News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





Tompkins Center for History and Culture Renovation Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

The new Tompkins Center for History and Culture is progressing towards its April 2019 opening. There’s not much to see from t he outside, since this is an interior renovation, albeit a major, to-the-studs renovation. Some non-load bearing walls have been removed and the interior has been opened up. Back in October, the History Center spearheaded a community effort, called “Moving History Forward”, to move its thousands of historical artifacts from their old location in Gateway Center to the new TCHC a couple blocks away. Not only did it engage the community (the move required 330 volunteers), it also saved about $40,000 in moving expenses.

According to the building permit from October, LeChase Construction is on board as the general contractor for the $1.8 million project. Although based out of Rochester, LeChase maintains offices throughout the state – the firm opened an office in Ithaca, but the company website does not suggest it’s full-service, if it’s still used at all. Most Ithaca work is overseen by the Syracuse office. Matco Electric Corporation of Vestal is in charge of electrical work and rewiring, Lansing’s DFM Mechanical is doing the plumbing, and Eagle Mechanical of Wolcott (Wayne County) is doing the general mechanical work. Local firm Hayes Strategy is serving as the construction project manager, and STREAM Collaborative is designing the interior renovation. New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area within the renovated space, and some of those images are included below. From Tessellate’s website:

“The intent of the exhibits at the History Center in Tompkins County is to connect audiences to meaningful history and narratives about the past, present and future of the region through the use of interactive, immersive, media and object-based experiences. For this project, Tessellate designed a flexible series of modular Story Pods to work as a physical, visual, and technical system to accommodate current and future needs of the museum. This allows for an open floor plan, use of vertical space and height, dynamic header text/images, visitor seating, accommodating for groups, and the blend of physical, interactive and media design offered an optimal storytelling experience.”

Quick aside, Marchuska Brothers Construction was the county’s general contractor, Johnson Controls had the mechanical contract and Richardson Brothers the electrical contract for the initial renovation work. Not sure why there was a switch. The switch was because the History Center hired their own set of contractors for their buildout needs. From the architect, Noah Demarest: “The county owns the building so they had a contract to deal with some core facilities issues. Now the History Center is using their own contractors for the tenant build out. So it wasn’t a change, just the result of the open bidding process of two different entities working in the same space.”

A project description and development timeline can be found here.





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.





Bank Tower Renovation Update, 12/2018

27 12 2018

Plodding along here; it’s been a year since the project description and introductory post was written. The Fane Organization, which owns the building, is touting January 2019 availability for office suites on Floors 3-7. Floors 1 and 2 are “the new world headquarters for CFCU Credit Union”. Given the windows opening tarped over and awaiting replacement, and the state of the ground level (drywall and rough-ins ongoing, but fixtures and finishes still a ways out), that seems a bit optimistic. I have not heard of any changes to the original plan for CFCU to open at 202-204 East State Street next spring.

The new building logo, courtesy of the Fane Organization.





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.





Press Bay Court Construction Update, 12/2018

21 12 2018

For practical purposes, I’m calling this one complete as of the end of this year. At least one of the new stores was set up and ready for opening (Gee June Bridal) while a couple others were just starting to fit out their spaces with equipment for their own launches. Among them will be Halal Meat and Groceries, One Ring Donuts, Hair • Color • Art and Bramble, an herbal retailer, moving from its Press Bay Alley slot. Calzone restaurant D.P. Dough will move from the rear storefront to the front of the 108-114 West Green retail strip, right along West Green Street in the former Hausner’s Garage. The hawk mural was given a touch up courtesy of Connecticut-based street artist Ryan ‘ARCY’ Christenson.

The fitting out of the West Green Street retail units is ongoing, but the four apartment units are nearly complete with only minor finishing details left, and based off Press Bay Alley’s Instagram, it’s quite the transformation. From their facebook page:

Beautiful historic spaces with modern amenities. These apartments are truly unique. Original 1914 wood rafters and exposed wood deck ceilings, steel beams, and brick surfaces paired with completely new utilities and modern design features

• super-efficient air source heat pumps (heat and AC)
• all LED lighting
• brand new appliances (including dish washer and garbage disposal)
• tasteful modern cabinets with soft close hardware
• beautiful tile bathrooms with modern frameless glass shower enclosures
• freshly refinished original distressed hardwood floors
• Air tight spray foam insulation and high-performance rigid foam on the roof
• Sprinkler system for fire safety

Prices range from $1200-1300/month plus electric*

Included in the rent:

• WiFi Internet**
• Garbage and recycling disposal
• Water service

Apartments are substantially complete and available for a January 1 occupancy

*heat/AC and cooking are all electric, this is a fossil fuel free building

**building is NOT equipped with cable, internet is provided by high speed fiber optic line

$1200-$1300/month is more than the 75% AMI below-market units they were originally aiming for, but not by much – $1200/month works out to $48k-$52k/year, or 80-90% of the local AMI of $59k. “Workforce housing”, to borrow a Visum Development Group term for the 80-90% bracket.

The biggest deviation from the plans appears to be that the passage into the former Ithaca Journal press building has not been built, and instead of vegetation and hardscaping for the amphitheater and court pavers, it’s only vegetation. It’s not clear if the amphitheater and west entry to the press building will be built at a later time.

All in all, this is a great project to have in Ithaca’s Downtown. It extends the vitality of the Commons westward in a form sympathetic to the neighborhood and physical surroundings, making use of a vacant building. It also enhances Press Bay Alley by generating more foot traffic next door. It will provide complementary attractions to make downtown a more engaging place for visitors, and supplies a bit of new moderate-income housing. A big win for the city of gorges.

More info on the development of the project can be found here.

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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.