Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2017

20 12 2017

Given how long this project seemed to be be stuck in post-approval financial purgatory, it still surprised me when I see construction underway at the Hilton Canopy hotel site on the 300 Block of East State Street.

One imagines that summer 2018 will be a construction nerd’s paradise, as cranes for City Centre, Harold’s Square and the Hilton will dot the city’s skyline, no doubt making their way into future TCAD imagery. But for now, it’s subsurface work. The Canopy is excavated, lagging, H-beams and steel tiebacks have been erected to hold the soil back, and wooden forms are being assembled for the concrete pours. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls. For commercial buildings like the Canopy, stronger steel forms with plywood sheet ply are used. In this case, since the walls are quite tall, workers have installed brackets and scaffolds along the forms so that they can stand and work higher up on the walls. Specifically, I think it’s a Symons Steel-Ply Forming System that is being used.

The footprint of the site also has some less imposing wood forms that have been assembled, and interior to those some steel rebar has been laid, to add strength to the concrete as it cures. Some of the basement concrete slab has already been poured along the perimeter, and some is being readied for pours. The elevator shaft and north stairwell will occupy some of the footprint of where the rebar grid is in the second and third photos below. The basement will consist of storage rooms, utility space, a fuel room, laundry facilities, housekeeping office, main offices for hotel staff and back-end operations, restrooms and a breakroom. The smaller forms with the square outline on the south side of the site look to be about where the money counting room and/or data/communications room will be.

Note the light rigging onsite – December’s short daylight hours are no conducive for outdoor construction. Floodlamps are a way around that.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 10/2017

31 10 2017

Tompkins County benefits from being a regional tourism destination. A combination of amenities like the colleges and wineries, scenic gorges and and convenient location have made it a popular weekend getaway from the big cities of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as well as some of the major Great Lakes cities. In the past ten years, the hospitality and tourism sector of the economy has grown over 20 percent, adding several hundred jobs even after seasonality is taken into account. An additional benefit is that the room taxes are used to fund arts and culture grants, community festivals and part of TCAD, the economic development agency.

Representative of that growth has been the growth in the local hotel industry. Around 2014 or so, one of the big questions was, how many hotel rooms is too many? The Marriott was in the works, the Hilton was in an earlier stage, two hotels were planned on the Route 13 corridor, and the Hotel Ithaca had its plans. For practical purposes, it was a good question.

However, the situation evolved over time. As is often the case, the hotels opened later than anticipated. The 159-room Marriott finished late last fall, the 76-room Holiday Inn Express was completed a couple months earlier, the Hotel Ithaca went with an expansion that actually reduced the available number of rooms by ten and opened earlier this year, and one of the suburban hotels, a 37-room independent boutique hotel, was cancelled. They all came onto the market later than expected. and the number of rooms added was less than originally planned. All the while, the economy continued to grow at a consistent 1.5-2% annual pace, Cornell continued to add students and the population slowly grew. Had all the hotels opened at once with their original plans, the impact might have been a big problem. But the reality was that the Hotel Ithaca’s impact was modest, and the HIE’s and Marriott’s supply is being absorbed (though the market does need over a year to fully adjust to a 12.8% growth in supply). For the record, Airbnb and similar services have their impacts as well, but the county estimates it’s the equivalent of roughly 40-60 hotel rooms.

With the market still adjusting to the influx, it’s probably a good thing that the Canopy Hilton isn’t opening until Spring 2019, well after a new equilibrium is achieved. However, it’s been a long road to get to this point.

First, a brief history of the site. In recent years, the Hilton site was a mix of private and municipal parking. From 1916-1993, the Strand Theater occupied the site. The Carey Building was designed to match the Egyptian Revival motif of the theater, but unlike the Carey, the theater closed in the late 1970s, attempted and failed at a reopening as a community theater, and after being vacant for over a decade, the building was deemed too far gone to save, leveled by the wrecking ball during the deep recession of the 1990s.

The first mention of a hotel on the 300 Block of East State/MLK Jr. was back in December 2012. Lighthouse Hotels LLC (Neil Patel) proposed a six-story, $16 million Hampton Inn on the site (v1). The 92-room hotel, designed by Jagat Sharma, would have resulted in the demolition of the Carey Building – recall this was before the Carey overbuild.

However, Patel violated an important rule when it comes to development – unless you have made previous arrangements, don’t propose something for someone else’s property. The proposed Carey demo caught Frost Travis by surprise, and he and parking lot owner Joe Daley were less than amused. Nor were Planning Board members, who were fond of the Carey and not fond of the surface parking proposed with the hotel. The project went nowhere, and a major reworking was required. Negotiations with the city and neighbors were needed to acquire the necessary land, and the IURA and Common Council agreed to have the IURA represent the city on divestiture discussions.

Fast forward 18 months to June 2014. Having hired on Whitham Planning and Design to handle the review process on behalf of Lighthouse Hotels, a new six-story sketch plan was presented (v2). This plan did not impact the Carey (by then undergoing review for the overbuild), and opted for a more modern design by Boston’s Group One Partners Inc., which specializes in urban hotel plans. By August 2014, a site plan review request was formally submitted, along with a modestly revised design (v3) – at the time, the six-story, 120-room hotel was pegged at $11.5 million. These early plans also called for a 2,000 SF retail or restaurant space on the ground level. By this time, Patel was a vice president at Baywood Hotels, a national hotel developer and management firm with over $1 billion in assets, and regional offices in suburban Rochester. The firm is so large, they have 26 hotels currently under development from Miami to Minnesota, but that might be conservative. Their planned downtown Syracuse Hampton Inn isn’t even listed, and the render for the Hilton Canopy Ithaca is out of date.

Technically the phrasing is “Canopy by Hilton Ithaca”. It will be either Canopy or Canopy Hilton on the blog.

The Canopy brand was launched in October 2014 to be the lifestyle brand geared towards younger leisure travelers. Of the eleven locations announced at launch, Ithaca was the only one not in a major city, and is arguably the only one still not planned for a major city. A month earlier, the newest 74,475 SF, 123-room, 7-story design rolled out (v4), with industrial warehouse-style aluminum windows, buff and “dark blend” brick veneer, stone base with precast concrete accents, and grey fiber cement and metal panels carried over from the previous design. The second floor would open up onto a terrace overlooking the front of the hotel, and the first floor had folding windows that could open the lobby area to the outdoors on nice days. 

By January 2015, the designed had been tweaked some more (V7 in the link, but the changes were pretty minor from V5-V7, facade materials and window treatments), the cost had risen to $19 million, and LeChase Construction was signed on to be the general contractor. In fact, Patel and Frost Travis has even worked out a clever plan to share construction equipment as both their buildings were underway. However, Patel and Baywood’s schedule fell behind Travis’s, so the plan never panned out.

During this time, the project had applied for the IDA’s enhanced tax abatement, and underwent Common Council review after its public hearing in November 2014. While concerns were raised about not paying a living wage to all staff, the council decided the pros outweighed the cons and endorsed the project. Baywood planned to hire 33 to 47 staff, of whom 11-20 would make living wage (multiple sources with different figures). Room rates were expected to be $160/night.

According to the 2015 application, the project’s combined hard and soft costs were $24.17 million, and the property tax abatement (the enhanced 10-year abatement) was $3,528,081. Another $980,928 was waived in sales taxes, and $45,000 from the mortgage tax, for a total tax abatement of $4.55 million. About $3.28 million in new taxes will be generated on top of the existing taxes on the land, along with room taxes and payroll taxes. During the public hearing, attendees went after the project for union labor, living wage and sustainable energy concerns, but the project was still approved by the IDA. They might have switched over to heat pumps, I’ll need to check into that.

After the original project was approved in March 2015, the city voted to approve the sale of its land in April 2015, and the IDA approved a tax abatement in July 2015, the Hilton plan sat dormant for a while before undergoing a major redesign in January 2016 courtesy of Philadelphia’s spg3 Architects, now Bergmann Associates. It turned out the project had struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, and underwent some “value engineering”. The general shape was kept the same, but the exterior materials were swapped, the building increased in size to 77,800 SF, the room total was brought up to 131, and the restaurant space was omitted, among other changes. This required re-approval by the city. The much longer comparison is here.

The very last version of the project, V9 in February 2016, added inset panels in the northwest wall, and some cast stone was added to the base. The second floor roof deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised.

The final form is faced with a few different shades of red brick veneer, topaz yellow and grey fiber cement panels, metal coping and cast stone trim. Floor height (ceiling of seventh floor) is 80 feet, while structural height (top of mechanical penthouse) is 92 feet. It’s not really a big impact on the downtown skyline, but it broadens the city’s shoulders a bit.

After approval and IDA approval, things were slow to start. Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, representing the Patel family, was reorganized slightly to include other family members in the ownership, and afterward it purchased the properties for the hotel project in August 2916. $1.8 million went to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. A $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union (formerly Eastman Saving and Loan of Rochester) was received at the end of September 2016, but things were stalled for a while, and only now is the project on its way to a Spring 2019 opening, two and a half years later than initially planned. William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor.

Long story, but at least someone wrote it up. Goes to show that property development can be a very complicated process.

It looks like foundation excavation is currently underway – I had head many of the underground utility work was taken care of when the Carey was under construction next door. A plausible schedule has foundation work done by the end of winter, with structural steel framing underway during the spring and summer.

October 15th:

October 28th:





Rodeway Inn Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

The synopsis of the project can be found here.

This was one of the more interesting visits because I ran into the owner, Pratik Ahir of JAMNA Hospitality Inc., while taking photos. Granted, there’s often that uncomfortable initial tension of “who’s taking photos of my property and why”, but I’ve been in touch with him through email before, so once I introduced myself the mood was much friendlier.

From what Ahir told me, this project could serve as a textbook example of the perils of renovating older buildings. One of the big reasons for the change in project scope was that one wings’ exterior walls partially collapsed during the initial work. So trying to make lemonade from lemons, Ahir decided to revise the project from additions to existing wings, to constructing brand new motel wings. This change also doubled the project cost.

The motel should be fully open for occupancy around October 20th. The rooms appears to be no-frills but comfortable and tastefully appointed for travelers, and given Tompkins County’s premium on hotel room rates, a clean, economical option is welcome. The interior architecture is pleasant enough, while the exterior…I wouldn’t say it looks bad, but it is something of a hodge-podge of architectural features that aren’t ugly, but don’t quite mesh.

Ahir says he has plans to put his 70-room Sleep Inn project out for bid to a couple of preferred contractors, and hopes to start that project in the next few months. His partnership is with Choice Hotels (Rodeway is their economy motel unit), and he identified a market need for a new lower-middle segment hotel in the area, and Sleep Inn seemed like a good fit. Choice Hotels agreed, and the only Sleep Inn between Albany and Buffalo was green-lighted by the corporate parent.

We also touched on the presence of a couple other chain hotel specialist firms buying into or looking to buy into the Ithaca area. The temptation is there, and some, like Rudra Hotels/Rosewood Management, who did the Holiday Inn Express at 371 Elmira Road earlier this year, have established their footprint. Others are still figuring out their next step. On a related note, a number of smaller regional banks see Ithaca as a safer investment than other regional cities thanks to its economic stability, and this interest may result in a little more financing available for project developers over the next few years. Ahir says financing has been arranged for the Sleep Inn.





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.





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.