Library Place Construction Update, 10/2019

10 11 2019

Quoting the roundup at the Voice:

“With the foundation piles in place, wood forms have been erected for the pouring of the concrete footers and exterior foundation walls for the four-story building. Part of the old library’s foundation is being reused in the project, but the two buildings have somewhat different footprints, so some new foundation walls are necessary. The rebar extended from the steel piles is encased in concrete and capped, and the steel bolts rising out of the cap will tie into the structural skeleton of the building above. Underground water pipes are being connected from the building to the city’s water system this week.

You might notice some similarities with the Cornell project with the forming and pouring walls, but also note some big differences as well – some of the building sites in Cornell (the sophomore village buildings) don’t require deep foundations. The soil on the hills is in better shape than it is in the more low-lying areas, and can generally handle a heavier load. This gives Cornell the benefit of being able to do quicker, less expensive foundation work in those areas where a shallow foundation is feasible.

The $17 million mixed-use building, which will contain commercial space, space administered by Lifelong and 66 senior apartments, is anticipating opening at the tail end of 2020 or early 2021.”

One thing that’s not readily apparent quite yet is that there’s a partially underground parking garage below the primary structure. That garage does not extend all the way to the street except for the entrance, which is where the fence gates are (and where these photos start from). You can eyeball the perimeter walls from the three concrete wells partitioned off in various boxes – the northern one, seen in the fourth photo, will house an elevator, mechanical room and stairwell, the middle one next to the excavator will house the trash room, and the southern one, next to the huge stack of masonry blocks, will house a maintenance room and southern stairwell.





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 3/2019

27 03 2019

Not a whole lot to say at the moment – everything above surface level on the site has been cleared as of the end of February, and grading/leveling is taking place. Part of the existing 1960s foundation will be reused for underground parking, and part of it will be taken out. According to the project team, an examination of the existing foundation column footers vs. the blueprints found that eight of the column footers were not where indicated on the as-built drawings. That created a conflict with portions of the new structure, ans so these column footers are being removed (probably by the demolition subcontractor, Gorick Construction of Binghamton; LeChase is the general contractor overseeing the whole project).

It might seem weird, but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Half the footers were missing outright at Ed Cope’s Ithaca Glass site, which led to a total overhaul of the project plans (now held by Visum, although I haven’t heard anything about the plan since the transfer was announced in November).

It’s a bit unusual since the project is already underway (or at least, the site prep is), but Library Place has yet to receive approval for a tax abatement. The Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will be receiving the tax abatement application in early April and the board will get their first glance at it on April 10th. A public hearing on the abatement will be held sometime before the May 8th IDA meeting. Assuming the application is approved at the May 8th meeting, pile driving would start within a few days of approval.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 3/2019

24 03 2019

It seems we can move this one back into the under construction column? It’s been a weird few months.

The developers, L Enterprises (David Lubin) and Mcguire Development of Buffalo, parted way with Taylor the Builders, the construction manager, back in January. They were able to line up another construction manager in LeChase Construction of Rochester, which has done its fair share of work around Ithaca and Tompkins County. Issues with transferring control and insurance paperwork of the 300-ton crane, however, delayed the project’s construction by several weeks, but the project did finally resume in early March.

I can tell you that whole “craziness”, as project rep Vicki Taylor Brous put it, gave a lot of city staff and elected officials heartburn. Given the city’s recent policy of advocating for density and downtown development, a hulking, stalled steel skeleton was the type of thing that was going to really make any future project a difficult sell.

It was also very upsetting for neighboring business owners. The project has already created some frustration with its blockading of the Commons playground out of safety concerns. The construction, and lack thereof, created an unattractive nuisance, with people steering away from neighboring businesses and taking their money elsewhere. The abatement was shifted forward a year, but not without significant blowback from members of the general public who had taken the opportunity to air their grievances with the development team. The current plan is to have the office and retail space available for occupancy by the end of the year, with housing occupancy by spring 2020.

At the crux of the issue are claims by Taylor that the project had undergone significant changes and that Taylor wanted to be compensated for the late changes. Although downplayed at the time, it became clear in the months since that there were major programmatic and minor aesthetic changes. The programmatic change was the reduction of 30 micro units (for a new total of 78) to make way for an additional 10,000 SF of office space for an unspecified tech tenant, as mentioned in the revised IDA application. (For those curious, the rumor mill says it’s a growing local tech firm; 10,000 SF is about the right size for a 40-50 person operation). Most of its commercial spaces appear to still be on the market.

There have also been some substantial if overall minor aesthetic changes, partially as a result of transitioning some residential space back to commercial offices. Some of the metal panels are being replaced with a terra cotta exterior finish, elimination of a mechanical screen because the equipment was smaller than first anticipated, the addition of balconies on the corners, the elimination of two windows per floor on the south face in order to comply with International/NYS Building Code, and window revisions on the fifth floor for the new tenant.

The renderings at the end of this post were published in 2018. The designs are for the revisions that were reviewed by the planning board last month, with the exception of the fifth floor office tenants and changes to suit them. The only reasons I can come up for waiting to submit these changes, was that either they didn’t have to (as mentioned before, after approval, the circumstances required for re-approval are rather murky), or that they weren’t sure what was going to happen with the fifth floor and wanted to have all their revisions in one package to avoid further trips to the board. It’s not clear when they began negotiating with the tech tenant, and when Taylor started to have issues working with the developers.

Anyway, work has recommenced on the steel structure, as the eighth floor is built out. Since the upper floors have small floorplates, the building’s steel structure will likely top out before the start of summer. From there, it’s fireproofing, sprinkler systems, exterior and interior wall framing, rough-ins, sheathing, and all the fun stuff that makes a building begin to look like its final product.





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 2/2019

17 02 2019

I’ll admit I’ve actively avoided writing this one up because it has more twists and turns than a soap opera, and it ends up being extremely hard to follow as a result. There are over forty articles from local outlets regarding the site, and Travis Hyde Properties compiled about two dozen of the pieces it liked onto their website. The Voice has eighteen Old Library articles on file, but because of a tag mix-ups, it’s more like thirty. Here’s an attempt to distill everything into one post.

The Old Library site refers to the former Tompkins County Library, located at 310-14 North Cayuga Street. From 1967 to 2000, the library was housed there. However, once the library moved downtown in 2000, the building was used for day reporting for low-level criminal offenders, and for records storage. These were eventually relocated to other properties, and the 38,630 SF would be vacant by early 2015. However, the county didn’t like the idea of hanging onto it. Its unusual interior design (a large atrium) was difficult to adapt to other uses, inefficient from an energy standpoint, and the building’s utilities systems were running short on useful life, and would be expensive to replace. As a result, the building was declared surplus.

The idea of a Request for Expressions for Interest (RFEI), was hatched in late 2013. An RFEI is basically a prerequisite to a Request for Proposals (RFP), feeling out interest by asking for less paperwork – an RFP to RFPs in a sense. While the building was no longer useful for the county’s needs, it sits on a site close to downtown Ithaca, next to historic DeWitt Park (and in the DeWitt Park Historic District). It’s walkable, and the city’s 2013 rezoning allows up to four floors and 50 feet. The RFEI stressed mixed uses with an emphasis on senior housing, and compatibility, energy efficiency, and growth of the tax base. The hope was that someone would use the site to help the county meet its goals, though the county was unsure how it would go – an earlier RFP in 2000 garnered no interest in the property.

As luck would have it, there were six responses to the RFEI, which can be found here. Two, INHS and IAD, dropped out before an RFP went out – INHS had acquired the 210 Hancock site and decided to focus on that. The DPI condo proposal declined to respond to the county’s RFP, citing frustrations with the county’s frequent delays, and that had one of the favored proposals in the feedback I received. The other two “reader’s choices” were Cornerstone’s affordable housing plan, and Franklin Properties collaboration with STREAM Collaborative, which called for reusing the structure of the building.

By the time the RFP has been issued and responded to in April 2015, three projects were up for review – Cornerstone’s 73,600 SF 54-unit affordable housing plan (<80% AMI), Travis Hyde’s 72,500 SF, 60-unit market-rate senior apartments plan, and Franklin/STREAM’s 58,000 SF building, with 22 higher-end condominiums and medical office space. All would pay the county $925,000 for the site.

The next few months were not enjoyable. The Cornerstone project asked for a PILOT tax agreement and lost county support. That left Franklin and Travis Hyde and Franklin Properties. The Franklin project had strong public support. But in June 2015, the county Old Library Committee of legislators recommended the Travis Hyde project 3-2. Two legislators genuinely favored Travis Hyde, one voted in favor just to move it out of committee, one liked the Franklin proposal though expressed some unhappiness with all of them, and one thought all three proposals were outright terrible.

A week later came the full county legislature’s vote – 6-6, a hung vote with two absent. Neither proposal had the eight votes of support needed to move forward. That’s when things started to get ugly. The city’s Common Council and Planning Board submitted letters recommending the Franklin proposal, which ruffled some feathers in the legislature. One legislator was accused of an ethics violation because the Travis family donated to her congressional campaign two years earlier, and recused herself from future votes. The Old Library plan was sent back to committee, where the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. There was a very good chance neither plan would get the required eight votes, and the county would be unable to make a decision on how to sell off a property they didn’t want. More failed votes ensued.

Finally, in early August, the Travis Hyde proposal got the nod in an 8-5 vote. There was definitely some bitterness afterwards, and an air of unscrupulous behavior. A legislator who switched his support to Travis Hyde would lose re-election to a strong advocate for the Franklin project later that year. He moved districts and into Fall Creek just as the other deciding vote retired from the Fall Creek district; there have been accusations it was orchestrated, but nothing was ever proven, and believe me, my then-editor, Jeff Stein who’s now at the Washington Post, had worked hard to find something.

For the record, this is why I have a strong aversion to RFPs. It works well when there’s one clear choice. But here, the disconnect between suburban and rural legislators, and passionate city residents, as well as all of the fighting and accusations that went with it, really created an unpleasant and rancorous experience. I dread the RFP for the NYS DOT site, which will come up in a year or two.

The project wouldn’t begin to move through municipal review until early 2016. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), who had stated a strong preference for the Franklin proposal, was first up – there was no point in going to the planning board if the ILPC isn’t on board (and the Planning Board is generally the more accommodating of the two). The project they were first presented had 51 units, 6,500 SF of space for senior services Lifelong, community space (2,000 SF), and a modest amount of street-level commercial space (4,000 SF).

There were eight different designs that the development team submitted in an effort to satisfy the ILPC. Here’s the major ones – One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight, the final design. If you want to be picky, there are some minor revisions too, for things like facade materials tweaks. As review continued, it was decided that it would be more efficient to hold the ILPC and Planning Board meetings on the project at the same time in one group, so that one panel wouldn’t contradict the other.

After several months and several major redesigns, it wasn’t looking good. The ILPC felt that every design was simply too big and one called it “an impossible building”. County staff and officials were getting angry because they felt that the city was trying to spite them, and one planning board member’s comment was effectively “you should do what we tell you to do,” so once again, the project site was in an uncertain and acrimonious situation.

By October 2016, the plans had been modified to be 17 percent smaller, 73,400 SF with 57 units. This included a 950 SF ground-floor commercial space and a 1,900 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, which had made the decision to stay in its building next door and not move into the new building. Some of the indoor parking was moved to an outdoor rear lot to shrink the structure further, and the fourth floor was set back from the rest of the building. This too was turned down, but there was just enough of a window for possible approval that Travis Hyde decided to give it one more shot.

Frankly, this project was hanging by a thread. Travis had informed the county that he was “bruised and battered”, but would make one last attempt. The last shot was February 2017’s meeting. The foundation of the old library would be reused in the latest design, and the third floor was pulled back from the street. It passed, 4-3. One vote essentially made all the difference. That allowed the project to move forward with environmental review SEQR) from the planning board.

This reviewed version called for 54 senior apartment units, 32 parking spaces, a 2,000 SF community room, 1,160 SF of retail, and 86,700 SF of total space, as the interior parking was now underground as part of the reused old foundation. The sale of the site was approved by the county after the project was greenlighted, in September 2017. The 3 no’s in the 11-3 vote were two Franklin proposal advocates and the legislator who said all the projects were terrible two years earlier, so points for consistency.

The actual interior layout at this point, is something of a question mark. In May 2018, it was announced that the project would be partnering with luxury senior services provider Bridges Cornell Heights on the project. As part of that, the design was updated to 67 units, though there was no change in total square footage. According to the press release, “(o)n site, there will be a restaurant, a la carte home health services from an on-site agency, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, pool and parking. The partners will also work with Lifelong to provide on-site activities and programs.” Units will be a mix of 1-3 bedrooms, market rate and available to renters 55 and older. The name of the project also changed, from “DeWitt House” to “Library Place”.

Continuing the theme of controversy with the project, by the time financing was secured for the now $17 million plan (up from $14 million in 2014), the building’s roof had become structurally unstable. The fear was that construction workers could be inside if it suddenly collapsed. An engineering report filed by Ryan Biggs/Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying in August led the city’s director of code enforcement to condemn the building. The initial demolition plan was to seal the building up and cart out the asbestos in sealed containers, a “contained” demolition. The new plan was to demolish on site with spraying to prevent airborne contaminants, a “controlled” demolition. This led to community protests, and the mayor threatened to torpedo the project unless a second engineering report was carried out by a third party engineer of the city’s choosing, with no affiliation to Travis Hyde. The second report, from Dende Engineering, confirmed the first report’s findings, so the city okayed, if somewhat begrudgingly, the new demolition plan. In response to the demolition, a neighboring couple wrapped their nearby home and rental buildings in plastic as a dramatic show of concern, which caught the attention of broadcast media.

The project is seeking a tax abatement, but the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) has yet to schedule a meeting to review the application and take a vote.

Demolition and site prep is expected to last through the winter, and construction will begin during the spring. A fall 2020 opening is anticipated. Alongside Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights, the project team includes HOLT Architects for the building design (all eight of them), TWMLA for the landscape architecture, LeChase Construction as general contractor, and Hayes Strategy for marketing. Gorick Construction of Binghamton is handling the demolition, with Delta Engineers, Architects and Surveyors doing the air quality monitoring. The project website is here, as are the air quality reports.

December 9th:

January 19th:





Tompkins Center for History and Culture Renovation Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

The new Tompkins Center for History and Culture is progressing towards its April 2019 opening. There’s not much to see from t he outside, since this is an interior renovation, albeit a major, to-the-studs renovation. Some non-load bearing walls have been removed and the interior has been opened up. Back in October, the History Center spearheaded a community effort, called “Moving History Forward”, to move its thousands of historical artifacts from their old location in Gateway Center to the new TCHC a couple blocks away. Not only did it engage the community (the move required 330 volunteers), it also saved about $40,000 in moving expenses.

According to the building permit from October, LeChase Construction is on board as the general contractor for the $1.8 million project. Although based out of Rochester, LeChase maintains offices throughout the state – the firm opened an office in Ithaca, but the company website does not suggest it’s full-service, if it’s still used at all. Most Ithaca work is overseen by the Syracuse office. Matco Electric Corporation of Vestal is in charge of electrical work and rewiring, Lansing’s DFM Mechanical is doing the plumbing, and Eagle Mechanical of Wolcott (Wayne County) is doing the general mechanical work. Local firm Hayes Strategy is serving as the construction project manager, and STREAM Collaborative is designing the interior renovation. New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area within the renovated space, and some of those images are included below. From Tessellate’s website:

“The intent of the exhibits at the History Center in Tompkins County is to connect audiences to meaningful history and narratives about the past, present and future of the region through the use of interactive, immersive, media and object-based experiences. For this project, Tessellate designed a flexible series of modular Story Pods to work as a physical, visual, and technical system to accommodate current and future needs of the museum. This allows for an open floor plan, use of vertical space and height, dynamic header text/images, visitor seating, accommodating for groups, and the blend of physical, interactive and media design offered an optimal storytelling experience.”

Quick aside, Marchuska Brothers Construction was the county’s general contractor, Johnson Controls had the mechanical contract and Richardson Brothers the electrical contract for the initial renovation work. Not sure why there was a switch. The switch was because the History Center hired their own set of contractors for their buildout needs. From the architect, Noah Demarest: “The county owns the building so they had a contract to deal with some core facilities issues. Now the History Center is using their own contractors for the tenant build out. So it wasn’t a change, just the result of the open bidding process of two different entities working in the same space.”

A project description and development timeline can be found here.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 6/2018

15 06 2018

There was an interesting story going around that Maplewood was in serious trouble due to water pressure issues, to the point where its ability to legally house its residents was at risk (no water pressure would have made for a hazardous fire risk). That would have been a huge story had it panned out, but a little bit of checking with the town of Ithaca codes department and the development team turned up no dire situations unfolding, all is going as planned (a welcome change given all the weather and contractor issues that have plagued the project’s tight work schedule so far). There was some worry about water pressure back when the project was first proposed, which is why a new 600,000 gallon water tower is going up on Hungerford Hill Road.

It’s a little sad to see the French Lavender florist and gift shop is closing down after eleven years. It’s not clear if it’s related to construction, or if the timing was coincidental. Coal Yard Cafe was doing a brisk mid-day business at the opposite end of the Maplewood site. With 872 new residents expected by the end of the summer, the site will have appeal to retailers and service providers.

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Webcam link 1 here (updated ~15 minutes).

Webcam link 2 here (updated ~15 minutes).





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 4/2018

7 05 2018

It appears that TFC’s new headquarters is just about done – from the outside, paving, landscaping and signage is about all that’s left. The signage plan, a fairly conservative “halo” style courtesy of Ithaca Sign Works, can be seen on the city’s website here.

As these photos were taken, a moving crew was busy carting office materials from TFC’s office space across the street. Corporation staff should be moved into the new building by the end of May. Tompkins Trust Company Division CEO Greg Hartz has said that 119 and 121 East Seneca would be held onto and rented out, with the bank retaking space in those buildings as it needs. Meanwhile, the historic 2 and 3-story buildings on Bank Alley just south of the M&T Building have been sold to the county for use as the new Tompkins Center for History and Culture, which will open in 2019.

On the whole, a project like this is a big net positive for the city. As opposed to the tried-and-true suburban office park route, TFC’s commitment to the city, and the work of city personnel as well as TCAD to keep them in downtown results in a major addition to the city’s tax base ($3,782,311 in new tax revenue over 10 years), the retaining of hundreds of workers downtown who by proximity would be more likely to shop, dine or live nearby, and the prospect of dozens of well-paying jobs being created at the new headquarters over the next several years. It looks like that the company added 22 employees system-wide in 2017, for a total of 1,041. A little over 300 of those will work in the new headquarters, the vast majority moving from the other offices in downtown Ithaca, with another 18 or so from the Lansing office.

Design-wise, it has a solid if conservative appearance, befitting of a stable, button-up corporation. HOLT Architects added a modern touch with the windows, and created visual interest by contrasting the dark grey brick with the tan brick, beige face stone and grey aluminum panels. The building height and dimension occupy an intermediate size between the DeWitt Mall and Seneca Place, which allows it to be imposing without being overbearing.

Other firms involved in the bringing this project from vision to reality include the engineers and surveyors at Elwyn & Palmer, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, and Rochester’s LeChase Construction. Credit also goes to JPW Erectors for the steel framework, the Carpenters’ Union Local 277 and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 241.