Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 6/2017

21 06 2017

This project isn’t 100% complete – some stone veneer still needs to be applied, and the landscaping needs to be seeded – but for practical purposes, the new wing is ready for occupancy and this project is done. The first hotel guests in the new wing are unpacking their bags this month, and already there are chairs out on the balconies. The project began in March 2016, which gives a period of about 15 months from launch to opening. Interior and balcony photos can be found on The Hotel Ithaca’s twitter account.

As a project, it’s not inspiring architecture, and rather than market growth, it’s more about keeping the Hotel Ithaca successful in Ithaca’s upward trending downtown market. But it adds a few jobs, it’s a $15 million investment, and it demonstrates strong, sustained support for Ithaca’s leisure and hospitality market.

Hart Hotels of Buffalo, founded by David Hart in 1985 and operating locally under the name Lenroc L.P., was the project developer. Krog Corporation, also of Buffalo and a favorite of Hart Hotels, was the general contractor. NH Architecture of Rochester, another frequent partner of Hart Hotels, was the project architect. NH Architecture is rather busy lately, as architect for both Dryden’s Poet’s Landing, and Lansing’s Cayuga View Senior Housing.

Side note – I’ve heard through the rumor mill that the owners of the Sunoco next door have been offered very lucrative sums to sell their gas station, as it’s on a choice corner for development close to the Commons, and allows a 100-foot tall building. But alas, the owners have had no interest in selling.





Rodeway Inn Construction Update, 5/2017

30 05 2017

So this is one of those small projects that would probably be missed unless someone were explicitly looking for it. At 654 Elmira Road south of the city-town line, hotelier Pratik Ahir has commenced with reconstruction and expansion of the Rodeway Inn motel.

The Rodeway Inn is one of Ithaca’s less-expensive, quirkier lodging options. A collection of four buildings dating from 1950s-1980 with later renovations, three buildings hosted 40 motel-style rooms with a dining/lobby space, and a detached house was home for a live-in manager.  With it came outdoor gazebos, a playground, and well-appointed if careworn rooms – an unusual blend of budget appearances and mid-tier amenities. Motels have been on the property since the Wonderland Motel was built in the 1950s, and the buildings have been owned by JAMNA Hospitality since 2005.

Reviews of the Rodeway generally note welcoming staff and clean units, but dated layouts and buildings in need of a serious upgrade. That is what JAMNA’s Pratik Ahir has set out to do here. The initial plan was to enlarge the rooms with a rear addition for more spacious bathrooms, and add new corner units to former mechanical closets on either end of the U-shaped “Building 1”. These plans were approved in December 2013.

After the approval, however, the plans were shelved. In 2014, the Maguires were seeking to do their “artisanal” dealerships and HQ down there, and that plan would have involved buying out and demolishing the Rodeway Inn. JAMNA was prepared to sell the property to the Maguires, but after the Maguire plan was cancelled following disagreements with the town over zoning, the motel owners were once again given a chance to re-evaluate their plans.

Revision number two to come before the town asked for the renovations as before, but added internal and external modifications, parking lot adjustments, and called for an additional 1,146 SF to the single-family home (“Building 2”) to turn it into a community center for guest recreation and dining. This was also approved.

Then we get to the final version, number three. This plan asked for the 1,146 SF addition as in Plan 2, but instead of Plan 1’s addition, JAMNA requested approval to tear down both arms of Building 1 and replace them with larger arms on the same footprint that would host an internal hallway – so less motel and more hotel. The work would also add four rooms, bringing the total to 44. Perhaps related to this confusion, JAMNA had already started demolition when the town issued a stop-work notice in January, requiring the new plans to be approved before work could continue.

Joe Turnowchyk of Pennsylvania-based Hex 9 Architects is the architect for the project; he’s also the guy behind JAMNA’s future plans for a 37,000 SF, 70-room Sleep Inn up the road. Anatoliy Bezpalko of “Time 4 Improvement LLC” is the general contractor. It’s a little odd that the architect’s from Southeast PA, and the contractor from Stroudsburg in the northeast near the Delaware Water Gap, as they are neither close to each other or to Ithaca. According to county records, the Rodeway Inn has a hard cost of $926,000. The lender is Generations Bank, a small bank based out of the Seneca Falls.

Looking at the site below, a fair amount of progress has already been made – stone veneer and some exterior finishes are up on the new community center, and wood framing is ongoing for the new motel wings. The large blank wall on the “tower” will be occupied by metal awnings, matching the metal roof. Some housewrap has already been adhered to the plywood sheathing. The roof has been sheathed and the underlayment is being attached. Buildings 3 and 4 will be renovated, but their square footage and layout should stay the same.





Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 4/2017

23 04 2017

The exterior finishing is further along on the new wing of the Hotel Ithaca. For most of the hotel, the exterior wall construction goes something like this – the steel stud walls are erected, RMax polyiso insulation boards are attached, and the fire-rated GP DensElement fiberglass mat gypsum sheathing panels go over the boards – the maroon sealant is PROSOCO R-Guard FastFlash liquid flashing. DensElement is different from other GP DensGlass products in that the water-resistive barrier (WRB) is integrated into the fiberglass mat, so there shouldn’t be the need to place a barrier over the sheathing. But some parts of the sheathing do appear to have an exterior WRB (compare the southeast and northeast balconies in the first photo below), so make of it what you will.

Once the fiberglass mats are installed and sealed tight, metal clips are adhered to the sheathing, and then Alucobond panels are fastened to the clips. Alucobond is an aluminum panel that is sometimes used as an exterior finish because it’s lightweight and fairly dent-resistant (and aesthetically, metal panels are used for a modern, clean look). The drawbacks are cost, and potential waterproofing issues if not installed correctly. Along the ground floor, stone veneer was applied over the sheathing.

Side note, the initial design called for diamond-shaped panels, which were rejected by the Planning Board with extreme prejudice – one member called it “strip mall architecture“. Although, the strange part of all this is, the final product appears to be a blend of what was initially proposed, and what was approved – the exterior and window elements resemble the final render, but the final submission didn’t have a doorway on the east end of the wing, while the initial design did. The end of this update has a copy of each for comparison.

It looks like the roof is finished and the trim is going on, so with the exception of the remaining metal panels, doors and trim pieces like the balcony railings, the exterior is nearly complete. Hart is aiming for an opening by graduation weekend, so things should move at a fast clip over the next few weeks. Krog Corp, a frequent partner of owner Hart Hotels, is the general contractor.





News Tidbits 3/4/17: Oh Hey, Tax Season

4 03 2017

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1. It’s that time of the year where the Tompkins County Department of Assessment goes through its assessment process in preparation for adjustments to property values for 2017, known as “Annual Equity Maintenance”, or AEM for short. Since there are 35,249 tax parcels in Tompkins County with a total value of $11.9 billion, not all are reassessed every year – most places are reassessed every three years, except for areas of rapid change (for instance, Fall Creek is every two years at present), or individual properties that are being undergoing change, whether it be a new construction, sudden property damage, or a sales transaction. The state has their own system, called Cyclical Reassessment Program (CRP, but the county docs refer to it as CRAP), but the county opts out to do their own valuations.

Some properties are easier than others – for example, a purchaser of a big-box property isn’t buying just the building, but a long-term lease from a tenant like BJ’s in Lansing. Student houses in parts of Collegetown are worth less than the property they sit on, which the tax system cannot accommodate. They provide one example of a $500,000 house sitting on $3 million of land – that’s not something the tax system is designed to handle, so the house is overvalued, but the property as a whole is very undervalued.

The department notes that sales were strong this year. According to their records, average sales are up 4.5% from $228,442 to $238,796, and the median sale is up 2.5%, from $200,000 to $205,000. The document also only notes 677 sales, which would be the lowest since before 1990, and is lower than the 681 sales noted by the Ithaca Board of Realtors (and IBR represents most but not all agencies). Someone is mistaken, it’s just hard to tell who. Assessments are on average about 8% lower (9% median) than home sale prices.

Some of the other takeaways are a modest softening in the student housing market in 2016 (Cornell enrollment in Ithaca did drop slightly from 2015-16, before renewing its upward trajectory in 2017), the city and Dryden’s Ellis Hollow continue to be strong markets but the other suburban neighborhoods are regaining interest, and Groton’s a mixed bag due to the poor state of some village properties. New assessments for 2017 (including parts of Ithaca town, Caroline, Freeville, Enfield, lakeside properties, restaurant properties, and manufacturing facilities) will be publicly available on July 1st.

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2. The redesign of Schwartz Plaza has started the formal review process. Cornell submitted the sketch plan at the February meeting, and hopes to have approvals for the renovation by next month. The properties would lose the walls and open up to the surrounding Collegetown, in what Cornell and Ithaca hope will give the densely-populated neighborhood a needed public gathering space. As reported by the Cornell Daily Sun’s Nick Bogel-Burroughs, project manager David Cutter hopes that the project leads to further public space enhancements near the stone arch bridge and down by Eddygate – this includes additional pedestrian and bike facilities, electronic boards with bus information, and a possible realignment of the Oak/College intersection into a T-configuration.

But for now the focus is on Schwartz Plaza. Cornell intends to have approvals within 1-2 months, start construction in June, and have the new plaza ready by August 2017. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is the design firm of record.

Postscript, Novarr’s townhouses at 238 Linden were pulled from the meeting before the sketch plan was due to be presented at the city planning board meeting last Tuesday. As for 301 Eddy, still trying to dig up information.

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3. Nick Reynolds has a very interesting profile and interview of Jason Fane over at the Times. Definitely worth a read about one of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords.

Speaking personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, if only because it takes a blog quote I made about 330 College Avenue in 2014, and in the article’s context, I sound like an arthouse snob. Fane has always been serious about building on the property, and that’s great, but I stand by my quote on 330 – after the years of negotiations on the new form district code, there is no way a 12-story building was going to be built on the corner of College and Dryden, even if Jagat Sharma, Fane’s favored architect, brought his A-game. It’s not a matter of economics or taste, it’s a matter of very real opposition from the Belle Sherman and East Hill neighborhoods. Any politician who considers signing off would be voted out of office ASAP. Any city staffer who consents will be shown the door. Look at what happened with State Street Triangle. In a city where people have many gripes about development, this is one project that is truly stopped in its tracks. I think Fane could negotiate 7 or even 8 stories if he gives the city a donation towards affordable housing, or some other community benefit. but not 11 or 12.

I like grand buildings and imposing structures, but I’m also a realist. End rant.

4. Todd Fox’s Visum Development has a couple construction updates on their Facebook page. Exterior stud walls are being installed on the lower floors of 201 College, and two of the three townhouse strings at 902 Dryden Road have been fully framed and sheathed, with siding installation underway. At a glance, it looks like the exterior will look more like the elevations on Modern Living Rentals’ listings page rather than the STREAM Collaborative renders – the renders had horizontal lap siding, the elevations show vertical lap siding as seen above.

If more developer could post updates as Visum and Carina Construction do, that would be swell.

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5. Wrapping up a quiet news week, here’s the agenda for the town of Ithaca planning board next week. A lot subdivision for a new house, a pair of communication towers, and the final approvals for the Sleep Inn proposed by hotelier Pratik Ahir at 635 Elmira Road. True to the sketches presented last fall, the design has that rustic look on all sides of the structure, and all the town’s requests have been met, which should allow for a smooth final approval meeting on Tuesday. The design will be unique among the 320 locations of the Sleep Inn chain. It should be noted that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals was very split on the height and size variances, approving them with just a 3-2 margin.

In the other towns, the only one with anything new to report is Danby, whose planning board is looking at a special use permit for a property management company’s offices at 1429 Danby Road, and a 3,535 SF expansion to the Ithaca Waldorf School at 20 Nelson Road.





Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 2/2017

21 02 2017

The to-do list for the $13.8 million Hotel Ithaca “modernization” is drawing short as it nears its May completion date. All the DensGlass fireproof fiberglass mat gypsum sheathing is in place and the edges of the panels are closed up with liquid flashing. On top of the sheathing are metal clips to which the exterior panels are mounted. The stone veneer on the first floor is mostly finished. Many, but not all of the balcony doors, windows and AC units have been fitted. Details like balcony railings will be installed towards the end of exterior work. On the inside of the building, it’s a good bet that the rough-ins are complete, insulation and drywall is probably in place and close to being completed, with crews moving onto things like subfloors/underlayment, painting, and installation of room fixtures such as sinks and bathtubs. The rest of the AC units will likely go in after the subfloors are installed.

Some Hotel Ithaca job postings are advertising 94 new rooms, but unless there were some last minute changes, the number on file is 90. Also worth noting, the contractor, Buffalo-based Krog Corp., and its team of subcontractors have done a fairly good job of staying on Hart Hotels’ schedule – the SPR doc from two years ago called for an April 2017 opening.

More background info on the Hotel Ithaca project can be found here, and by using the “Hotel Ithaca” tag one can backtrack through the bimonthly progress reports.

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Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 12/2016

15 12 2016

The Hotel Ithaca addition at 222 South Cayuga is topped off and has taken the shape of the final product. Most of the new windows have been fitted into the exterior walls. Air conditioning units will be installed in the smaller openings. Peering inside, it looks like the interior framing is all set, and utilities rough-ins are underway.

In most places, the DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing is being sealed up with R-Guard FastFlash liquid flashing, to close up the seams, joints and fasteners. Some of the newer sections, like the south wall, have yet to be sealed – in fact, workers were cutring and installing the DensGlass boards on the balconies while these photos were being taken. Since the balconies aren’t meant for full-time occupancy, the fiberglass mats are going directly onto the steel studs, without the R-Max polyiso. Taking a guess here, the gray coat on the front (east) wall might be a primer material for the exterior facade.

Along with general contractor and frequent Hart Hotels partner Krog Corp, it looks like Henderson Johnson Inc. of Syracuse was tapped for some subcontracting, and IBEW-sponsored John Mills Electric of Ithaca is handling the electrical rough-ins for the new wing.

The new $13.77 million addition should open in May 2017, just in time for the big graduation weekends. More background info on the Hotel Ithaca project can be found here.
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Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 10/2016

11 10 2016

Home stretch for the Marriott. Official opening is November 15th. Although that means they’ll be opening towards the start of the slow season for the local hospitality industry, the general manager says they hope that it’ll give them a chance to work out any wrinkles in service before the lodging season perks up again in March. Hiring has been underway for service staff, with full employment expected to be somewhere between 50 and 60, 75% full time, with wages starting at $10 plus tips for restaurant wait staff, up to $18-$19/hour for other service positions.

From what can be found by playing on the Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons webpage, a mid-week one-night stay in a king or double queen will set you back $195 at a minimum, while the weekends start around $269/night. A run-down of some of the amenities can be found on the website, or in the August construction update. The hotel will have 151 regular guest rooms and 8 suites, which are the rooms with the floor-to-ceiling glass at the corner of State and Aurora.

The Nichiha metal panels are almost complete, with just the west face exposed at this point. I did not expect them to be so bright, beyond the unintended gleam-o-vision of my camera. The rooftop mechanical penthouse has been framed but has yet to have its exterior panels attached. Some of the Marriott signage has been attached already. Most of the stone veneer has been attached, although the finishes for the Commons entrance are still a work in progress. Judging from the plastic sheets on the roof, the synthetic rubber membrane still has yet to be applied. Photos on the hotel’s facebook page show that the front desk is in and sheetrock has been hung and mudded in some places (the “mud” is a premixed joint compound used to cover joints and seams and to allow for a smooth finish for painting). The banner at the top of the penthouse says “The Place To Be”, with the Marriott logo at top.

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