falls Street is a single-family rental home situated on a mostly empty 0.375 acre urban lot on the northwest side of Fall Creek. The property was bought by Heritage Park Townhomes back in December 2012. Heritage Park, recently rebranded Perfect Heritage, is the umbrella organization for a few different businesses run by local builder Ron Ronsvalle and his family. Those include Perfect Painters (home painting), Heritage Builders (home construction), Heritage Park Rentals, and a few years back, there was even an auto repair business.

On the development side, Heritage Builders has built or renovated a number of small-scale residential and commercial projects around the greater Ithaca area, tapping into a variety of markets. These include student rentals on South Hill, apartments and commercial retail/office space in Lansing, some smaller multi-family infill in the city of Ithaca, and some for-sale housing on South Hill. There isn’t really a pattern, it’s more or less what’s available at the time they’re looking to take on something new.

In March 2014, plans were first announced for infill apartments at 128 West Falls Street, consisting of three new buildings with six rental units. The design of these was rather awkward and somewhat larger than the typical 1.5-2.5 story homes that comprise nearby blocks, so there was a fair amount of pushback from neighbors. This was problematic because the Board of Zoning Appeals was required to sign off on setback and parking variances needed for the project to move forward; the property is being subdivided into three parcels, one for the existing single-family home, one for the to-be-built duplex (later a single-family home) to the east, and the third for the two duplexes on the west end of the parcel. The existing home will have no on-site parking within its (middle) lot, instead sharing with the west lot.

The project team met with neighbors, heard their concerns, and reworked the design – it was a bit smaller, with five units in two two-family homes and and one single-family home, and the designs, created by architect/engineer Lawrence John Fabbroni of Fabbroni Associates, showed a more traditional aesthetic when the revised site plan review was submitted in October 2014. At the time, the planning board hailed it as a successful example of working with the community to create a mutually acceptable outcome. The plans were approved by the planning board in February 2015.

However, the project didn’t move forward, and after two years, the approvals expired. Not long after the project was approved, Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. As the letter from Fabbroni stated, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.” For a while, it had looked like the project was unlikely to ever happen. However, the request for re-approval was submitted in June 2018, and with no changes, the project generated little discussion and was re-approved the following month. The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period in two phases from August 2018 to August 2020.

The project includes seven off-street parking spaces, one driveway, sidewalks/walkways, stormwater facilities and landscaping (new trees, pavers, raised plant beds). The three units facing West Falls Street are designed to resemble typical older homes in the neighborhood. Building 1 is a single-family building with three bedrooms, finished in LP Smartside wood lap siding colored Sherwin-Williams Aurora Brown on the lower floors, LP Smartside wood shake siding on the gable level and colored S-W Roycroft Brass, and trim panels in S-W Roycroft Vellum. Building 2 is two units with three bedrooms each; the massing of Building 2 is broken down into two distinct halves, connected only through the foundation and a ground level breezeway. The west unit will have a bay window and a full gable roof with dormers, while the east unit has a partially-hipped roof, creating visual interest between the two otherwise mirrored units. LP Smartside wood lap siding in S-W Renwick Olive will be used on the lower levels of each., LP SmartSide smooth wood panels with batten trim will be used on the west unit’s gable level, while the dormers on the east unit will use lap siding, both colored in S-W Roycroft Bronze-Green. The trim panels will once again be S-W Roycroft Vellum. For the record, all of these colors are from Sherwin-Williams’ “Heritage Palette” historic color series; and historic East Aurora, New York is home to the Roycroft Campus.
The building tucked back from West Falls Street, Building 3, is a more contemporary design hosting two two-bedroom units. The lower levels use LP engineered wood siding in S-W Rockwood Blue-Green, and on the gable level, smooth wood panels in S-W Downing Stone. As with the other two, the wood trim panels are painted S-W Roycroft Vellum. Altogether, there’s a total of five new units and thirteen new bedrooms in the project. The project is designed such that the whole four-building, six-unit assemblage can be converted into condominium housing at a later date, if Heritage Park chooses to do so.
The photos below suggest a quicker timeframe for construction than suggested in the 2018 Site Plan Review – framing is substantially underway for all structures, with the first two floors framed out for Buildings 1 and 2, and above-ground framing just getting underway for Building 3. The concrete foundations are complete. A good estimate would be an August 2019 completion for all five units, or in other words, they decided to merge the two phases back into one. The designs don’t totally match the drawings. The elevations don’t show windows in the basement level concrete, and some of the other window patterns don’t totally align either.





City Centre Construction Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

Facade installation continues on the exterior of the City Centre project on the 300 block of East State Street. According to project representatives, all three commercial retail spaces on the ground level have been reserved. Along with the Ale House, the other spaces will be “a financial institution and a new dining experience from a beloved local restaurateur”. The rumor mill has suggested a couple of names for that restaurateur, and that the initial concept was to be Italian, but with the opening of Pasta Vitto across the street, the tenant is taking the restaurant in a new direction.

For those interested (and not necessarily looking for a new apartment), City Centre has finished out a few model units for hard hat tours. You can stop by the leasing office on the Commons to schedule a walkthrough.

Some of the project team members have started to tout their involvement with the project, which is generally a good sign (it means they’re proud of their work). The image above comes from Whitham Planning and Design, of which I’m kinda jealous. Meanwhile, the regional Carrier equipment dealer is touting the project’s use of a Toshiba-Carrier VRF HVAC systemVariable Refrigerant Flow, the technical name for the electric heat pumps the building utilizes. The heat pump system and its units are being installed by Petcosky and Sons, a heating and plumbing subcontractor out of Vestal. Purcell Construction is the general contractor (and their City Centre webcam is here).

The project is still on target for a June 2019 opening. The project background and description can be found here.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 12/2018

27 12 2018

Just noting that the structural steel frame is fully built out up to the fifth floor and that fireproofing and sprinkler system installation is underway. The project utilizes SidePlate Systems for lateral steel connections, which utilizes a lighter frame design that is still durable. This has a higher upfront cost in design, but may balance out much of that with reduced materials and labor costs, as well as being able to stick to a tight buildout schedule. The IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 241 is proudly touting their involvement with the buildout, and local labor advocates will be pleased by the commitment to local union labor. Taylor the Builders is the general contractor.

The apartment units have begun showing up online, though they are not able to be reserved just yet and no prices are given. The units come in the following sizes:

Studio 1 Bath 42 units 435 SF
1 Bed 1 Bath 32 units 686 SF
2 Beds 2 Baths 34 units 945 SF

Retail and office spaces are available for lease through Pyramid Brokerage’s David Huckle. The first floor Commons-facing units are being offered at $24/square foot (3-5 year lease), and the second and third floor office space is being offered for $22.50-$24/square foot. The retail spaces are 2,674 SF, 2,900 SF and 9,210 SF, which can be combined by a deep-pocketed lessee for a maximum of 16,241 SF. The minimum leaseble office space is 2,900 SF (which Pyramid describes as being about enough for seven people in a Class A environment), and the maximum is 33,832 SF (enough for 135 workers). The online as says a 2022 completion, which is overly, overly conservative. I would take a guess at Q4 2019 or Q1 2020. Obviously not the Spring 2019 they originally hoped for, but there have been numerous weather issues that delayed the concrete pours for weeks. The rest of the steel frame should rise faster since the tower portion (floors 6-12) is only a fraction of the building’s overall footprint.





Cornell Fine Arts Library (Rand Hall) Construction Update, 12/2018

22 12 2018

Cornell’s new Fine Arts Library (FAL) is coming along. The Mui Ho Fine Arts Library will occupy the top floors of Rand Hall, a ca. 1911 structure that long housed the design studios of the Department of Architecture. My own memories of Rand were relegated to the outside, usually a small throng of architecture students getting their nicotine fix just beyond the entrance (and on a few occasions, substances more illicit).

Rand has always been the workhorse of the Architecture School and a fine example of early 20th century industrial architecture, but for the past twenty years Cornell actively made one attempt or another to get rid of it – in their attempts to build Milstein, the university proposed to tear down Rand not once, but twice. However, there was significant pushback by alumni and historic preservation groups against the idea, and it was one of the factors that weighed into the Koolhaas design for Milstein Hall, which functions as more an addition to the AAP School than a replacement.

The interior will consist of three levels of mezzanine shelving for the 125,000-volume Fine Arts Library’s collection, as well as interspersed work/study spaces. The library stacks will consist of “inverted ziggurats” accessed by stairs and walkways. Floor-to-ceiling space will range from 48 feet on the north side of the reading room to 7.5 feet in some sections of the library stacks. Long, unobstructed hallways will run the length of Rand Hall. The large variation is meant to convey both grand spaces and “private engagement” with the books. 8,000 square feet of shop space for the AAP program will occupy the first floor. Other features will include reading carrels with built-in monitors and lockable book storage, public computing stations and a seminar room. The roof will host a 1,500 square-foot structural deck, outfitted with base plates for temporary structures as well as power, water and digital connections. The semi-elliptical roof pavilion will be built at a later date.

In this renovation and expansion, Rand’s daylight-factory windows were replaces with single panes, the east stairwell was removed, and a steel canopy is going up over the roof. The building will have two entrances, one public and one for AAP only. In an attempt to limit energy use, the building utilizes rigid foam insulation, installing double-glazed windows and all mechanical systems are being replaced. Like Cornell’s other Central Campus building, Rand/FAL is tied into the Combined Heat and Power system, which uses a mix of renewable and conventional fuel (mostly natural gas) sources.

As previously covered, the architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. More of Tschapeller’s very avant-garde designs can be found at his website here. The project is being funded in part by a  $6 million dollar donation from Cornell alumna, architect and UC-Berkeley professor Mui Ho ’62 B. Arch ’66.

The $21.6 million project is expected to be completed in June 2019, after a construction period of 18 months. Welliver is the general contractor.

Now at about the two-thirds mark, most of the new windows are in, with clips still in place for the newly installed windows on the east facade. The area of “damage” was the result of the teardown of the eastern stairwell, which was a much more recent construction and not original to the structure. The Carisle VP 705 on the roof is a self-adhering waterproof and fireproof fabric to limit moisture penetration from the aluminum panels.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2018

20 12 2018

We’re starting to see some of the face materials being attached to the Canopy Hilton’s exterior.The brick veneer is Bowerston Shale Company Red Smooth blend. The bumpout with the industrial-style bay windows will use a darker and browner blend called “Pioneer Smooth”. Some of the “Sauteed Mushroom” fiber cement panels are also visible underneath the scaffolding. “Rockport Grey” and “Dark Ash” (light grey and dark grey) fiber cement panels will be used on the upper levels and to provide visual interest being the bricked spaces. Most of the sheathing is in place, as are most of the windows.The bridge blue bands around some of the windows is probably sealant/waterproofing material.

An interesting little detail here – during the excavation, some remnant fragments were found from the former Stand Theater, which occupied the site from 1917 until its demolition in 1993. It was a grand building in its time, designed in an Egyptian Revival theme (which the Carey Building emulated when it was built a few years later) and capable of sitting 1,650 in golden age splendor. But the theater was never well designed for the transition from stage to screen, and after decades of decay, it closed first in 1976, and then reopened for a few years at the end of the 1970s into the 1980s for live shows, but the expense of maintenance proved a burden on shoestring budgets. Although on the tail end of urban renewal, the car was still king in the early 1990s, and a parking lot was deemed a better alternative to a decaying theater whose revitalization attempts had failed. A few of the more decorative pieces that were found will be put on display in an exhibit inside the hotel lobby.

The 131-room hotel, on the east end of Downtown on the 300 Block of East State Street, is expected to open in 2019. Baywood Hotels, the developer, has been quite busy lately, purchasing the five year-old Fairfield Inn at 359 Elmira Road a few weeks ago. Rather curiously, the $5.9 million purchase of the 106-room hotel was $1.1 million below assessment. The sale used a “bargain and sale deed”, which one often sees with foreclosures. Bargain and sale deeds are riskier than standard deeds. It basically means that if the property has an issue or unpaid bill, you’re on the hook, not the seller.

The curious details of that sale makes me think of a never-completed story the Voice was working on involving the Fairfield. Not long after the Voice launched, the then-owners reached out in an email, saying they had constructed and opened the Fairfield, and after being open almost two years, “we can attest that there is no need for hotel rooms since demand is on a downward slide and we are having trouble servicing our debt. We also feel the Ithaca City officials are artificially generating demand hype to attract more hotel developers along with promises of tax abatement.” We had worked out this idea where their story would be part one, and getting the city and business officials to respond would be part two.

I did an interview with the Fairfield owner and manager, but to prove their claim wasn’t just their hotel and that it was a citywide/regional problem, we needed hard data, proprietary information on occupancy rates and things like Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR). The regional data of all hotels combined did not back up the claim, and with none of the Fairfield’s peer hotels were willing to take part or even support or refute the Fairfield owners’ claims, there was an inability to expand the story beyond the Fairfield’s anecdotal experience, and so it never moved beyond a first draft. It was the first in-depth story I had worked on that failed to pan out.

In retrospect, I suspect the truth was somewhere in the middle. Given that one of the boutique hotels was cancelled, and how much time was needed for the new downtown hotels to obtain financing, there was clearly some concern from lenders about what the market could support. But because those new hotels are opening over a period of a few years, and local economic growth has continued, the worst fears of the hotel “boom” have been avoided.

Further information on the Canopy hotel can be found here.