Tompkins Center for History and Culture Construction Update, 7/2018

2 08 2018

I don’t usually spend much time covering renovations, but here’s a major project that deserves a good summary.

Let’s start this off with a little self-promotion by linking to the summary and project team interviews I did for the Voice pack in February. The History Center (THC) is a non-profit that celebrates Tompkins County’s past, with an eye towards improving its future. It’s a source for genealogists, historians, teachers, archivists, and many of the old-timey photos that the Voice, Times and other news outlets share with intrigued readers. The History Center has been renting space at 401 East State Street (Gateway Center) on a 25-year lease, due to expire this year.

When weighing their options, there were a couple of reasons why a move was looking better than a renewal of the lease. For one, it would give them a chance to find a more visible place to call home – a higher-profile location would give them more opportunity to be seen, and hopefully be heard. For two, the rent on their existing space was set to go up quite a bit, nearly doubling to $90,000/year.

It happened that Tompkins Trust was in the midst of building its new headquarters, so there was potentially some space opening up in the downtown area. A prime site availed itself in a pair of buildings along the pedestrian-only block of 100 North Tioga Street, better known as “Bank Alley” since nearly all the buildings along it were occupied by banks. 106 North Tioga Street, the shorter brick building, was the county clerk’s office when it was built back in 1863. Its neighbor at 112 is relatively young, built for the predecessors of Tompkins Financial in 1895. 106 was acquired by the bank in 1949, and various renovations from the 1950s through 1980s brought the buildings together as a bank complex with a modern connector space between them. After initial discussions in 2015, Tompkins Financial said it was open to a sale of the 18,826 square-foot space, and the county, who helps covers The History Center’s expenses, paid for a $15,000 feasibility study.

The first public discussion of the plan, then dubbed “The Tompkins County Heritage Education Center”, was in October 2016. The feasibility study checked out, so in January 2017, The History Center, in conjunction with other non-profits, requested $35,500 from the County Tourism Program for early stage development costs – a capital campaign, branding and marketing materials, and architectural drawings.

The project could be described as part “heritage tourism”, part visitor’s bureau and information center, and part non-profit office space. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture will house the CVB’s Downtown Visitors Center (part of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce) and The History Center on the first floor. The Wharton Studio Museum, the Dorothy Cotton Institute, and the Community Arts Partnership will also be major components of the project. Historic Ithaca and the Discovery Trail will also be affiliated with the Center, and a newly rebuilt “Tommy” bi-plane will be on permanent loan in the exhibit area. Most project partners will have office space on the second and third floors. The History Center is promoting the TCHC as a co-working space that would allow non-profit partner organizations to work together more efficiently, enabling them to share the costs of administrative functions, and tackle and divvy up larger grants and projects.

The Tompkins Center for History and Culture was a bit of an effort to name. It was initially turned down by the county legislature last summer because they wanted The History Center to do community outreach and make sure people were okay with the moniker. And two legislators still opposed the new name, one for not having the exact phrase of “Tompkins County” in it. To be honest, it’s a mouthful even now.

The project’s costs are estimated at about $3.75 million, but the enumerated amount is $3,345,100. Originally, the cost was $2.9 million. The county paid $2 million for the property, about $400,000 below assessment. The other $900,000 was for hard and soft costs related to the renovation itself. As for recuperating some those costs, $1.365 million is being paid for by a pair of NYS grants, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, and a $305,000 economic development grant, which were awarded as part of the state’s economic development competition in December 2017. An earlier state grant gave $28,500 towards planning costs of the project. Another portion ($100,000) will be covered through some of the hotel room tax. Another $450,000 or so will come out of the $1.75 million being raised in the a capital campaign supported by individual and institutional private donors.

The county initially expected to be on the hook for $350,000. But in May, The TCHC requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, which the county would have to cover in the short-term. The extra cost, raising the renovation’s price tag to $1,345,100, was attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The legislature is hoping the expense is justified through the boost in tourism (30,000 visitors, a mix of local and non-local, will walk through its doors annually after it opens) as well as the modest rent it will charge the non-profits for the office space.

STREAM Collaborative is doing the design work, Tetra Tech did the structural engineering, New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area and Iron Design developed the logo, website and marketing material. On the construction side, Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, has the the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, won the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, earned the Electrical Contract ($135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and just finished a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

With Tompkins Financial now in its new HQ and out of Bank Alley, construction could proceed and the formal “groundbreaking” for renovation was last month, Tompkins Center for History and Culture is expected to open in early 2019. The website for TCHC can be found here.

At this point, asbestos removal by LCP Group has been finished, and some of the windows have been removed in 112 North Tioga while non-load bearing interior walls are removed and the interior space is reconfigured for its new tenants. Exterior work will generally be limited to murals, lighting and signage.

Render:

July 7th:

July 27th:





News Tidbits 7/21/18

21 07 2018

1.. I rarely check in on Groton, but here’s an interesting little rehabilitation. Back in August 2017, I noted that a historic village church at 113 Church Street was for sale. The buyers last February were David and Delsy DeMatteo, who own and rent out a number of Groton-area properties. The DeMatteos appear to have submitted and received approval for a plan to renovate the structure into a 12-unit apartment building, replacing the religious-turned-commercial space with ten apartment units (two units already exist). From the look of it, the ten new units would consist of eight one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units. The plan was approved in late fall when the DeMatteo likely had a purchase option on the property, and the sale closed on February 8th. Always nice to see new life breathed into a place that played a role in the lives of many.

2. Over in Dryden village, the second phase of the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreens development site is being marketed. Great Dane Properties is touting 5,700 SF of space for lease, with a drive-thru option should one desire it. The spec site plan can be seen here – the render above is likely the north elevation. Early conversations stated a 3,800 SF restaurant space (typical for a fast food /chain coffee shop), 1,900 SF of other retail space, and 33 parking spaces, but the plan is vanilla box, meaning minimally finished interior – it’s a shell with the exterior complete and all the utilities are good to go, but the build-out of fixtures, finishes and partitions is up to the tenant. A second commercial real estate posting suggests a 2019 build-out, though it’s more likely based on the ability to secure a primary tenant.  That listing also floats a hotel as another possible use of the location.

The first post came from Craigslist, which as a matter of personal opinion, that seems a bit unbecoming for high-value commercial listings, and may not effectively reach the target market of business owners and RE corporate development teams. You’re trying to fill 5,700 SF of new retail space, not sell Grandma’s old couch.

3. Also in Dryden, plans for a new veterinary office building at 1650 Hanshaw Road. Existing site plan here, proposed site plan here, elevations here. It’s not a particularly large project – a one-story metal building 4,800 SF in size, with revised landscaping 14 new parking spaces. The new building would go in front of the existing building on the property, so not much in the way of site prep required. The plans are being drawn up and led through review by local architect George Breuhaus.

4. It looks like the gut renovation and expansion of 1020 Craft Road is complete. The $1.88 million project involved taking the existing 10,500 SF car dealership-turned-industrial building, tearing out everything except the support beams, and fully rebuilding the interior along with constructing an additional 4,400 SF of space. Three commercial office spaces were completed, and it appears Cayuga Medical has leased two of the spaces for medical offices. The project was developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton.

 

5. Speaking of renovations, it looks like someone is interested in the former Tau Epsilon Phi house at 306 Highland Road in Cayuga Heights. The plans show 15 “units” and potentially up to 48 beds, which sounds like a group living situation, but the plans do not identify the developer. The first phase would involve exterior and interior renovations for 36 beds in the 3,400 SF building, enclosing the side porch and constructing a small addition on the southeast face to create a new entrance. A second phase is shown in the documents that would seek a 1134 SF, 12-bed addition at what is currently the front entrance of the early 1960s building, the east facade. It was previously noted that 306 Highland was for sale for $1.385 million, which was steadily reduced to $1.025 million before being taken off the market at the start of June. The village will begin site plan review of the project at its Planning Board meeting on July 23rd.

6. On to Lansing. Here’s a little more about the Hillcrest Tiny House project -memo here, application here, drawings by architectural firm SPEC Consulting here,  . The five homes would be built on 16 Hillcrest Road, a parcel split by Hillcrest Road where it intersects with Warren Drive – the developer is the home owner who lives on the other half of the parcel, south of the intersection. The triangular northern piece would host the rather traditional-looking cottages, which would be one-bedroom units, about 450 SF each, and have two parking spaces apiece. The land is zoned industrial/research, which allows commercial and industrial uses – the owners argue that its location on the west side of Warren Road near other residential development along Hillcrest means that a commercial or industrial use would be out of character.

One could make an argument that this is desirable in that their small size would help address the  middle-market for housing demand, which has been lacking in new options, resulting in existing options being pressured upward in price. The project would cost about $200,000 to build and the owner/developer estimates two months to build each cottage, though it’s not clear if construction of each cottage would be concurrent, or one at a time.

Quick side note, Milton Meadows has submitted a construction plan for the new access road in tandem with the town’s realignment of the Woodsedge Drive/Route 34 intersection. Taylor the Builder, the general contractor for the project, is planning for November 2018 – September 2019 for the 72-unit affordable apartment complex.

7. Urban Core LLC has started exterior demolition and reconstruction work for the Press Bay Court project. I’ve been waiting to officially move this into the construction column for a while, could never quite be sure when walking past – the full rundown and description of the project can be found in the October introduction here. To quote part of it:

“What Urban Core’s latest plans would do is expand that “experiential” micro-retail mix eastward towards the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets, the Commons and the downtown core. The parking lot in front of D. P. Dough would be converted into a plaza much like Press Bay Alley’s, and the first floor of 108-110 West Green would be renovated into 5-8 micro-retail units facing the new plaza (the Green Street entrances would be retained), with 320-2200 SF per unit. The second floor would be renovated into four below-market rate one-bedroom apartments with 510-660 SF of living space, and the exterior masonry would be cleaned and repaired. The hawk mural will be preserved. New signage, bike infrastructure, curbing, sidewalks and a parklet are included in the plans. The total square footage in phase two is about 9,000 SF.”

8. 105 Dearborn has received a construction loan to move forward. The 10,930 SF, 12-bedroom, 16-person high-end skilled care facility will cost $4.2 million to build according to the loan filed this Friday the 20th, and over the next year it’ll slowly take form on what is now a vacant corner in leafy Cornell Heights. Bridges Cornell Heights will run the facility, and add a handful of news jobs as a result of the new addition. Tompkins Trust Company is the lender, and the historically-inspired design was penned by Rochester-based Bero Architecture.

7. Looks like a fairly interesting monthly meeting ahead for the Ithaca City Planning Board. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance – Consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Stewart Park Inclusive Playground 6:30
Location: Stewart Park
Applicant: Rick Manning for the City of Ithaca
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes

Project Description: The project was approved by the Planning Board on March 27, 2018. The applicant is now requesting project changes, including relocation and redesign of the bathrooms and parking area, and layout and programming changes to the overall playground.

The bathroom building was to be combined with a pavilion, but that proved to be expensive and the playground architects had bad experiences with the original structural supplier, so local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative stepped in to design a separate 24′ x 24′ bathroom building with utility rooms and storage space. The pre-school playground and sand garden were moved, the splash pad tweaked, some swings were added and the adult wellness area was deleted for this initial buildout.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision & Construction of a Duplex 6:45
Location: 209 Hudson Street
Applicant: Jagat Sharma, architect, for Bia Stavropoulos, owner
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance

Touched on this one a couple of weeks ago – the project was revised from two duplexes to just one, with three bedrooms per unit. Even development-averse councilwoman Cynthia Brock offered support for the plan (with minor aesthetic tweaks), which is about as good as one can hope for a green light to proceed. Note no approvals are planned because this has to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a lot size variance.

C. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 7:00
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Subdivision Approval and Site Plan Approval

BZA gave Ronsvalle’s five-unit rental project in Fall Creek the all-clear. This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

D. Project: North Campus Residential Initiative (NCRI)
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture on behalf of Cornell
Actions: Intent to Declare Lead Agency

This will be huge – 766,000 SF of space for 2,000 student dormitory beds and associated program space, including a 1,200 seat dining hall. I’ll have more coverage next week. John Novarr favorite ikon.5 is the project architect.

E. Hudson Street Townhomes – 117-119 Coddington Road –Sketch Plan 7:50

One of this week’s new shinies. This project appears to be slated for a parking between two apartment complexes and across the street from the Elks Lodge just north of Ithaca College’s campus. Depending on how they reconfigure the existing parking lot, they could do a high single-digit or low double-digit number of townhomes. Zoning here is R-3b. Up to four floors/40 feet, 40% lot coverage, one parking space per unit of per three bedrooms (two spaces for 4-5 bed units). Lot coverage may end up being based on a subdivision, since this falls into the South Hill Zoning Overlay and no additional primary structures are allowed on a lot. The property has been owned by the Dennis family since 1979, but the developer may be someone else with a purchase deal on the subdivided lot.

F. Falls Park Project – 121-125 Lake Street – Sketch Plan 8:05

This would be whatever Travis Hyde Properties is planning for the former Ithaca Gun site on Gun Hill. I have been told this is “substantially different” from the earlier Ithaca Falls Residences plan. Assume residential. This was rezoned R-3a not long back, up to four floors/40 feet, 35% lot coverage, one parking space per unit of per three bedrooms (two spaces for 4-5 bed units). I would expect a fair number of units for a 1.42 acre property; the IFR plan was 45 units.

5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3102, 209 Hudson St., Area Variance
#3103, 216 University Ave., Area Variance
#3104, 737 Willow Ave., Area Variance




Harold’s Square Construction Update, 7/2018

17 07 2018

Harold’s Square is starting to take shape. The white sheets on top of the basement level are Sika Corporation UltraCure NCF curing blankets. When the steel was laid, corrugated decking was laid on top to create the base of the floor. A rebar wire mesh was then laid and tied into place, and the concrete was poured into the floor cavity, with wood forms to keep the pour in place. The rebar strengthens the concrete and ensures structural integrity. In this mid-June Facebook photo from the Harold’s Square page, you can see the decking going over the structural steel. A week and a half later, you can see the rebar grid over the completed decking. The concrete was poured in early July, the slab was covered in the cellulose fiber blankets to promote an even and structurally sound cure, and after seven days they tested the concrete and the results came back all-clear, meaning they can start to put weight on the concrete and work their way up.

Meanwhile, structural steel erection will be taking a short break as masonry work begins on the Commons-facing side of the project, followed by masonry work on the Sage Building. The steelwork will resume in late July. Subcontractor Paolangeli will be doing backfilling (earthwork to cover up the foundation) on the Green Street (south) side of the project now that the shell of the basement has been built.

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





City Centre Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

Not too much to add here regarding City Centre. The modular exterior panel system continues to rise. These photos were taken last weekend when the building was up to its sixth floor, and it’s not up to the seventh of its eight floors. For those needing a more regular fix, the webcam on the top of Seneca Way updates every fifteen minutes or so, and can be seen here. Looks like it missed me by three minutes.

Here’s an interesting little aside. A few folks have complained, in the way that many of us like to do, that the name “City Centre” is rather pretentious, particularly the faux-British English ‘Centre’. Newman Development Group has actually reused the name on another project they’re doing, in Lincoln Nebraska. That project is significantly larger than Ithaca’s, an $85 million downtown redevelopment of the former Lincoln Journal-Star newspaper office and printing press into a ten-story mixed-use with first-floor retail, two floors of offices, and 239 apartments on the upper floors. Like Ithaca’s project, it’s one of the largest urban projects in the city (rather impressive given Lincoln is ten times Ithaca’s size), and received a local tax abatement on the order of $15 million. Lincoln was selected by Newman specifically because its downtown area is close to a major university, in this case the University of Nebraska. Perhaps their Ithaca project is a new market pioneer for them – they see potential success in a mix of urban professionals and college students, and are looking for other opportunities in similar communities.

Looking at the apartment rental prices is enough to give most folks pause. Studios, which make up 33 of the 193 units, range from $1,795-$1,875/month. the 120 1-bedroom units go from $1,995-$3,015/month, and the 39 two-bedrooms range from $2,560-$3,415/month. With those prices, a prospective tenant could rent an entire house for themselves in Fall Creek or Northside; maybe it’s for the best that their attentions are drawn here instead. For the sake of comparison, City Centre Lincoln is $900-$1,200/month.

More information about Ithaca’s City Centre can be found here.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

As previously mentioned on the Voice, the new 131-room Canopy by Hilton is one floor short of topping out. Interestingly, the ground level/lobby uses Georgia-Pacific DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing, while the upper level use National Gypsum eXP boards. I’m not sure why the change – both are fire-rated, mold and water resistant. It probably doesn’t have to do with the exterior finishes (brick veneer is used at both ground level and on some of the wall projections above), but it’s possible it has to do with the construction material. The ground level is composed of poured concrete, while the upper floors are structural steel and accompanying steel stud walls. Regardless of the reason, both are being covered with the same water-resistive barrier. You can see the interior stud walls through the rough window openings, but interior work hasn’t progressed much farther than that on the more recently erected upper floors. The lower floors appear to be undergoing utility rough-ins.

It still isn’t clear what the replacement panel color will be for the yellowish “Applesauce Cake” – not sure if Whitham Planning and the rest of the project team persuaded the city “Dark Ash” grey was okay, or if another color was chosen. If someone knows, feel free to chime in the comments.

Further information on the Canopy hotel can be found here.





News Tidbits 6/10/2018

11 06 2018

1. For those of you looking out for something interesting next week, here’s your notice. In the village of Lansing Monday night, a sketch plan is set to be shown involving a cluster home development on the remaining phases of the Millcroft property, about 40 acres off of Millcroft Lane and Craft Road. According to the agenda, the proposal comes from Ithaca-based landlord/developer Beer Properties in partnership with Hunt Engineers.

The back story here is that the Millcroft subdivision was approved in the mid 2000s as a three-phase, 31-lot development for high-end ($500k+ homes). As it turns out, the market for that, absent lake views and on relatively small lots, isn’t so great. The Great Recession didn’t help either. The first phase of 14 lots is mostly built out, and the second phase was approved and shows up on town maps, but no construction has taken place. The village has been aware of a project in the works since at least February.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the property listing for the land, which was on Zillow for quite a while – I recall a figure around $850-$950k. The property falls in the village’s medium density residential zone, Cluster zoning means the lots themselves are smaller to preserve natural space. However, the maximum number of units is the same as maximum allowed by regular zoning – 40 acres in sewered Lansing village MDR means up to 87 units, if I’m doing the math right. Not sure if single-family, townhome or otherwise, so keep an eye out for a follow-up.

2. For sale, 15.31 acres off of Wellsley Drive in the village of Dryden. Sewered, watered, and originally planned for 36 homes but never approved. Price of the land $149,900.

Here’s maybe the more interesting part – this borders Maple Ridge. Maple Ridge’s first phase is built out, and the developer, Paul Simonet, would like to build the roads and lay out phase two (and eventually phase three). However, the village’s issue is that there’s only one entry and exit into the development – something they’ve been hesitant to sign off on because of possible safety/access issues.

Now, this may have already been resolved – the village of Dryden has only updated their website twice since February, with legal paperwork for keeping fowl – but if not, there’s the option of buying the Wellsley Drive property and routing a road through there. Maybe $150k plus the extra road work isn’t in Simonet’s price range, but it’s at least an option.

3. The village of Trumansburg commissioned an independent study from Camoin Associates (the same folks who did the Airport Business Park study) looking at the financial impacts of 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) on the village. I’ve been told this wasn’t public yet, but it’s on the village’s planning board webpage, so I dunno about that.

Quick refresher: 73 units. 56 affordable, 17 market-rate. 6 affordable rental townhomes, 40 apartments, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, and 17 market-rate units, single-family and townhome style. 140 residents at full buildout in 2023, assuming one per bedroom.

Here’s the TL;DR on the finances. The net income to the village itself is -$23,757/year when fully built out. The unfortunate truth of residential development is that, frankly, people have needs. They use roads, they call police and fire, they use municipal power lines and water pipes and sewer mains. It is not offset by the village’s share of property taxes, here in this mixed-income example, or in the vast majority of cases. This is a reason to advocate housing density, because the impacts on, say, building new roads or infrastructure is often less per unit.

On the flip side, the school district, which makes up a greater share of the property taxes, sees a net increase of $97,669/year when fully built. Tax revenue more than offsets the expenditure of approximately 33 new students. Not everyone living in has a child, but everyone pays school taxes. This money not only helps the district, the incoming students help ameliorate concerns that declining enrollment may soon lead to consolidation with a neighboring district.

Economic impacts can be broken down into three components – the construction jobs, long-term operation/maintenance, and growth induced by the new residents, who will not just live locally, they will also shop, dine and spend money in the village. There will be an estimated $18.17 million spent on construction, $1.45 million will be spent within the County, creating 20 construction job-years in total (note there are multiple guys on site once, the project is expected to be fully complete within five years), and nearly $695,000 in total earnings. Operation/maintenance in perpetuity creates the equivalent of two jobs, creating $60,732 in earnings and $229,782 in sales. The households will spend nearly $1.7 million yearly within the County, which will support 20 total jobs with over $676,500 in earnings per year. In other words, $2 million spent in the county, 22 jobs and $737,500 in net new earnings from having those 140 more residents in the village.

By the way, if one was inclined to read 289 pages of public comments about 46 South, that can be found here. The project will be discussed at the village board’s meeting Monday evening.

4. Let me note this before I forget again – Park Grove’s Bomax Drive Apartments have started construction. The first two strings of 10-unit, three-bedroom townhomes are expected to be completed by Spring 2019. I’ll make a site visit soon for a longer write-up.

5. Meanwhile, the Triphammer Row townhomes are on pause until the road situation gets worked out. The village won’t sign off on using M&T Bank’s parking lot as an entry route, and the Sevanna Park condos don’t want to allow access to the 15 units through their private road. As a result, the village is seeking to have the road turned over to them, in part to encourage this for-sale plan, and in part because will ownership of the entry road to Sevanna Park will allow them to install better curb cuts and traffic control.

6. Here’s a for-sale property with some small-scale redevelopment potential, this one in the city of Ithaca. A dilapidated house is for sale at 815-17 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. thanks to unsympathetic additions, the historic value is marginal. A buyer could restore it, or if interested, since it’s a double-lot, they could split the lot in two and do a two-family home on each property. Given other recent projects in the area such as 202 and 204 Queen Street and 128 West Falls Street, it appears to be an opportunity to do some modest densification keeping with Fall Creek’s fabric without upsetting the community too much in the process. The property is for sale for $269,000.

7 Let’s tie this up with something intriguing. Next week, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee is being asked to support a grant application by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to the New York Main Street (NYMS) grant program. They are seeking $322,500 from the state to leverage work on four downtown projects – a commercial project in the Clinton House, a commercial project in the Boardman House, a “commercial and housing project” at 108 West State Street (the Ithaca Agency Building), and a 12-unit development by Visum Development in the West State Street Corridor. Any rehabbed housing units will be required to be 90% area median income for at least five years, but I dunno if either housing plan has existing units, I think the Ithaca Agency Building was all office space. STREAM Collaborative just moved into the second floor, so they would know best.

Quick postscript here – there’s nothing but an outline according to the DIA’s Gary Ferguson, so no Voice writeups for a while yet.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.