Visions Federal Credit Union Construction Update, 1/2020

21 01 2020

For regional businesses, Ithaca and Tompkins County are attractive markets to try and break into. Compared to its Southern Tier and Finger Lakes peers (Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn), it’s a sizable market that’s more affluent and more economically prosperous, two things that bode well for business growth if a company thinks they can make the initial investment costs will pay off.

Visions Federal Credit Union appears to making the leap. Founded in 1966, Visions FCU is headquartered in the Binghamton suburb of Endwell (where it recently doubled the size of its headquarters) and currently hosts 52 branch offices across three states. The not-for-profit financial institution boasts over 200,000 members, $4.1 billion in assets and 650 employees. Currently, the closest location to Tompkins County is the branch office in the Tioga County town of Spencer.

Site plans first submitted to the city in May 2019 indicated that the new credit union branch would be built at 410 Elmira Road, on a vacant lot fronting the Elmira Road Shopping Plaza, which houses Home Depot, Kohl’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Widewaters Group, the Syracuse-based firm who owns the plaza, had quietly marketed the outparcel space on since at least early 2018, envisioning a restaurant or similar small-scale establishment would one day occupy the site, along with a sizable amount of parking.

Here, Visions Federal Credit Union is proposing to build a 3,320 SF branch office with a parking lot containing 20 spaces and drive-up ATMs. The building will be finished out in a fairly standard mix of painted aluminum metal panel system and fiber cement, with a CMU base and aluminum window system. More interestingly, the majority of the lot would be fenced in from the adjacent roadways and turned into an outdoor amphitheater. A 940 SF stage structure would be built at the southern end of the property, and the lawn would be maintained for use as an outdoor event and entertainment venue – rough estimates put the seating capacity at about 500, with the shopping center parking lot to double as a parking area for concert series attendees (the initial plan is five concerts from May-September, with smaller events in between). The remainder of the property would be fitted out with stormwater retention areas, landscaping improvements, a small amount of sidewalk, electric vehicle charging stations, a pet-friendly outdoor waiting area next to the building and bike racks.

According to the Site Plan Review (SPR) document, the $1.25 million project will take about eight months to build out – the original construction period was to be October 2019 – May 2020, but as these projects often go, the actual groundbreaking was delayed until just a couple of weeks ago (or rather, at least the site prep is underway; I did not see a building permit filed with the city when I visited the permits office last week, but then again, that’s an 800-page stack of paper including everything from bathroom remodels to new multistory buildings). The number of jobs that would be created is not stated in the filing, but a bank/credit union branch office of this size typically employs eight to 10 people. Design/build firm PWCampbell of Pittsburgh is listed as the project designer, with Rochester-based Costich Engineering serving as the engineering consultant.

Some details were tweaked during review – the amphitheater was adjusted away from the road because of safety concerns. There will be a heavy-duty three-rail wood fence and some trees between the road and seating area. The building itself was largely unaltered, which is rather unusual, but this is a less fussed-over part of the city and the project fully complies with the SW-2 zoning. The supplemental docs say they were looking into heat pumps and a solar canopy for their electric charging stations, but it’s not clear if those will be installed. Approval was granted in August 2019.

According to the Visions FCU press release, “Visions brings a new banking option to the Ithaca community that includes lower interest rates on loans, competitive earnings on savings, a shared network of fee-free ATMs, and more. As a member-owned not-for-profit, Visions is committed to both member and community service.” The credit union is looking to make a positive first impression through some monetary charitable donations to local non-profits, and plans to sponsor and participate in community service events to ingratiate itself with the greater community.

The site is being cleared and graded for construction at the moment. The elevated pad in the first photo is where the new branch office will be built. The third photo shows the graded site pad for the amphitheater.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 8/2019

8 08 2019

Reservations for November 13th onward. Here’s the pitch:

“Hello and welcome to Canopy by Hilton Ithaca Downtown, perfectly situated among Ithaca’s most walkable streets of unique shops and local restaurants. Grab a complimentary Canopy Bike and explore the Ithaca Commons, or take our complimentary shuttle to nearby Cornell University, Ithaca College or the airport. We’ll introduce you to the neighborhood with a local welcome gift at check-in.

At Canopy, we’ve got you covered. Rest well in a Just-Right Room with positively local décor and residential comforts. Each includes free WiFi, a 55-inch TV, built-in refrigerated drawer and bed designed exclusively for Canopy. Choose a suite for additional space, stunning views of downtown Ithaca, separate living area and cozy extras like bathrobes and Canopy socks. Every floor has a filtered spring water station so you can refresh and feel great going forward.

Welcome the day in the café with a delicious artisanal breakfast made with fresh ingredients and local produce or have a Canopy Break Fast bag delivered to your door. With retractable floor-to-ceiling glass windows, The Strand Café is a welcoming and comfortable space featuring thoughtful American fare and handcrafted cocktails. Enjoy complimentary tastings each evening, or head up to the second-level rooftop terrace to relax and connect with friends. Keep up your routine in our 24-hour fitness center. We also offer two meeting rooms for events and gatherings for up to 50 people.”

Apart from exterior finish work (trim) and fixtures (awnings, decorative lighting), paving and landscaping, the hotel is practically finished from the outside. The inside appears to be pretty far along on the ground level, based on what could be discerned through the lobby windows. However, the upper floors are in a semi-assembled state, given the boxes stacked against some of the windows.It looks like they’ve hung the room curtains already.

One could call the November opening a soft one, given that it precedes the slowest time of the year – apart from winter graduation and the Teacher Appreciation Week in February, hotel traffic is slowest in the winter months.

More info about the project can be found here and here.

Typical room.

 

Interior of the Strand Cafe.





105 Dearborn Place Construction Update, 8/2019

7 08 2019

The 12-bedroom, 16-person luxury senior home under construction at 105 Dearborn Place is substantially complete. The stone veneer is being attached to the base, and Schickel Construction is building up the porte cochere, with decks and patios soon to follow. Landscaping and paving will come at the end of construction. Also, note the heat pump on the exterior in the lower right of the third photo. The exterior finishes appear to be durable, detailed and of high quality, befitting for a high-end independent living facility. According to developer, Bridges Cornell owner Elizabeth Classen Ambrose, the new building will have a “grand opening” event later this year. Some lavish renders from the project website follow at the end of the post (I have no idea what the small structure is next to the house – a playhouse for visiting children?). Quick aside, while this blog refers to the project by its street address, Bridges staff prefer it be called “The Craftsman”.

An interesting side note, Classen Ambrose picked up the relative new (2005) single-family home at 116 Dearborn Place for $900,000 on June 6th. However, no redevelopment is planned. Apparently, some fraternities had been looking at the property, and to prevent some raucous neighbors from moving next door, she bought the property and intends to rent it out as she sees fit. It’s not uncommon to hear in the Voice comments, “if you don’t want [xyz] happening next door, buy it,” and in Classen Ambrose’s case, she did. Classen Ambrose has also joined the City Harbor development team as a project investor, and by the time this piece runs, there will be a related piece of news on the Voice’s website.

More background info about the project can be found here and here.

 





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 5/2019

6 08 2019

It appears John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s housing project on Collegetown’s Linden Avenue is practically complete, and this will be its last post on the blog. The fiber cement and zinc panels are in place, the landscaping is nearly complete, and the inside is furnished – someone’s kitchen gets a lofty direct view of the street below. Oddly enough, this project has virtually no online presence, not even to advertise rentals. Granted, Executive MBA students are a very niche market, but if it weren’t for the approvals process, it would be as if this project didn’t exist. Even then, there have been major design changes since approval.

In a Facebook post, general contractor Hayner Hoyt states the project still contains 24 studio housing units, but geared towards Cornell faculty and staff. I honestly don’t know who the target market is, it may have changed from MBA students to visiting faculty and staff like its counterpart the College Townhouse at 119-125 College Avenue.

The architect is ikon.5 of Princeton, with local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture serving as the project team representatives, and T.G. Miller P.C. providing the civil engineering work. Background information about the project can be found here.





815-17 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2019

18 07 2019

This project rose quietly and quickly. 815-17 North Aurora is a small infill project in Fall Creek, replacing what was previously a significantly deteriorated two-family house. It was one of the typical “urban farmhouses” popular in Ithaca in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with major, unsympathetic additions tacked on at a later date. Under its previous owner, who purchased the property in 1999, the house started a gut rehab, but only got through through the “gut” part and never got to the “rehab”.

In June of 2018, the property was placed on the market for $269,000, and the listing noted small-scale redevelopment potential, that the city could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes per zoning. For smaller developers, this was an opportunity. Fall Creek has become Ithaca’s walkable, urban darling in recent years so the market would support a plan, provided that the neighborhood or city didn’t object. The site could never host some grand multi-million dollar project, but it was a chance to build something complementary to the neighborhood, and add density through modest urban infill (Historic Ithaca objects to anything involving a teardown being called infill, but the textbook definition is more accommodating).

The opportunity the site held was right up the alley of a family of local owner/developers, the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street, and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them. They purchased it for $235,000 on March 7th.

The project involves teardown of the original structure, and replacing it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site includes two parking spaces and a two-car wood-frame garage with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place.

The $627,000 development should be complete by August per Site Plan Review documents, a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek).

Rather unusually, this project actually got some significant pushback from the Planning Board, which tends to be more acquiescent towards smaller projects; some of it had to do with the project itself, but it was also proposed while the city was hotly debating the merits of infill, a discussion that still continues. The argument was that the project will be rentals, would probably never be owner-occupied, and the board was questioning the merits of approving a project that would likely bring in students to the neighborhood and detract from Fall Creek’s “character”. In response, the initial plan for four parking spaces was replaced with two spaces and a two-car garage, with the newly freed space turned into an outdoor common area. A porch was added to the street-facing duplex, and a den in each unit to make them more family-friendly. All in all, there were four revisions from the first submission in October 2018, to final approval in February.

If you’re wondering about the color swatches – the lower level fiber-cement lap siding will be Sherwin-Williams “Knitting Needles” (light grey), and the front door and shake siding on the upper levels will be S-W “Westchester Grey”. Personal opinion, Ithaca is naturally grey enough as it is, but that’s just one guy’s take. Trim boards will be gloss white and the roof shingles will be Owens-Corning TruDefinition Duration Estate Grey. The concrete base, naturally grey, will remain exposed or potentially get a parge coat, the design plans left either option on the table.

The slab foundation is in, and the buildings are framed, sheathed in plywood ZIP Panels, roofed, shingled, some roof trim boards have been attached, fiberglass windows have been fitted, and the PVC sewer line is clearly visible in its trench. The inside of the wood-frame structure is framed out, and utilities roughs-in (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) are underway. Sorry folks, this one sneaked up on me – demo permits were filed in March, building permits May 20th. Hopgart Construction of Horseheads is the construction manager.

Early drawing.

Final design.





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 7/2019

12 07 2019

Looks like it’s safe to say that the infill project at 128 West Falls Street is completed. With the exception of some interior finish work and landscaping, the project is largely finished and will be ready for occupancy for the start of August. The guys at Plumb Level and Square were hard at work so the photos are a bit limited, but I do appreciate them allowing me to wander around a bit. Heritage Builders is the developer for the five-unit project, with three three-bedroom and two two-bedroom units. The construction crew said the units were designed to be easily reconfigured if desired.

One of the guys expressed disappointment that the copper exterior finishes were already discoloring, but that’s kinda the point of copper. As it oxidizes, the copper darkens and takes on a grey-green patina that also waterproofs and protects the copper below the surface. A nice detail to have if you’re trying to fit into a neighborhood of much older homes.

The addresses are 126 West Falls Street, 132A West Falls Street, and 132B West Falls Street. 126 is the stand-alone single-family unit on the east side of the lot, a 3 bedroom, 3 bath asking $2,680/month. 132A is the duplex in the middle – Unit 1 is the east (right) unit, Unit 2 the west (left) unit, with asking prices of $2,750/month for Unit 1 and $2,650/month for Unit 2, discounted slightly perhaps because it’s next to Route 13. The two-family unit at 132B West Falls Street is asking $1,650/month and $1,850/month for its units. The units come with electric fireplaces ans dishwashers, but surprisingly for their premium p[rice point, they don’t have washers and dryers included, just the hookups.

More info about the project can be found here.





327 West Seneca Street Construction Update, 6/2019

23 06 2019

This project combines a pair of things that are up and coming. One is development along the State Street Corridor, the other is Visum Development Group.

Visum (Vih-SUM) is the startup firm launched by local businessman Todd Fox. Fox doesn’t really fit the normal profile of Ithaca real estate landlords. Most are older, more formal in attire and appearance, and reluctant to engage with news media and the public – “everyone’s been burned over at least once,” one 70-something year old developer once told me. Fox, on the other hand, is a different culture. He’s in his mid 30s, eschews the suit and tie for buttondowns and casual shoes, and sports what I suspect is a half sleeve tattoo on his left arm. One of Ithaca’s few millennial developers, he’s also more inclined to speak out than most – that doesn’t always make for the best headline for him, but it makes my job for the Voice easier.

However, even though Fox is a different vibe, there’s no doubting he’s good at what he does. Visum is one of the fastest growing firms in Upstate New York. 501st nationwide in 2018, and 610th this year, according to Inc., with a three-year growth of 820%. The small if growing firm got its start in 2015 as a spin off of Modern Living Rentals, which was led by Fox with developer Charlie O’Connor. But Fox and O’Connor have different approaches to development, so they pursued their own interests, O’Connor as MLR, and Fox as Visum. Since that time, Visum has developed tens of millions of dollars’ worth in property, and has tens of millions more in the development pipeline. Projects include 201 College Avenue, the Lux (232-236 Dryden Road), 210 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue, 707 East Seneca Street, and several smaller projects. More recently, the company is pursuing projects beyond Ithaca – a residential conversion project in Downtown Elmira, a 75-unit building in Boise, and recent signals that they’re scouting locations for a project in Raleigh.

Generally speaking, most of its projects have been geared towards students, and from a purely business standpoint that makes sense. Students are a lucrative, stable market in Ithaca – as long as your location is good, you’ve got a safe real estate investment. But with Cornell’s Maplewood and North Campus Residential Expansion, most local developers are shying away from the student market. Some are sitting on their earnings and just hoping to roll with the punches, others are pursuing new opportunities. Travis Hyde Properties is planning new senior housing, Lambrou Real Estate is pursuing a waterfront project, and Visum, the low-moderate income (LMI) affordable/workforce housing bracket.

That’s pretty unusual for a for-profit entity. Frankly, the complicated process to assemble financing to build LMI housing is exhausting and often uncertain, so most avoid it. About the only other ones I can think of with a local presence are Cornerstone Group and Vecino Group, both much larger firms than Visum.

Visum is serious about it, though. 327 West Seneca would be their first affordable LMI project (at least two more are planned, though the city appears to be actively trying to kill one of them). As planned, it’s smaller-scale urban infill (yes Historic Ithaca, I’m aware you don’t like me calling any project that involves a demolition/deconstruction “infill”). A humdrum two-story, three-unit apartment house replaced with a three-story, 12-unit apartment building totaling 7,845 SF, with six studios (442 SF) and six two-bedroom units (708-744 SF), to be priced in the 70-80% area median income (AMI) bracket, so around $1,200/month for the two-bedroom units and $900/month for studios.  Zoning on the site is B-2d, which allows 4-story buildings with 75% lot coverage, and no vehicle parking requirement for all-residential structures like this one. It will have a bicycle rack. While a 4-story building was allowed, they would have needed a second set of fire stairs per state fire code, which made the extra floor cost-prohibitive. The target market is one-person and two-person working-class households.

Yard setback variances were required, and early on two versions of the building were presented, one with smaller units and no need for setbacks, and the larger version, which has marginally larger units but in need of variances. The Planning Board let the project team know early on that they encouraged the larger workforce housing units and would support variances, which is a strong voice of support to the Board of Zoning Appeals, and though self-created, the BZA accepted the Planning Board’s advice and granted the variances.

As with many Visum Projects, STREAM Collaborative is the architect (the filing docs suggest architect Jacob Marnell‘s work). The relatively simple design is intended to quietly fit in with the apartment houses that neighbor it on either side. The new structure would be finished in Dryvit synthetic stucco (color Benjamin Moore “Sunny Days”) and fiber cement clapboard and batten board (color Benjamin Moore “Indian River”). Certainteed 3-tab asphalt shingles (Timber color) will be used on the gable roof, Anderson 100 and 400 Series windows with off-white trim, black steel canopies and unpainted larch wood screening will also be used. Keeping with the warm colors, the doors will be painted BM “Jupiter Glow”. Main entries are on the sides, but one apartment is accessed via the front entrance. Heating is electric baseboard, but I don’t see anything about heat pumps in the planning docs.

The project was first proposed in June 2018, and approved in November. By Ithaca standards, the process was fairly quick and painless; there was practically no opposition to the proposal, and the design remained pretty much the same from start to finish, with the exception of some window treatments and finishes (gutters). The SIte Plan Review document suggests a six-month buildout, though I dunno if that includes the demolition; either way, a completion by the end of this year is likely, given that it’s a concrete slab and wood-framed buildings like this tend to go up quickly.

Construction costs are estimated at $1,275,330. At least $200,000 of that is covered with a joint city-county-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund (CHDF) grant – as they split it up, $170,000 from Cornell, $30,000 from Ithaca, though to be clear, the project is not Cornell-affiliated in any way. Developer equity and bank financing will cover the rest. As one city official told me with 510 West State Street, the city is nervous about its ability to lock in affordability from for-profit developers; but given that Visum plans to pursue a CHDF there as well, the threat of a costly clawback of funds plus legal costs is a pretty strong deterrent to that kind of behavior. By pursuing housing a notch above the usual 50-60% area median income sought with affordable housing, Visum doesn’t need as many grants to make a project work, and their ample developer equity (i.e. existing cash on-hand) makes affordable lower-middle income projects like this appealing for lenders and their construction loans.

Demolition permits were granted in late May. The existing house has been cleared and the site is graded. Keep an eye out for footer excavation and foundation pours in the coming weeks.

May 18th, 2019

June 14th, 2019