Harold’s Square Construction Update, 3/2019

24 03 2019

It seems we can move this one back into the under construction column? It’s been a weird few months.

The developers, L Enterprises (David Lubin) and Mcguire Development of Buffalo, parted way with Taylor the Builders, the construction manager, back in January. They were able to line up another construction manager in LeChase Construction of Rochester, which has done its fair share of work around Ithaca and Tompkins County. Issues with transferring control and insurance paperwork of the 300-ton crane, however, delayed the project’s construction by several weeks, but the project did finally resume in early March.

I can tell you that whole “craziness”, as project rep Vicki Taylor Brous put it, gave a lot of city staff and elected officials heartburn. Given the city’s recent policy of advocating for density and downtown development, a hulking, stalled steel skeleton was the type of thing that was going to really make any future project a difficult sell.

It was also very upsetting for neighboring business owners. The project has already created some frustration with its blockading of the Commons playground out of safety concerns. The construction, and lack thereof, created an unattractive nuisance, with people steering away from neighboring businesses and taking their money elsewhere. The abatement was shifted forward a year, but not without significant blowback from members of the general public who had taken the opportunity to air their grievances with the development team. The current plan is to have the office and retail space available for occupancy by the end of the year, with housing occupancy by spring 2020.

At the crux of the issue are claims by Taylor that the project had undergone significant changes and that Taylor wanted to be compensated for the late changes. Although downplayed at the time, it became clear in the months since that there were major programmatic and minor aesthetic changes. The programmatic change was the reduction of 30 micro units (for a new total of 78) to make way for an additional 10,000 SF of office space for an unspecified tech tenant, as mentioned in the revised IDA application. (For those curious, the rumor mill says it’s a growing local tech firm; 10,000 SF is about the right size for a 40-50 person operation). Most of its commercial spaces appear to still be on the market.

There have also been some substantial if overall minor aesthetic changes, partially as a result of transitioning some residential space back to commercial offices. Some of the metal panels are being replaced with a terra cotta exterior finish, elimination of a mechanical screen because the equipment was smaller than first anticipated, the addition of balconies on the corners, the elimination of two windows per floor on the south face in order to comply with International/NYS Building Code, and window revisions on the fifth floor for the new tenant.

The renderings at the end of this post were published in 2018. The designs are for the revisions that were reviewed by the planning board last month, with the exception of the fifth floor office tenants and changes to suit them. The only reasons I can come up for waiting to submit these changes, was that either they didn’t have to (as mentioned before, after approval, the circumstances required for re-approval are rather murky), or that they weren’t sure what was going to happen with the fifth floor and wanted to have all their revisions in one package to avoid further trips to the board. It’s not clear when they began negotiating with the tech tenant, and when Taylor started to have issues working with the developers.

Anyway, work has recommenced on the steel structure, as the eighth floor is built out. Since the upper floors have small floorplates, the building’s steel structure will likely top out before the start of summer. From there, it’s fireproofing, sprinkler systems, exterior and interior wall framing, rough-ins, sheathing, and all the fun stuff that makes a building begin to look like its final product.





City Centre Construction Update, 3/2019

24 03 2019

All of City Centre’s retail occupants have been identified – 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.

A glance at their Instagram suggests that as of a week ago, about 100 of the 192 apartment units have been reserved. There don’t appear to be any particular trends in the unit selection, an off-the-cuff suggests a similar occupancy rate for studios, one-bedroom and two-bedrooms, and there’s no strong preference in floors, though perhaps there’s a slight preference towards interior-facing units (I wouldn’t call it statistically significant). It appears they’re filling at a good clip now that graduate and professional students are making their commitments to Cornell (professional students, for example business/MBA and law/JD students, tend to be older and wealthier, and are one of the target markets for the project). If trends continue, the project will be in good shape for its June opening, with full retail occupancy and high residential occupancy, even at City Centre’s decidedly upmarket prices.

On the exterior, some of the Overly and Larson ACM metal panels have yet to be installed (mostly on the back./interior side), trim and exterior details are partially in place, and the ground level is still being built out with commercial doors and utility fixtures (garage doors for commercial deliveries, for example). The roof membrane doesn’t appear to be in place yet either. Overall, though, the exterior is substantially complete, and it looks like the will finish out over the next several weeks on schedule, which is a pretty big deal for a 218,000 SF $53 million project. Kudos to Purcell Construction and their subcontractors on that. Signage and landscaping will also go in this spring. I’m not big on the patterning of the metal panels (which looks like design by MS Paint), but it seems to be the go-to exterior material of choice.

Background information and the history of the project can be found here.

 





News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





Village Solars Construction Update, 2/2019

3 03 2019

It was with some surprise that the latest trip to the never-ending Village Solars construction site yielded significant progress on only one apartment building, instead of the usual two or three. The 24-unit Building “L” is mostly complete from the outside, and likely to open for occupancy this spring, adding another 3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios to the market. 24-unit Building “M”, just to its east (right, in the photos), appears to have not made much progress; excavation was completed, and it looks like there are wood forms for the foundation on site, though with the snow and active work underway, it was hard to tell if the concrete slab had been poured – judging from the dirt piles, that’s a no.

Local Law #6 (2017) of the Village Solars PDA permitted three additional buildings to be built before Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente Property) was legally obligated to build the community center building (Building “F”), which is to contain a small amount of commercial space (restaurant), service space (gym, laundry, rental office) and up to twenty one-bedroom units. If “L” and “M” are completed this year, that will allow one more building to receive a building permit before the community center must be built and receive a certificate of occupancy (i.e. habitable and practically complete). Until then, no additional building permits are allowed. The law also stipulates that the community center has to be completed, regardless of the status of other apartment buildings, by the end of 2020.  Like other apartments, it won’t be subject to site plan review, bu any potential commercial applicant would have to undergo site plan review.





East Pointe Apartments Construction Update, 2/2019

1 03 2019

With so much construction underway at one site, I figured it’d be easiest to try and color code this using the site plan.

Red boxes overlay townhouse strings that are largely complete from the outside. Green is framed and sheathed (plywood with Tyvek housewrap), but lacks exterior siding, trimboards and architectural details. Blue are townhouse strings where framing is underway. Looking at the site and comparing it to the site plan above, it seems that the community center is actually to the east (right) of the entrance, so there likely going to be two townhouse strings to its left (west), one of which is framed and one of which is just a foundation at this point.

Knowing that the first units are expected to be open for occupancy on April 1st, I’d wager the three strings in red (~30 units) will be ready by that time, the community center and units in green (three strings, ~30 units) will be ready by June 1st, and the three strings in blue (~30 units) will be ready by September 1st. That would give roughly December 2019 and April 2020 for the last two sets, which sounds about right from the construction timeline I’ve seen for a spring 2020 completion.

Rents on the units are as follows, per the project website and multiple apartment advertising websites:

# BRs/ # BAs / Monthly Rent / Square Footage / Unit Code

1 BR 1 Bathroom    $1,695    820 Sq Ft   B
1 BR 1 Bathroom    $1,795    873 Sq Ft   C
2 BRs 2 Bathrooms $1,895 1,093 Sq Ft   A
2 BRs 2 Bathrooms $1,910 1,095 Sq Ft   E
2 BRs 2 Bathrooms $1,975 1,157 Sq Ft   G
2 BRs 2 Bathrooms $1,995 1,090 Sq Ft   F
3 BRs 2 Bathrooms $2,445 1,268 Sq Ft   D

Layouts can be seen here. Each townhouse string contains a mix of 1-3 bedroom units. In total there are 14 three-bedroom, 90 two-bedroom, and 36 one-bedroom units, which doesn;t break down neatly by fourteen townhouse string, so there are some variations.

Those variations also show up in the exterior finishes. The units near completion now use what looks like Certainteed vinyl siding and trimboards. Type “1” is tan and navy blue siding with stone accents around entrances, and Type “2” is slate grey and yellow siding, though I didn’t get a close enough look to see if these have stone accents as well (there were crews actively working on site). The rendering in advertisements suggests there will be a third type, Type “3”, with beige and olive green vinyl siding and stone veneer accents.

Just like the townhouse strings, the community center is a different design than first advertised. So basically, nothing in the built project quite matches the plans that were publicly available, whether it be building designs or site plans. The only things that have stay constant are the fourteen strings of ten units with a community center and a loop road. Not a fan of surprises here, but we’ll see how the finished product is looking once more of the site has been built out later this year.

More information about the project’s history and seemingly accurate details can be found here.

 





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 2/2019

26 02 2019

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

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

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

More info about the project can be found here.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 2/2019

25 02 2019

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

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

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

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