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.





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.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 9/2018

29 09 2018

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

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

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

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

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





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 7/2018

17 07 2018

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

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

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





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 4/2018

10 05 2018

Ithaca weather is not accommodating. Originally, the pour for the concrete slab was supposed to take place on April 3rd. It’s tricky, because this is a large footprint and the building is very heavy, necessitating a thick slab – 30 inches thick. That has to all be poured at once, without any potential interruptions like rain or snow, which can weaken the concrete as it cures (upsets the mix and water balance). That was rescheduled the first time due to winter weather, and was expected to take place on the 11th, which was rained out. 4/16 was also cancelled due to winter weather. Finally the concrete was able to be poured on the 23rd.

In the photos below, you can see some wood forms are still in place for smaller sections (entryway, lower right of site). The vertical concrete column bases are being poured (note the squares of vertical rebar in the sections yet to be encased), with steel plates atop the finished column to tie into the steel beams. The hole in the lower right (southeast) corner is for one of the elevator cores. Taylor the Builders will have this heading skyward in short order.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 2/2018

22 02 2018

Not all cranes come on wheels. Many larger cranes are assembled and disassembled on site. A concrete crane pad is formed and poured to provide a base for the crane, with the pieces assembled upward from the base. That’s what you can see in the photos below. The size can vary depending on the size of the crane required, whether it’s free-standing or tied-in, whether there are rock anchors that can be used, and the soil upon which it and the pad will rest. Here, the crane pad will rest on a thick, firm mud layer beneath, and the concrete will be reinforced with a tied-in (meaning the grid bars are tied together) steel rebar grid. According to the Harold’s Square website, the crane pad itself will rest on a 4’6″ deep concrete, 38′ x 38′. Keep in mind, there will actually be two cranes on-site. The one mounted here will be the heavy-duty 300-ton crane, but they construction team will use a mobile 55-ton crane as well. The elevator pits are also being boxed and formed.

All the piles have been driven in at this point, and the sides of the site have been shored up as necessary with lagging and steel H-beams. The low-rise Commons-facing portion of the building will utilize an 18″ rebar-reinforced mat slab foundation, while the tower portion will have a 30″ rebar-reinforced mat slab. These pours should happen by mid-March. The structure will be anchored into the foundation, which will evenly distribute the weight and support the floors above. After the foundation is in, the only way to go is up.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 12/2017

31 12 2017

Grab a cup of coffee or tea for this one, it’s a long introduction.

Touching on a familiar topic again, downtown and urban living has enjoyed a revived interest in the past fifteen years, and coincident with moderate but steady economic growth in Ithaca, it has created plenty of opportunities for those with assets and expertise. Succeeding in those opportunities is a slightly different story – money and a strong project team are important, but some projects have an easier go of it than others. Harold’s Square has experienced substantial obstacles in its long pre-construction period, but thanks to developer David Lubin’s flexibility and tenacity, as well as an accommodating local government and growing market, it has surmounted those challenges and is now underway.

The first version of Harold Square at 123-139 The Commons was proposed back in October 2012. At the time, the plans called for first-floor retail, a few floors of office space, and 60-70 apartments on the upper floors of the 11-story building. The Sage Block (Benchwarmers) and W.H. Miller Building (Home Dairy) would be renovated, while three less historic buildings would be taken down to make way for the new development. The estimated price was $30 million and the plan was to have the 126,000 SF building finished by summer 2014. At that time, the building would have needed a fairly substantial zoning variance – the entire site was CBD-60, and it reached about 135 feet.

With the exception of the first-floor retail and Sage Block renovation, none of the other details have remained the same. However, the five major design iterations have all been by the same architect – CJS Architects (formerly Chaintreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects), with offices in Rochester and (later) Buffalo.

Lubin already had some familiarity with the project site – one of the storefronts to be removed used to be home to Harold’s Army Navy Store, a business started by his father and expanded to sixteen locations across the region. These stores were closed in the late 1990s as Lubin chose to focus on his development project and other business endeavors, like his computer recycling business. Harold’s Square is a nod to his father’s store, and the famed Herald Square of New York City.

The project design was critiqued and reviewed thoroughly over the next ten months, which also produced the first major set of design changes – in fact, if you’re googling Harold’s Square without prior knowledge, images of this version, v02, turn up enough that even many current agencies and organizations (and even the posters on the construction fence) treat it as the final design. The 2015 image from the contractor’s website, Taylor the Builders, is shown above. It did away with some of the less-liked design features of v01, but retained a clean, contemporary profile with a curtain wall of glass, and terracotta panels that extended to the roof canopy. During this period, plans to acquire the W.H. Miller Building were dropped.

This was the version that was approved in August 2013, and received CIITAP tax abatements two months later in October 2013. It had 162,750 SF, with basement utilities/storage, ground-floor retail (20,670 SF), three floors of office space (56,855 SF) and 46 apartments on floors 5-10. The eleventh floor was a 5,000 SF penthouse for tenant use. The price tag was about $38 million.

At this point, post IDA approval, we kinda enter a publicly dormant period. Publicly, apart from the occasional reassurance from Lubin that the project was still alive, and the re-application for approval permits since those expire after two years, there didn’t appear to be much going on. Behind the scenes, it gets a little more interesting.

The project was having trouble securing a construction loan, and that was for a couple of reasons. For one, Lubin (as L Enterprises LLC) was having trouble securing a major office tenant, and office space made up about a third of the building. No one had any concerns about the apartments since the residential market was (and still is) strong, and retail is not hard to sell when it’s on The Commons, but office space is a different matter altogether. The demand for new space is modest, and often custom built for a tenant, rather than speculative space to be filled by tenants after it’s complete. So if we’re being fair but critical, the project team made a fair gamble but ended up overestimating the market for office space. Unless that space was spoken for, there would be no financing.

Re-examining the mix of uses, Lubin decided to revamp the project when seeking re-approvals in August 2015 – two floors of office space would be replaced with apartments. The first mention of this actually came through the New York Times, followed by the Voice and the Ithaca Times. With the drop in office space, the number of apartments jumped to 86. This also required some design changes, which were going to be reviewed by the city in Fall 2015. My notes show August 2016 ended up being the review date. We’ll call this version 3, v03.

Now Harold’s Square was 180,090 SF, with basement utility/storage space, ground-floor retail, second floor office space, and ten floors of apartments. The project had grown from 11 to 12 floors, but the height was nearly the same since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling heights than Class A office space. The total unit count was now 108, with 40 micro units (all the rage these days), 30 1-bedroom units, and 38 2-bedroom units. This version was approved in September 2016. By the time the project was up for re-approval, the city zoning had changed such that 140-foot buildings were allowed on-site, so no further height variance was needed.

With the space utilization issue worked out, the project was still seen as a sizable risk to potential lenders – it was at its inception the largest project proposed in downtown Ithaca since 2005’s Seneca Place, and Lubin had some experience with smaller projects, but nothing this size. Finding a partner to buy in to the plan would reduce the loan needed and add experience, making the project an easier sell to lenders. This is where McGuire Development, a major interest in the Buffalo market (3.5 million SF), came into play. They saw the potential in Lubin’s vision and the value in the Ithaca market, and agreed to buy in as a development partner. This appears to have been finalized in January 2017.

Fast forward to May 2017. With McGuire playing a role on the project team, major design iteration #4 (v04) removed the terracotta panels in favor of metal, and reconfigured the Commons storefront retail to use a common entrance, for “financial viability”. The enclosed atrium was removed and a mechanical penthouse added. It seems likely that McGuire wanted to ensure a certain return on investment. This version was approved without much further comment, except perhaps a bit of exasperation from city officials. Concurrently, the project team re-applied to the IDA for a revised tax abatement – the project’s price tag was now up to $42 million, and they were seeking revised, slightly more generous terms, which were granted with some grumbling. Complaints include a lack of explicitly affordable housing units, local labor concerns, and gentrification. The use of heat pumps and 60 kW of rooftop solar panels assuaged the sustainability crowd.

By October, the project was underway, courtesy of a construction loan from Norwich-based NBT Bank. The bank is a regional player with about 1.5x the assets of Tompkins Trust. This is new territory for NBT, which typically limits itself to single-family home loans in Tompkins, and has no service branches within county lines. The loan is for $33,842,000. L Enterprises and McGuire have each put up $5 million to cover the $43,842,000 cost of the project.

So here we are. The site has been cleared, and shoring and excavation by Paolangeli Contractor will take place over the next six weeks. After that comes ten days of pile driving, using a zero-resonance hammer to reduce vibration and noise – ostensibly, because is probably the second-most high-profile project site in the city after City Centre (which used the same method). Project completion is expected in Spring 2019. Sorry folks, but the Commons playground will remained cocooned and closed due to safety concerns.

The project team includes L Enterprises LLC (led by David Lubin) as lead developer, McGuire Development as co-developer, Taylor the Builders as the general contractor, CJS Architects, Fagan Engineers and Land Surveyors handling the application and civil/structural engineering work, and Brous Consulting for public relations. Those who want to follow the project without this blog as an intermediary can sign up for update on the project webpage here.

With the latest update on their webpage also comes the latest version of the project design, v05 – which doesn’t really affect the program space, but it does have several visual changes. The corner units now have exposed balconies vs enclosed rooms, the dark metal band on the top floor facing the Commons has been removed, and the retail frontage was reconfigured a bit on the Commons facade (the north module was stretched, one of the entry doors moved, and different fenestration patterns have been applied to some of the modules and the northwest face).

Pre-demo photo: