Press Bay Court Construction Update, 9/2018

3 10 2018

Press Bay Court, a project by local businessmen John Guttridge and David Kuckuk d/b/a Urban Core LLC, is moving along at a good clip. In what could be seen as an expansion of Press Bay Alley, the plan reuses a dilapidated 1920s building and renovates it into several small-scale retail spaces, ranging from 320 – 2,200 square-feet. Among them will be Halal Meat and Groceries, One Ring Donuts, Gee June Bridal Shop and Hair • Color • Art. Bramble, an herbal retailer, will move from its Press Bay Alley slot into one of the Press Bay Court storefonts.

The business websites for Gee June and Hair • Color • Art both indicate October 2018 openings in Press Bay Court (October 16th, in Gee June’s announcement), and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. The interior of the building was gutted and new steel stud walls have been erected, as well as fresh gypsum sheathing on the outside. The four second floor one-bedroom apartments are also being renovated, which will be rented at below-market rates (Urban Core is aiming for 75% area median income, which roughly equates to a household salary in the $42,000/year range for a single person, $48,500 for couple). Expansive windows will be installed at ground level to provide a better sense of the activity indoors, and an awning will be erected as the exterior is finished out. The exterior parking lot will be turned into a landscaped pedestrian gathering space for impromptu social events as well as festivals and small concerts or shows.

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City Centre Construction Update, 9/2018

2 10 2018

Along with the usual bevy of construction photos, I popped inside the sales office, which opened on the Commons last month. There might have been a little reservation from the two guys staffing the office when I introduced myself and said “I’ve been reporting on the project and do a real estate and construction blog on the side”, but once one of the leasing representatives, Anthony, mentioned he had checked out a blog called “Ithacating” to help him prepare for the job, we hit it off pretty well.

The second photo shows the reserved apartments as of September 23rd. As mentioned in the Voice article, every one of those top-end $3,265/month two-bedroom units facing the Commons are taken, and the project is still over eight months out from completion. 47 of the 192 units have deposits down, about 25% of total. A disproportionate number of those are two-bedroom units, 16 of 39 (41%). According to Anthony, the tenant mix is fairly diverse – some students, some young working professionals with downtown or Cornell jobs, and a substantial number of seniors looking to downsize and be downtown. The office has received a number of calls inquiring if the units are for sale, but unfortunately for those interested, condos are scarce in Ithaca.

The project website has been updated to include a number of interior renderings, included here at the end of the post. The first four in the set are apartment interior images, showing two bathroom finishes (modern aesthetic with a neutral palette), a larger unit’s living room and kitchen, and a studio unit, which they market as a “junior apartment”. The last three images are common spaces, two lounge spaces and the lobby. The lobby will in fact have a circular reception area, as shown in the ground-level floor plan.

Newman Development Group (NDG) had previously mentioned in a response to Green Street Garage questions that they had secured tenants for all three ground-level commercial spaces, the Ale House restaurant and two other tenants whom Anthony was not allowed to discuss per confidentiality agreements, but they hope to go public with the future tenants “in about a month”. The spaces clock in around 10.600 square-feet in total.

“NDG has recently signed three superior quality tenants for the City Centre project and had a high level of interest from a number of additional tenants that had to be turned away. NDG believes that these and other prospective tenants seeking 3,000 to 5,000 square foot spaces will find the Green Street location to be highly attractive based on the high traffic counts, pedestrian activity, mass transit access, proximity to The Commons, adjacency to significant downtown residential neighborhoods and availability of convenient parking, ” said NDG in the Green Street Q&A.

Construction is moving along at a good clip, with most of the windows fitted and work continuing on the aluminum panels and brickwork that will comprise most of the facade. For the sake of brevity, we’ll dig more into the exterior finishes and details in the next update in November.

Side note to the Ithacan – the effort is appreciated in your downtown write-up, but you guys flubbed one critical detail. City Centre and State Street Triangle were two separate projects with two separate development teams. The only common bond is location. The story that I’m familiar with is that the Colberts, who owned the Trebloc site, dropped Campus Advantage as a partner because CA wanted a lower sale price for the land when they were forced to submit smaller project designs, while NDG was willing to pay the premium, and so they were able to snatch themselves the purchase option for the site when it opened for renegotiation.

In keeping with the theme of development controversy, here it’s been the high price of the units – $1,545 – 1,625/month for a studio, $1,745 – 2,595/month for a one bedroom unit, and $2,460 – 3,265/month for a two-bedroom unit. There has been substantial blowback from some local activists and community groups as a result, and even other landlords have expressed off-record that they are incredulous of the asking prices Newman Development Group was aiming for with the City Centre project. So far, however, lease-up seems to be going well. City Centre will open for occupancy in June 2019.

 





Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 9/2018

30 09 2018

To be honest, I had to double-check my older photo sets to make sure there had been progress on the Masonic Temple renovation. Upon close inspection, the short answer is yes. Windows have been replaced with near-replicas of the originals, as is required for a locally-recognized historic landmark. The concrete borders for the basement light wells is fresh, and most of the work at present has moved to the rear of the building, where windows are being replaced and a new concrete ramp is being built for the auditorium space. A new elevator is being installed on the southwest of the building.

There has not been any news regarding commercial tenants signed up to fill the renovated space once it’s complete. This is not a surprise, the Fane Organization tends to be very tight-lipped about their business deals.

 





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 9/2018

29 09 2018

With the Commons Playground issue seemingly settled, the Harold’s Square project continues to rise on the Commons (more specifically, 133-139 East State Street). The full floor area has been built out for the first and second floors, the third floor is partially assembled, and a few steel beams and joints have been erected for what will become the fourth and fifth floors. Note that the floor plate will only cover the full footprint of the building for the lowest four floors – the fifth has some modest setbacks from the Commons to create the impression of multiple structures and break up the massing, while floors six through twelve are the tower portion, where most of the apartments will be located.

Granted, the south views from those apartments are likely going to be for only a limited time. The two proposals that have garnered the most positive feedback and initial scoring for the Green Street Garage Redevelopment are the Vecino proposal and the Visum/Newman proposal, each of which calls for a tower similar in height to Harold’s Square. My impression is that, if forced to advocate for one or the other, the Harold’s Square development team might be slightly warmer to the Visum/Newman proposal because it provides for a wider alley between the buildings as well as aesthetic improvements to that alleyway.

Quick aside, in pitching the Little Commons proposal for the Green Street Garage, I had a mixed reaction to the IURA submission. The elephant in the room was always that whatever design he and his partners submitted would be sufficiently short so that the Harold’s Square owners (L Enterprises and McGuire Development) would retain the ability charge a premium for the upper-story units in the market-rate Harold’s Square building. The proposal’s website, which STREAM Collaborative put together, does a very good job stepping around that and emphasizing other potential benefits of a modestly-scaled structure. The written submission, however, stated the importance of protecting the Harold’s Square viewshed, which is readily recognized, but maybe not something that should have been explicitly acknowledged, because it could easily be twisted and rub reviewers the wrong way – “views are only for those with deep pockets” or “catering to the wealthy tenants next door”. It’s the kind of comment that reads better to developers than to the general public, and my personal take is that, however true, they just shouldn’t have brought it up.

Anyway, as seen in the Harold’s Square photos, once the structural steel is laid out, the corrugated steel decking is attached and a rebar mesh laid atop the decking for the concrete pour of the subfloor. As with foundations, the mesh provides stability and strength to the concrete as it cures. The openings between floors are for elevator cores and stairwells. The skeleton will rise at a fairly quick pace given the effort to take advantage of the relative meteorological calm that early fall provides, but I don’t see anything on the project website that indicates a ballpark estimate of when topping out might occur – the crane isn’t expected to be down until March, if I have my notes right, and after that happens, the structure should be closed up enough / far enough along with exterior work such that the Commons playground can be returned to active use. A mid-2019 opening is planned; no word on potential commercial tenants on the lower floors.

The WordPress for the project can be found here, and the Ithacating project description here.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 9/2018

29 09 2018

The past couple of months haven’t been the best for Ithaca development. Apart from the recent lull, most of the high-profile projects have engendered some animosity or involved in a publicly relations mess. In the case of the Hilton Canopy, that would be the incident with the sure-footed construction work on the scaffolding. My goal when reporting it back in August was to be impartial and thorough and I still I don’t know enough about the work environment to make a comment. From the public comments and my emails, it’s not 100% clear if there were violations and how severe they were; there’s some subjectivity in their application (harnesses are to set up in ways that don’t pose other safety concerns or obstacles, for instance, so if it could be proven that it would have been a risk a harness wouldn’t have been required). OSHA is reviewing and will make their judgement calls as they see fit, even if it takes up to six months to hash out.

On the bright side, the Hilton is moving along, the warehouse-style windows are being fitted and most of the sheathing has been attached to the exterior steel studs. The water-resistive barrier will prevent moisture seepage from damaging the gypsum sheathing panels. The yellowish Behr paint “applesauce cake” colored fiber cement panels were replaced with a somewhat darker and browner tone, “sauteed mushroom” from rival Glidden. As Glidden Paints says, a “(m)id-toned warm beige, this color makes a statement as an exterior body color as well as an interior accent wall or warm meditation space.” I don’t make these names up, I just report them.

There hasn’t been too much news about the project apart from the scaffolding controversy; the Canopy brand has been touting Ithaca-area attractions on its facebook page and the brand website states a mid-2019 opening.

 





News Tidbits 9/18/18

19 09 2018

1. Unofficially, here are the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee ratings for the four Green Street Garage proposals, with a screenshot courtesy of Councilor Steve Smith (D-4th Ward). I’m not quite sure how the total score was calculated, but overall, the Vecino Group’s proposal was the most highly rated, followed by the Visum/Newman Group submission. The general consensus was that the Harold’s Holdings plan was aesthetically pleasing but didn’t include enough of the benefits that the city was seeking, and the Ithaca-Peak proposal was underwhelming in terms of affordability and community benefits.

2. So here’s an interesting little item that came out of last week’s PEDC Meeting. A developer had apparently approached Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) with the idea of redeveloping the Family Medicine site for an eight-story building. Murtagh did not state the intended mix of uses if any was stated (probably ground-level commercial with residential above), but he did express strong reservations for their plan, which would have required a PUD, the D-I-Y zoning the city uses to allow more flexible project design in exchange for community benefits signed off by the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Few would argue with the statement that the Family Medicine site, located on the 200 Block of West State Street just west of Downtown Ithaca, is underutilized. It’s a one-story ca. 1980 structure with surface parking. The Cornell Baker Program has used the site among others for student projects to come up with cost-efficient proposals in various parts of the city (officially for academic purposes, but no doubt the local development scene pays at least some attention to the final presentations). I remember one project that showed a seven-story building would be just enough of a return on investment to possibly entice redevelopment with Family Medicine remaining in the ground-level of the new structure. This theoretical proposal did make use of a tax abatement. By this argument, an eight-story proposal could be a better sell, or it could be the result of an attempt to work in an affordable housing component while still making enough money per square foot to appeal to lenders. Regardless of what the circumstances were to push eight floors, this idea likely won’t be coming to the planning board anytime soon.

3. It looks like the Ivy Ridge apartment project in Dryden has been sold to a new developer. An LLC associated with local real estate firm Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor) sold 802-812 Dryden Road for $2,075,000 on September 12th. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit townhouse complex.

The buyer’s LLC could be traced back to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, he has a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. Site prep is underway and no changes to the project design or timeline are indicated. As for O’Connor, he’s now a much wealthier man, and we’ll see if any of those recent gains are turned into equity for future MLR projects.

If anyone else is still looking for shovel-ready multi-family projects, 1061 Dryden is still for sale.

4. On a somewhat related note, 312 East Seneca Street was sold by Jagat Sharma (better known for his architecture firm, but 312 East Seneca house his office) for $800,000 on September 14th. The buyer was an LLC that traces back to the Stavropoulos Family on West Hill, who have undertaken a number of small to medium-sized development projects in the Ithaca area over the past several years.

This purchase would impact MLR and Visum Development’s plan for Seneca Flats, a 42,000 SF multi-story mixed-use structure at the corner of East Seneca and North Aurora. The two firms based their initial drawings on the presumed purchase of this building. However, they had also drawn up floor plans for options that did not include 312 East Seneca – offhand, the plan with the site had 85 units, the plan without had 60 units. Basically, lop off the rightmost (northern) quarter of the above drawing. As for the Stavropouloses Stavropoli, they paid more than double the assessed value ($390,000), so there’s a good chance they have their own plans.

5. This blog gravitates towards hard/quantitative data, so here are a few facts about the airport expansion from the SEQRA environmental forms:

– The Passenger Terminal Expansion. will consist of three additions totaling 15,600 SF. 8.500 SF is an addition to the passenger holding area (which makes flying sound about as comfortable as it feels), 5,400 SF for additional bagging screening space and office space for the TSA and for airlines, and 1,700 SF by the main entrance for expanded passenger circulation and ticket counter space.

– Apron reconstruction, 40,000 SF. The apron is the area where planes park, refuel, and where some passenger loading/unloading takes place.

– Utilities replacement, interior “building enhancements”, one new passenger boarding bridge, and refurbishment of the existing boarding bridge.

– Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system using 40 underground wells, 350-400 feet deep, and a closed-loop piping system. The operation is similar to a heat pump system, using the earth’s latent heat as a reservoir. The ground disturbance area to install the wells will be about 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres).

– Installation of overhead canopies with solar panels in the airport parking lot.

-Construction of a new 5,000 SF customs facility. The facility will be a one-story masonry structure with steel framing. The facility will accommodate no more than twenty passengers, and is exclusively tailored towards international business visitors – it’s been previously stated that business executives and Asian visitors, who often come in via Canada, have expressed a strong interest in private jet accommodations.

– Approximately ten new employees as a result of the terminal expansion, and six more from the construction of the new customs facility, for a total of sixteen new full-time jobs.

6. Thanks to reader Alec for this tip – a collection of contiguous Avramis Real Estate-owned Collegetown rental properties at 120 Catherine, 122 Catherine, 124 Catherine, 128 Catherine, 302 College, 304 College, and 306 College were not made available for rent for the 2019-2010 academic year. A check with sources indicates that according to the rumor mill, a buyer has them under contract, but the sale has yet to be finalized.

This is worth noting because we’re talking about a multi-million set of properties with 68 existing beds, but more importantly they have significant redevelopment potential – the lots can be consolidated into a large MU-2 zoned parcel (six floors, 100% lot coverage no parking) and a large CR-4 zoned parcel (four floors, 50% coverage, no parking)In fact, back in 2014, the Avramises proposed a two-building development that would have resulted in about 102 units and 202 beds. The Jagat Sharma-designed proposal never began formal review. The off-record commentary was that the Avramises got cold feet during the heat of the Collegetown building boom, though given their central location, these properties would be better insulated from a downturn in the student rental market than Outer Collegetown or fringe neighborhoods. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

7. We’ll wrap this up with a pair of Dryden projects. The first, 1610 Dryden Road. Most folks better remember this barn as the former Phoenix Old Used and Rare Books, which closed in 2015 after a 30-year run. In early 2017, a proposal came along to use the barn as a trailer sales dealership, but it did not come to be. Now, for the second time in as many months, the proposal is a veterinary clinic, “Elemental Pet Vets”. Local veterinarian Curtis Dewey and his wife Janette are proposed to renovate the 6000 SF barn with accessory parking and landscaping. The property is zoned rural residential, so any commercial plan needs a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the town of Dryden. The town planning department is generally amenable to the reuse even if out of sync with zoning, so long as the parking and accessory structures are approved by the town, the curb cut meets NYS DOT regulations, and a landscaping buffer is in place. Ithacor of Cortland will be the general contractor.

The rendering is a bit…strange, so strange that I’m still not sure if they plan on taking down the pitched roof for a flat one, or if they decided thirty minutes in their late 1990s rendering software would convey enough to get approval. Seriously, this might be one of the worst renders I’ve seen for a project, and that’s saying a lot given the number of low budget drawings that go through the boards for small projects.

Meanwhile, as previous covered by the Journal, the Laser Brewer fashion boutique at 1384 Dryden Road has closed with the retirement of Peggy Laser after forty years of business, and her son Riley is expanding his Brew 22 coffee bar, kitchen and beer taproom to fill out the 3248 SF space. This project also requires an SUP because the younger Laser is adding a drive-through window (for the coffee and baked goods, brew-thrus are illegal in New York but okay in plenty of other states). Other than that and an exterior paint job, no further structural changes are planned.

 





News Tidbits 9/11/18

12 09 2018

1. The first phase of the airport expansion has been awarded. As reported by my Voice colleague/boss Kelsey O’Connor, Streeter Associates of Elmira placed a construction bid for $7,638,000 to complete the first of three phases. The initial phase will be covered with a state grant, and the airport has applied for federal funding as well – about two-thirds of the $24 million total cost is covered by grants, and the airport is looking for ways to close the gap. The bid was the lowest received, with Murnane Contractors offering a more expensive construction bid of $8,483,000 for the first phase, and LeChase Construction coming in with a bid at $8,996,000. Phase one entails renovating and expanding the terminal, updating the airline offices, moving screening equipment behind the counter areas, utilities upgrades and improvements to the lobby area for better flow. Streeter has a long track record in Tompkins County, with projects including the expansion of Ives Hall on Cornell’s campus, and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Also discussed at the meeting was an agreement to sell 15 acres of airport-owned land along Warren Road to the NYS DOT for $840,000. This vote was not without some contention, with residents of Hillcrest Road complaining about the relocation to a location near their properties, and the final vote to approve the sale was a 9-4 split. Note that this is just the sale of land, a site plan and environmental analysis have yet to be performed, but a new facility on Warren Road would allow the DOT to move from the inlet location that the city and county have sought to redevelop into mixed commercial and residential uses. The primary complaint seems to be that the sale was too sudden; and to be fair, it was short notice. I wasn’t even aware until reading the meeting agenda a week earlier. However, the intent to move to Warren Road has been stated on multiple occasions, and it’s been in the planning stages for about two years, since they decided the property they bought in Dryden wasn’t going to work out.

2. A couple of interesting little notes from the Journal’s article examining the City Centre project on the 300 Block of East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. The Ale House restaurant’s move and expansion into the ground level will create about twenty additional jobs, and the build-out of the new restaurant space will take place from January – June 2019. Secondly, the developer, Newman Development Group, says a tenant has signed up for one of the two remaining retail spaces, but a confidentiality agreement prevents them from naming the business. Talks are also underway for filling the third retail space. I don’t have revised numbers for the retails spaces (after initial approval, the ground floor retail was consolidated from four spaces to three), but the Ale House is filling the largest space (5,700 SF), and the remaining two are approximately a few thousand square feet each.

3. The city of Ithaca Common Council decided to be proactive at their last meeting and name preferences that they would place strong emphasis on when considering a PUD for the Immaculate Conception site on the 300 Block of West Buffalo Street. As reported by my new Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the site sits in the city’s recently-approved Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD). Within PUD-ODs, projects that don’t fit with existing zoning may be allowed if they offer community benefits. The Common Council and Planning Board both need to approve PUD-OD proposals.

A preference isn’t a stipulation, but since the Council votes on PUDs, it’s a strong clue to what they’ll expect in return for granting a variance. One is the inclusion of affordable housing, and the second is retaining the gymnasium for use as a publicly-accessible indoor recreation space, noting that the Greater Ithaca Activities Center is headquartered next door and would benefit from the facility.

In theory, a buyer could buy the property and do a straight-up renovation without needing to invoke the PUD-OD (the site is R-2a residential, but the building itself would give the benefit of pre-existing variances), but given the Rochester Diocese’s marketing of the PUD in advertisements, it’s a strong possibility a buyer will want to utilize the PUD.

Proposals for the site are due to the diocese by October 5th. Once a developer is selected and a plan submitted for review, then the process of PUD negotiation with the city can begin in earnest.

4. Here’s a look at Emmy’s Organics application for a tax abatement from the IDA. The organic cookie maker is planning a 14,650 SF facility on the 200 Block of Cherry Street in Ithaca’s West End, with a potential 20,000 SF on top of that in 2-3 years time if business continues to grow as it has.

With land acquisition, soft and hard construction costs, and new equipment, the project investment for phase one is $2,292,000, and would retain 28 jobs in Ithaca as well as support the creation of 19 new jobs. The time frame on this is quite fast – due to contracts that can’t be fulfilled in the existing premises, Emmy’s wants to start construction this fall and have the building opened by Spring 2019. Rowlee Construction of Fulton (Oswego County) has been retained as the general contractor.

According to the documentation, Emmy’s is seeking the standard 7-year abatement plus an energy incentive that enhances the 7-year abatement (the incentive tweaks the tax rate for those seven years and saves Emmy’s an extra $73,820), as well as mortgage recording and sales tax exemption on equipment and construction materials purchases. The abatement plus energy incentive would save $215,142, the sales tax exemption $97,600, and the mortgage tax exemption $4,298, for total savings of $317,040. New taxes in the first seven years would total $70,889 in revenue to the county, city and ICSD.

Although the application says 19 new jobs, that might be for both phases – only seven jobs are listed in the application, four production positions ($13-$15/hour), a $20/hour clerical positive and two $45/hour administrative positions. They state they are willing to pay a living wage, so it seems the IDA could make that part of the conversation. The meeting will be Thursday the 13th.