News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.





News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





News Tidbits 8/20/16: Another Campus Coming?

20 08 2016

Fairly quiet week, but still a few things going on-

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1. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds followed up on the pile-driving underway at the 210 Hancock site in Ithaca’s North Side neighborhood. Admittedly, no one wants to live next to a site while hearing and feeling the bang of the pile-driver against the piles being inserted into the ground. Thankfully, this phase of the affordable housing project should be wrapped up by the end of the month. Lecesse Construction’s subcontractor, Ferraro Piling and Shoring of rural Erie County, is inserting 10-15 piles per day between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM, and about 170 piles will be used in the project. Not fun for the neighbors, but this too shall pass.

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2. The town of Ithaca’s planning board had their close look at the Sleep Inn proposal for Elmira Road. They were not impressed. The primary complaints were that it was a one-sided design (meaning the front received significantly more cosmetic attention than the rear and sides), that it was big and that it was ugly.

The architect of the 70-room hotel, Joe Turnowchyk of HEX 9 Architects, responded with “all corporate hotels are basically ugly”, which isn’t the kind of response that will be well-received. It was followed with “[He thinks] that if they’re going to put more money into the front of the building, they shouldn’t need to address the rear”, which isn’t a good response either, because the rear faces the Black Diamond Trail.

Outsider looking in, one interpretation of the board’s commentary is that the stone and brick is fine, but they want less of a slab and more articulation – the recently-opened 64-room Best Western Plus in Cortlandville comes to mind. The massing is broken up, and architectural details and brickwork add visual interest, giving it aesthetic appeal even though the road is 40 or 45 MPH over there. The minutes note a comparison to an Arizona Sleep Inn to show what can be done with Choice Hotels brands. Anyway, the decision was tabled, with a revised design presentation planned for a September meeting.

3. New to the market this week – a duplex and five-unit mobile home park in Varna being marketed for “development potential”. The site is a one acre parcel at 10 Freese Road in Varna, touted as “perfect for townhouses or apartments”. Since the late 1980s, the “Wayside Mobile Home Park” has been the property of Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather, who was an ardent opponent of West End density and waterfront rezoning a few years back.

Zoning is Varna Hamlet Traditional District (VHTD), and it gets a little weird density-wise – per the guidelines, and being one acre, a developer could do four single-family homes, six townhouses, six condos, or three rental apartments, max 30% lot coverage. If LEED Certified, add 2 S-F homes, 2 townhouses, 1 condo, or 4 apartment units respectively. Lastly, there’s a redevelopment bonus, which honestly appears to be at the town’s discretion. If awarded, add another home, 2 townhouses, condo or 4 apartments. So in theory, max build-out for a green redevelopment is either 7 single-family houses, 10 townhouses, eight condos or eleven rental apartments on that acre of land. No idea what happens if they’re combos thereof.

Anyway, the property is being offered at $219,000, just a little over the $192,500 tax assessment.

4. So this is intriguing – the city of Ithaca Common Council will be taking a vote next Wednesday to take $150,000 from the $500,000 Capital Project fund to relocate and build a new Fire station #9, and fund two consolidation studies. One would consolidate the city hall, the Central Fire Station, Station No. 9, and Police HQ into a government campus at the site of the Central Fire Station at 310 West Green Street; the second is to study a centralized facility shared by water/sewer and streets/facilities. There’s a lot that need to be considered as part of the government campus study, which would likely involve buying neighboring properties, or building skyward. Also worth noting, the fire station parking lot is part of the Downtown West historic district. Anyway, look for a lot more discussion if the money is awarded and the study gets underway.

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5. This week’s eye candy. Folks on Orchard Place asked for more detailed renders of the proposed two-family home at 123 Eddy Street, and here they are. Medium yellow Hardie board with white trim was the original plan. It appears that after the original drawing was submitted, the roof was realigned and one of the west-facing (front) second-floor windows was removed.

Note that this is just the planning board lot subdivision approval – although a single two-family home is typically too small to trigger planning board’s site plan review qualifications, the design still has to be approved by the ILPC and the Board of Zoning Appeals.

6. Case in point – If you live in Fall Creek, you might notice a new two-family house in the coming months. The Stavropoulos family, owners of the State Street Diner, just purchased the house for sale at 1001 North Aurora Street (above asking price, which is, for better or worse, quite common in Fall Creek) and plans to replace it with a duplex. Tompkins Trust gave them a $400,000 construction loan on the 18th. It’s a little different from the Stavropoulos’ typical M.O., which is to buy an existing house and do major renovations, as they did at 318-320 Pleasant Street and 514 Linn Street. This one looks like it will be a completely new build. No BZA, ILPC or Planning Board approval is required here, just staff level approval from the city.

7. Somewhat interesting Planning Board meeting next Tuesday. Here’s what in the bullpen:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01
3. Subdivision Review 6:20

A. 123 & 125 Eddy St. (shown above)
Applicant: Nick Lambrou
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency PUBLIC HEARING Determination of Environmental Significance Recommendation to BZA

4. Site Plan Review 6:40
A. Project: Mixed-Use Building (Harold’s Square)
Location: 123-139 E. State St. (The Commons)
Applicant: David Lubin for L Enterprises, LLC
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes

So I wrote about these changes for the Voice. The Planning Board resolution calls for modifications to the new design. The board mandates glass block for the elevator shaft on the north and lower west facades, restoration of the terra cotta cap and vertical bands on the Commons-facing facade, and restoring a deleted window from the East facade above the Sage Building. Could really used some updated renders right about now.

B. Project: Mixed-Use Building — Collegetown Crossing 6:55
Location: 307 College Ave.
Applicant: Scott Whitham for
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes (Landscape)

Project Description: Some slight tweaks here to the pedestrian walkway, mostly changes “simplifying and altering materials for the landscape”. The curvy benches are now straight, and the trees were eliminated in favor of shrubs because of concerns of branches extending onto the fire station’s property.

C. Project: Apartment Building 7:05
Location: 201 College Ave.
Applicant: Noah Demarest, STREAM Collaborative, for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Amended Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance, Request for Zoning Interpretation & Appeal Consideration of Final Site Plan Approval

Dunno what to say about this one at this point, since this is unfamiliar territory for everyone involved. We’ll see what happens.

D. SKETCH PLAN: 607 S. Aurora St. 7:35

The new project of the month is for 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill. It’s a single-family home on a 0.7 acre lot owned by Lou Cassaniti, the hot dog vendor on the Commons, but rumor mill says the applicant is Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals. Zoning is R-2a, which is detached single-family and duplex. Semi-educated guess, given lot size, zoning and rumored developer, the plans are small-scale infill, maybe subdividing the existing lot to build a duplex or two.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50

5. Old/New Business 7:55

A. Chain Works District Redevelopment Project DGEIS: Special Planning Board Meeting, August 30, 2016, 6:00 p.m. to Review Comments/Responses
B. Maguire/Carpenter Business Park Temp. Mandatory Planned Unit Development (PUD): Public Information Session, Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 6:00 p.m., Common Council Chambers





News Tidbits 9/5/15: Ithaca the Diva

5 09 2015

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1. John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road has been given the green light. The city of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board approved the $12 million project at their August meeting. With approvals in hand, Novarr is free to start construction as soon as he has his construction loans, which should be no problem given that Cornell’s MBA program has agreed to occupy the whole building (though only about 70% of the space will actually be used at initial completion; the MBA program will fill out the building as their needs require). Conveniently, Novarr won’t have to worry about site demolition and asbestos removal because he cleared the site in May.

The 6-story, 73,000 SF building will begin construction in “four months” per the end-of-August Sun article, or November if the Site Plan Review (SPR) paperwork is still accurate. Completion of the building is anticipated for the second quarter of 2017. ikon.5 of Princeton, New Jersey is the project architect.

When filled out, the building will house 250 employees of the university, and 450 students of the Executive MBA program, who only attend classes in Ithaca during traditionally slow periods of the year (winter break and summer break; during the rest of the year, students attend weekend classes in the town of Palisades in Rockland County). To that effect, the project would go a long way in easing the strongly cyclical consumer traffic that makes it hard to do business in the largely-student neighborhood. Students also stay at the Statler while on campus, and staff and students will walk over from Cornell faculty/staff parking to get to the building.

Last month, the Tompkins County IDA approved a 50-year tax abatement for the project, in the form of a PILOT agreement. With the other option of Cornell buying the property and making it tax-exempt, the county has decided that something is better than nothing.

The project joins a slew of mostly residential projects under construction in the Collegetown neighborhood. 205 Dryden, 327 Eddy and 307 College are all underway, and several smaller projects were recently completed. The new investments total over $36 million, and with the exception of Novarr’s project, all the other projects will be taxed at full value.

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2. Meanwhile, there have some mild hang-ups with another project. The solar-powered townhomes in Dryden are seeing some resistance, mostly from the nearby Cornell Plantations, and from neighbors opposed to rental housing in Varna. The Ithaca Times piece uses this dandy of a line:

“Resident Cheryl Humerez, whose family and in-laws both own homes that neighbor the proposed project, was disgusted by the thought of a rental development, which might attract college students, becoming her neighbor.”

Going beyond the “disgusted” comment, most of the students that would live this far from Cornell’s campus would be graduate and professional students. Undergrads are less likely to have cars and tend to live in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Cornell’s core (Collegetown, Cornell Heights and parts of East Hill). Graduate and professional students tend to be like any other 20 or 30-something living on modest wages. The chances of a “keggers on Tuesday” kinda place are virtually nil. Also worth pointing out, Dryden’s town supervisor called Humerez out on that comment, saying she was saddened that renters were being described as a problem.

Cornell Plantations, as represented by Todd Bittner, has more legitimate concerns about litter, the driveway location and stormwater drainage; but glancing at the town minutes, it looks like the “I know we need development, just not in this neighborhood” argument also makes an appearance.

The town board (in Dryden, it seems the town board oversees public hearings of the planning board’s agenda) is taking a more level approach; acknowledging that it’s a decent project, community input is important for good development, and by incorporating mitigation measures to assuage worried neighbors, this has the potential to be a worthy community asset. Expect this project to evolve as we go through the next couple of months.

Also noted in the town minutes are plans for a 78,000 SF storage facility next to NYSEG at 1401 Dryden Road. Plans from a Cornell startup named “Storage Squad” call for “high quality, attractive self-storage” with 400 storage units in the first phase. The project will need site plan review.

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3. To anyone who’s passed by the vacant lot at 402 South Cayuga Street and wondered when INHS will start those for-sale townhomes: I’ve taken the liberty of checking. INHS director Paul Mazzarella stated in an email that “[t]he project is out to bid for a general contractor. The bids will be due next week. If the numbers are OK, we will start as soon as possible.” So barring any nasty shocks in the bids, the four-unit project (1 3-bedroom, 3 2-bedroom) will start in just a few weeks. As with other INHS projects, the units will be sold to qualified first-time homebuyers with modest incomes (anecdotally, that means the $40k-$50k range…it seems like half the buyers in the past year or so have been teachers in the ICSD).

4. In a rare bit of bad economic news in Ithaca, Ithaca College has announced its intent to slash about 40 staff positions from its workforce. This follows 47 job cuts in academic year 2014-2015, 39 of which were vacancies.

The cuts are part of an effort to bring tuition costs and help the college stabilize enrollment numbers, which have been sliding down lately. No faculty positions will be eliminated as part of the layoffs. IC currently has about 1,070 staff and 730 faculty, about 200 more than they employed a decade ago.

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5. The rumor mill said that a reporter from the New York Times was in town last Friday, and apparently they liked what they saw; the piece in the NYT takes a very positive and gracious approach with Ithaca and its recent urban developments. If you haven’t read it already, the link is here.

[What follows is a spark-notes version of the Voice piece – I’ll update with links after the weekend holiday.]

More importantly are some useful details in the piece – one of which is that we now know the revised mix of uses for the 11-story Harold’s Square project calls for 86 apartments, up from 46 when it was first approved in 2013. The apartment units will be a mix of 1-bedroom and 2-bedrooms. Readers may recall that the project dropped two floors of office space in favor of two floors of apartments. The project also includes about 11,000 SF of retail on the Commons.

In a phone conversation with developer David Lubin, the current plan is to start construction of the $38 million project in early 2016:

“Rev will be out at the end of September. We’ll probably begin demolition after the first of the year, after the holiday shopping season, we don’t want to be a nuisance to Christmas shoppers. We’ll have pop-up store space available during the holidays. They’re not solid, but those are out plans. We’ll see how it goes”.

Also, the project will be going back to the planning board.

“The planning board re-approved the current design [last month]. However, there will be changes to the design, as we’ve changed the office space to apartments and they have different needs, window placement, things like that. When we’re ready, we’ll present those to the planning board. Not September and probably not the October meeting, but before the end of the year.”

The project was originally approved in August 2013, with a CIITAP tax abatement package approved two months later. However, putting a financial package together has been a task.

“These things take time,” Lubin stressed. “The Marriott, that needed 3 or 4 years before they started. It can be a slow process.”

 

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6. For those keeping an eye on the Simeon’s reconstruction, expect to see some progress in the next couple of weeks. That’s according to an interview the Sun conducted with Simeon’s co-owner Rich Avery. The timeline has yet to be finalized, but the new restaurant space and luxury apartments are anticipated for completion by late next summer, with the resturant re-opening as early as February.

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7. Gosh, it’s nice to have the Sun back in session. Also from the Sun, incoming Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett has formally announced plans for new student housing, among other graduate student initiatives. From the Sun:

“Following her discussion on maintaining and promoting diversity among graduate students, Garrett announced the creation of new graduate student housing.

“My team and I are committed to working with the GPSA to create an inclusive and rewarding [graduate and] professional student living environment,” she said. “Most immediately, I am working now with my team to work on critical housing needs.”

According to Garrett, since the University’s Maplewood Park Apartments — a graduate student housing facility located near the Veterinary School — is closing, the University is currently collaborating with private partners to create new graduate-student housing at the Maplewood site and to develop additional housing in the East Hill Village.”

Heads up folks, East Hill Village isn’t even a thing a yet, it’s just a concept from the master plan. Anyway, this goes along with Ithaca town supervisor Herb Engman’s comments to the county that Cornell is engaging with consultants to bring a plan forward. There’s nothing else known about the plans, and it’ll be a few years before any students start moving in to new Cornell-sponsored digs, but everything has to start somewhere, and Cornell’s created quite a deficit for itself when it comes to providing adequate amounts of graduate housing.

Also, note the “collaborating with private partners” bit – these may or may not be tax-exempt, we shall see what happens.

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8. Here’s the latest update on State Street Triangle, courtesy of the Ithaca Times. I have to admit, although I technically compete for eyeballs via the Voice, I like Josh Brokaw’s writing, he tends to be a bit of a wiseass and it’s entertaining.

The big hang-up is massing. Not height, not tenant mix. A couple of ideas floated or suggested include height setbacks or overall reductions, and a redesign of the facade to make it appear more like separate buildings built next to each other.

According to Brokaw’s piece, some landlords are even questioning the need for new units, saying that all these new units could drive prices down.

Captain Obvious just arrived into port. By the way, given the recent growth in general and student populations and corresponding increase in demand for living space, if a landlord is having trouble filling their units right now, it’s probably not the city’s fault.

Campus Advantage has already spent $500,000 on the project, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to throw in the towel just yet. They were probably hoping for an approvals process as easy as their Pittsburgh apartment tower, but…live and learn.

 





News Tidbits 5/2/15: Oh, The Anticipation

2 05 2015

1. Lansing village is trying to find a happy medium in its zoning. Specifically, commercial zoning. The village is looking to rezone a group of properties along Triphammer Road near the mall from Commercial Low Traffic to Commercial Medium Traffic, a new kind of zone for the village. According to an article in the Lansing Star, the zone would include “low traffic food and beverage establishments [that] might include sit-down restaurants with or without a bar where food is consumed on premises, which may include carry-out or similar service such as [a] bakery or café,” as well as senior living facilities and certain stores under 10,000 square feet in size.

Most of this has to do with two parcels specifically – a vacant strip of land on Oakcrest Road is slated for a dozen units of senior housing that was a stipulation of the BJ’s approval. The senior homes are part of the BJ’s Planned Development Area and not explicitly affected, but are rezoned on technicality. A vacant parcel on the corner of Triphammer and Hickory Hollow Roads next to Ciao Italian Restaurant has received a lot of attention from outside developers, for hotels, liquor stores and general retail, but the current commercial low traffic zoning allows for none of those (CLT reads as limited to office buildings and isolated small shops). The zoning is under review and any changes would only be enacted after a public hearing at a later date.

 

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2. Here’s a pleasant surprise: drawings for a project on Cinema Drive in Lansing. My guess is that this is the project planned by the Thaler family, aka “CU Suites”. The CU Suites proposal described a 3-story, 43,000 sq ft building; the one shown here is 4 stories. The CU Suites proposal is also likely to break ground soon, just as this project is planning. I’m not 100% certain the two are the same thing, but if this were another project on that short street, I’d be very surprised.

Strangely, the source of these drawings is the Cornerstone Library proposal. The selected building partner, Taylor General Contractors of Rochester, was using it as an example of work underway.

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3. Then there’s another project Taylor General Contractors is involved in – Harold’s Square. Taylor has done some work for Harold’s Square developer David Lubin in the recent past, so this makes sense. Will it actually start in Fall 2015? Good question, but there’s been no word on if Lubin has closed on financing for his 11-story downtown project.

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4. No sketch plans have been uploaded to the city’s website just yet, but initial renderings for the new Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall were presented at the Planning Board’s meeting last Tuesday, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. According to AAP Prof. Jon Ochshorn’s blog, Cornell’s been trying to keep the design plans of this project under tight control, which is fairly unusual for a school that often promotes new projects well in advance (Klarman, Gannett, Gates).

So far, the only public release has been an image of an interior staircase, a soaring, unsettling feature that can be found throughout the works of the project architect, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller ’87.

University architect Gilbert Delgado did his part to sell the project. From the Sun: “[We’re] resetting the clock on this very important building,” he said. “This is the presence that we’re looking for: noble, early 20th century industrial building that’s been repurposed to our higher use which will exhibit one of the world’s greatest book collections.”

Speaking for only myself, I have concerns with how this is being managed. Cornell had planned to demolish Rand in the early 2000s to make way for Milstein Hall (which went through three starchitects before shovels hit the ground), but alumni blowback caused them to renege on that plan. It’s clear that there’s a certain sort of attachment that AAP alums have towards their structural workhorse. My worry, with the lack of details so far, is that Cornell is stymieing the flow of information for ignoble purposes. Students and alumni won’t be able to object and petition against plans they don’t see and hear about until the figurative last second. Plus, AAP hasn’t had good luck with budgets for new buildings – Milstein’s cost more than doubled from $25 million to $55 million during its incubation, while it shrank in size. In a time of fiscal stress for the university, a dramatic, structurally complicated new library may not be prudent. I’m not against this project explicitly, but I do have reservations.

Regardless of my armchair criticism, when renders do finally show up, you’ll see copies hosted here soon after.

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5. According to the town of Ithaca’s 2014 Planning Board report, Conifer has secured funding for “Cayuga Meadows“, its approved 68-unit (sometimes given as 62, unsure which is accurate) affordable senior housing building planned for West Hill. With finances in order, the 3-story, 19,520 sq ft building, sited just south of the Overlook at West Hill apartment complex, will likely start construction this year. Per Ithaca Builds, approvals were granted in late 2013 after a years-long planning process that had Cornell involved early on.

Some other projects still gestating include an 18-lot single family subdivision off of Park Lane in Eastern Heights, and Cornell clarifying plans for a large mixed-use project at or near East Hill Plaza.

 

 





News Tidbits 3/7/15: All is Not Well on East Hill

7 03 2015

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1. Leading off this week with a note of optimism – David Lubin, the developer of the proposed Harold’s Square mixed-used building in downtown Ithaca, says that plans for the 11-story building are still underway, according to a comment he made to the Ithaca Journal. Lubin says he’s currently in the process of lining up investors to finance the construction of the project, a challenging process once one tells investors that the project is in upstate New York. It’s not impossible to have a private project financed in Ithaca (if the Marriott underway down the street is any indication), but for a project costing $38 million, it’s no surprise that it’s taking a while. It’s easy to think that this one has slipped into the dustbin, but fortunately it has not.

Meanwhile, Ithaca Builds woke from its winter slumber to give an update regarding Lubin’s other big project, the Chain Works District for the old Emerson site on South Hill. Currently, the Chain Works District is in the process of writing up its Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). A DGEIS is part of the State Envrionmental Quality Review (SEQR), where the leading agency looks at a project, determines if any adverse project impacts are properly mitigated, and if so, issues a statement giving a negative declaration (approval). In this case, the NYS DEC also needs to be on board, approving the contaminated site for residential use. This is a pretty complicated project. There’s 800,000 sq ft of space to be removed or re-purposed, in an environmentally compromised site split between two political entities who are conducting joint meetings with their planning boards in an effort to try and move this project forward (the town of Ithaca board deferred to the city of Ithaca for lead agency; and both have rezoned the site to their respective specialized mixed-use zones). According to IB, the Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) contain about 60,000 pages of paperwork. The official timeline (already behind schedule, according to city docs) hopes to have the DGEIS submitted shortly, with a declaration of significance sometime in the Spring. In theory, Phase I site prep could start this year, but who knows if that will happen in practice.

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2. The ILPC (Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council) had a chance to review the four proposals for the Old Library site. Perhaps no surprise, the favored proposal was the Franklin/O’Shae proposal at top, which keeps the 1960s library and its “intrinsic historic value”. Members did, however, express some concern with the current building’s environmental contamination (asbestos). As for the other proposals, council members generally liked the Travis Hyde plan, and felt the Cornerstone and DPI projects were insensitive to the site (although one member expressed appreciation that at least the Cornerstone plan had affordable housing). It sounds like there will be some major tweaks to the building renders in the full proposals due later this month, so it’ll be best to hold off on judgment until those revised plans are published.

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3. Now for some bad news- Cornell is running into major financial problems, to the tune of a $55 million deficit. About half of that, $27.5 million, is expected to be reconciled with budget cuts (the other half will be covered by tuition increases). Considering the very large role Cornell plays in the local economy, this could have a chilling effect on local businesses that depend on Cornell or its employees. There are shades of 2009 here, when a projected $150 million deficit over 5 years resulted in 432 voluntary retirements, and hundreds of jobs lost.  The cut from 2008 to 2009 was a 5% reduction for the 2009-10 fiscal year, while the cut to go into effect for 2015-16 is estimated at 2-2.3%. Quoting an interview the Sun did with Skorton:

“[In the 2008 financial crisis,] We froze everybody’s salary for a year, paused construction, slowed down on hiring, developed a voluntary staff retirement incentive and 8 percent of the staff force was reduced … and [we had] a couple hundred layoffs, which is very, very hard to do,” Skorton said. “So that’s how the University acted in the worst crisis that ever happened. And so that’s a predictor of how it’s going to happen in this case.”

An article in the Sun a couple of days later notes that faculty employment is at an all time high. With 1,652 faculty in Fall 2014, Cornell has now passed 2007’s 1,647. – but one observant commenter, who I will happily buy a drink if I ever meet in person, notes that Cornell’s total enrollment is up 2,050 students since 2007. Devil’s in the details, folks – Cornell could use this “all-time high” as an excuse to not hire more faculty during its latest financial crisis, even though the student-faculty ratio have been increasing for years. Let’s not forget that faculty-student ratios are a crucial part of college rankings.

All of this is rather disconcerting news, especially in a time where the national economy has been picking up. Cornell has real potential to not only cause a localized recession, but also fall behind its peer institutions.

4. On a somewhat brighter note, even with this appalling winter, the construction of Klarman Hall is only nine days behind schedule, according to the Sun. Atrium glass installation should begin in April, and East Avenue will be reopened to two-way traffic around that same time. Although this project is well underway towards a December 2015 completion, one has a right to wonder if it is wise for Cornell to pursue the Gannett expansion and Upson renovation (valued at over $100 million combined) during these perilous financial times.

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5. The town of Lansing’s planning board is set to review some slight changes to the massive Village Solars apartment project at its Tuesday meeting.

First, a quick primer – while the whole plan is for about 300 units, the approved phases account for only 174 units, and are being built in phases. The photo updates I’ve previously featured here on the blog show the first phase underway, buildings “A”, “B” and “C” on the right (south), with 36 units total. There are four phases, with two sub-phases in phase 2. Phase 2 consists of D, E, G and H with their 41 approved apartment units, and phase 2A is building F, which has the community center as well as 10 more units.

The revised plan calls for moving 6 units from buildings G and H to building M, which is in phase 4. G and H are combined into one apartment building (G/H), leaving 35 units in Phase 2. There are a couple reasons cited for this change – when working with NYSEG to lay out the utilities, it was decided to make phase 2 all electric services, due to concerns that Lansing may not be able to provide gas service if the tense situation with the gas pipeline proposal on West Dryden Road doesn’t go in the town’s favor. One of the results of the utility infrastructure change was a difference in utilities layout, and it was deemed prudent to shirt the walkway northward. This impacted the site design, which is why the Lucentes are seeking to revise the PDA (planned development area, similar to the city’s PUD and the town’s PDZ).

The change isn’t huge, and isn’t likely cause too much consternation among board members. This is actually the first site plan I’ve seen for the project, since it was approved before the town uploaded supplemental docs to its webpage. More importantly, it’s much clearer how future phases could build out – if the ~300-unit project takes 8-10 years as projected, then estimating the construction of phase 2 and 2A from summer 2015-16 seems reasonable.

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6. Planning board members had mixed reviews about the Simeon’s rebuild, according to the Ithaca Times. While some members were excited about the rebuild, others expressed concern with the proposed addition of a second-floor balcony, seen in the above render by architect Jason Demarest. The project is eligible for state tax credits designed to renovate historic buildings, but if the credits are granted, then the balcony would not be built. If the credits are not granted, the building owners are looking not only at a balcony, but the possibility of widening the bay windows a little (it turns out the bay windows were an early renovation to the original Griffin Building, and larger bay windows would benefit a planned expansion of Simeon’s to the second floor). Regardless, cast-iron ornamentation that was salvaged before demolition will be incorporated into the rebuild.

During the same meeting, the planning board accepted revised signage for the Marriott, and there was further discussion about the Canopy Hilton. Nearby residents expressed concerns that a downtown hotel will increase traffic, and complaints were made about the ingress/egress plan for both the hotel and the CSMA next door. No word on the land swap CSMA wants, but it doesn’t seem like they’re budging on their property’s all-important utility easement quite yet.





The Final Draft of Harold’s Square

21 08 2013

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Given the previous re-design for Harold’s Square, I’m willing to accept this. The glazed curtainwall banding on the south face makes it a little less brutal on the eyes.

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Ithaca Builds notes that the developers hope to have fencing up (i.e. initiating site prep) by Labor Day, for completion in late April 2015.