News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





310 West State Street Construction Update, 3/2019

28 03 2019

For lovers of old houses, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is being renovated into a co-op for young professionals, with $500,000 of help from the state’s RESTORE NY grant fund. The plan is to restore the house into an eight-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new modular six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property. The two co-ops are separate.

The money generated by the new carriage house/rear co-op helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed for the existing home, which was in a poor condition due to previous ownership (the Salvation Army). It’s not as architecturally unique as the carriage house that was condemned and torn down several years prior to this project, but it does reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and eventually, 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial’s brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966. The developers are Dr. David Halpert and his wife Teresa Halpert Deschanes. Prior to this project, failed renovation plans included a rental property and a drug addiction treatment facility (long term plans had included the potential for a “safe injection” facility, but the purchase deal fell through and the Halperts swooped in shortly thereafter).

From the Trulia Ad:

310 W. State St.

Bugbee’s Place: Why live alone for when you could come home to friendly faces for $? If you are willing to share you bathroom with one other person, you could live in a high-style 1880 gem, gut-renovated from 2017-2019. All new plumbing, electricity, insulation, storm windows, sprinklers, heating/AC. Fossil-fuel free, ductless mini-splits, refinished floors and walls; all new kitchen and bathrooms.

Alvah Bugbee Wood was a prominent architect who designed churches, railroad stations, schools, and factories. (See his photo in Ithaca City Hall, as a member of the very first Common Council.) Early in his career, before he was sought out for commercial jobs, AB designed a few large wooden houses for wealthy Ithacans. This is one of the few remaining, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eight bedrooms (ranging in size from medium to huge; plenty of room for queen beds, desks, dressers, bookcases, nightstands; large closets or multiple armoires. Giant Victorian windows with custom interior storms and velvet blackout curtains. Your own individually-controlled almost-silent ductless AC/heating unit. Share your bathroom with one other (individual medicine cabinets; 38″ shower; plenty of linen space. Plenty of storage in the attic.

Common areas include living room with original fireplace, communal-sized dining room, multi-room Victorian kitchen suite (walk-in pantry, butler’s pantry, separate scullery with dishwasher and two sinks; butcher-block chopping station). Gourmet appliances include induction range with 5-cu-ft self-cleaning convection oven, 50 cu ft of refrigerator space, etc. Laundry room with Electrolux front loaders. Original and vintage hardware, deco tiles, and retro color palette throughout.

Fenced-in private yard for your doggies, with patio and raised-bed planters so you can grow stuff. Share the yard with another co-op in the new cottage at the back of the lot. Limited parking.



OLD





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 3/2019

22 03 2019

Like 119-125 College Avenue, 238 Linden is being designed by ikon.5 Architects, With similar aesthetics and structural design (and more than a passing similarity to the 2,000 bed Cornell North Campus dormitory expansion, which has the same development team) looking at this project is essentially like looking at the next steps for its larger sibling a couple blocks away. However, while 119-125 College Avenue uses Welliver as its general contractor, Hayner Hoyt is in charge of buildout for the 238 Linden site, with several subcontractors on site (for example, the roofing is being done by Hale Contracting of Horseheads). Like its sister building, this project has no online presence apart from what was documented by the city or reported by the Voice and Times.

Interestingly, the window frames protrude from the wall rather then sitting flush with the set opening. The waterproof barrier is on over the gypsum panels, and the metal rails for the fiber cement and zinc panels are in the process of being installed on the north and west faces.

It was clear at first glance that the footprint of the building is markedly different, and the fenestration is nothing like the approved renders at the bottom of the post – there are fewer windows overall, and honestly I’m not sure if the building footprint was reduced in size. It was supposed to be 24 studio units, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were only eighteen now. There was no public reviews for these changes, and these are by no means minor tweaks. The line between a large new construction project redesign requiring board re-approval, and a redesign only needing staff approval is rather murky.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 3/2019

21 03 2019

It appears that the Hilton Canopy hotel developers put an in-house restaurant back into the mix late in the development process. The new eatery, to be called “Ezra” in what’s ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell. Dunno how large the new restaurant will be, but the early designs called for about 2,000 SF of space. In keeping with the Canopy theme, the restaurant logo incorporates Pantone PMS165 orange, with aluminum letters, faced in matte black base vinyl print, and on a wood laminate background intended to mimic Brazilian Walnut. The address for the new 131-room hotel will be 310 East State / Martin Luther King Jr. Street. The signage will be built and installed by Lauretano Sign Group of Connecticut. Outdoor dining spaces will have chic industrial aesthetic tables and chairs and contemporary, durable outdoor furniture.

For those interested, some job openings have been posted for those who wish to be hotel staff. The General Manager has the co-title of “Chief Enthusiast”. Management can expect to make up to $80k/year, but most staff will fall in the $11-$15/hour range, with a bit more for some titles and a bit less ($7.50/hour + tips) for those who will be working in the restaurant. They might be a little higher given those were 2014 figures, but it looks likes only management jobs are being filled at the moment.

As for the construction itself, work on the fiber cement panel and brick veneer installation continues. It looks like a waterproof materials might be going on over the gypsum sheathing, laid over with metal rails and then faced with the exterior material of choice. The rails would allow for any outside moisture absorbed to drain down and off the building. Some of the industrial-style windows are in,with flashing tape surrounding the window to prevent water and air penetration. We also now know what “sauteed mushroom” looks like as an exterior siding color. The hotel is expected to open in “Mid 2019”, probably too late for the May graduations but Q3 2019 looks plausible. The Canopy website comes with a thumbnail interior render, though the resolution isn’t so great:

Further information on the Canopy hotel can be found here.





Cayuga Medical Associates Construction Update, 2/2019

27 02 2019

With the exception of landscaping and some minor interior and exterior finishing work, the new $7.8 million, 28,200 SF Cayuga Medical Associates medical office building is practically complete. A bit later than first anticipated, but one of the largest projects Ithaca’s McPherson Builders has taken on, so congrats to them for getting the job done. Kudos to HOLT Architects as well, for creating something that looks as good if not better than the renderings.

Before:

Render:

After:

 

If you read down this far, thanks! Here’s what you get for your trouble. I’ve long touted the concept plan for a denser, mixed-use Community Corners. There appears to be some real progress on that front. Here are some concept renders for “Upland Heights”, a proposed retail and condominium development on vacant land next to the existing Community Corners complex. It is a sketch plan and the formal proposal has only been partially submitted (postponed a month), so no Voice write-up until there’s enough firm documentation to go with the renders, elevations and site plan. In terms of walkable mixed-use to the commercial neighbors and design aesthetics, it could use some work, but it at least shows serious development plans are underway. A denser, mixed-use Community Corners is looking increasingly plausible in the years ahead.





105 Dearborn Place Construction Update, 2/2019

26 02 2019

When you’re building a $4.2 million, 12-bedroom/16-person mansion for wealthy seniors, the material choices tend to be somewhat more upscale. At 105 Dearborn Place, over the typical Tyvek are a yellow waterproof barrier and traditional cedar shingles. These will be painted at a later time. The CMU block walls of the partially-exposed basement level will be layered over with cultured stone.

With the house fully-framed, the structural details are starting to show; along with banks of windows and shed dormers, and there are no less than five porches on the second level, four recessed and a more traditional open porch at the rear of the 10,930 SF building. Some of the architectural details will show up later (roof brackets, railings and balconies), and the porte-cochere has yet to be assembled.

A truck on site and crew in full plastic suits suggested that spray foam insulation was underway inside, so the utilities rough-ins (electrical, plumbing, HVAC) are probably in place, but drywall, cabinetry/fixtures, and flooring are not. The insulation is being applied by Hybrid Insulation Systems of Ithaca.

There don’t appear to be any promotional advertisements for the new building yet, but keep an eye out as it moves closer to completion later this year. Owner Elizabeth Classen has been quite busy in the past year, signing on as a partner in Travis Hyde Properties’ Library Place project on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street.

More information on 105 Dearborn Place can be found here.

 





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 2/2019

26 02 2019

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

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

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

More info about the project can be found here.