News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

1. Matt Butler at the Times is providing an in-depth check-up on the mall this week. This was a story the Voice had laid groundwork for as well, so it’s nice that one of the local news orgs was able to make hay of it. The mall, like many middle-class local malls across the country has been struggling in the age of Amazon and the retail meltdown. The overall economy might be humming along, but retail closures continue to spike nationwide, with over 6,100 closures planned this year alone, more than the 5,900 announced in all of 2018. With planned new store openings numbering 2,100, it’s practically two stores closing for every one that opens. Retail mega-landlord Cushman and Wakefield estimates 9,000 stores will close in 2019, and over 12,000 in 2020. In the Ithaca Mall, Gertrude Hawk is gone, American Eagle closed up last year, Ultimate Athletics shut its doors, the Bon-Ton closed as part of the shutdown of the whole chain, and the Sears Hometown store is kaput. The mall’s manager cited a variety of reasons, including chain downsizing, poor performance, and some just stopped paying rent.

This has major economic impacts; the mall’s property value has declined by over 60% since the start of the decade, and the village, the county and the schools have to make up those hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue somewhere (and the county and schools have). County legislator Deborah Dawson, who represents the mall’s district, suggested doing something similar to the DeWitt Mall downtown, a mix of local businesses, but the mall is a much bigger space to fill (622,500 SF vs. 117,500 SF in the DeWitt Mall), and DeWitt Mall is mixed-use (retail and 45 apartments). Local businesses and experiential outlets can be part of the solution as Running 2 Places is showing with their 18,000 SF theater this spring, but it’s one component of a solution. Residential could be a component, but some legal and logistic issues would need to be sorted out, which owner Namdar Realty has never shown much interest in; the village has also been lukewarm to the idea. About 40 apartment units were floated for a section of the parking lot (west/on the backside of the mall if I remember right), but that idea died during the Great Recession.

There is so silver bullet here. The owner needs to be more proactive then holding a proverbial gun to its’ tenants heads in order to get them to stay. Local governing bodies also have to keep an open mind for redevelopment ideas – if parts of the mall were torn down and replaced with residential, for example. As it is, the only plans on the horizon are an unnamed tenant for the former Bon-Ton space, and the extended stay hotel planned for the parking lot behind (west) of the Ramada Inn. The future of the mall is hazy; like a species faced with a steadily changing habitat, it’s either adapt and evolve, or perish.

2. Courtesy of their Facebook page, here’s a sketch render of what Salt Point Brewing Compant’s new brewery and taproom would look like. It’s a fairly unobtrusive one-story structure with a gable roof and two wings, presumably the taller one for the brewing tanks and the smaller one for service functions. On the outside are wood accents and a two-story deck for outdoor drinking and possibly dining, if the restaurant option is pursued.

The building, as well as associated landscaping and parking improvements, would be located on about three of the five acres sold as Parcel “D” in the Lansing Town Center development. The remaining two acres are wetlands and would be left undisturbed. Salt Point paid $75,000 for the land, and will bring its project forth to the town planning board in the coming months. No word on any job creation figures yet.

3. The NYS DOT county facility plans are moving forward. The state bought its 15 acres from Tompkins County for $840,000 according to a deed filed on April 24th. The building is classified as a sub-residency facility, a step below a primary regional facility (the main office for Region 3 is in Syracuse).

To review, the plans consist of the 30,000 SF sub-residency maintenance building, a 5,000 SF Cold Storage unit, an 8,200 SF salt barn, and a 2,500 square foot hopper building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

The town has been less than pleased with the project, which is not bound to zoning code because it’s a public resource facility owned and operated by a government entity. Rather than voice approval, the planning board voted to acknowledge that they simply had no authority to control the project. Some modifications were made to the plans at the town’s request, such as the fueling station being moved onto airport property across Warren Road, but neighbors are still unhappy that snowplows and heavy-duty maintenance vehicles are about to be their next door neighbors.

The facility is expected to be open by the end of the end of the year. Once all staff and equipment have been moved in, the county may pursue a request for proposals/request for expression of interest for the current DOT property on the shores of the inlet near the Farmer’s Market. A 2015 feasibility analysis found that the site could conceivably host a $40+ million mixed-use project, and the site has became more amenable towards redevelopment with the enhanced density and use provisions made to the city’s waterfront zoning in 2017.

4. The Ithaca city planning board granted a negative declaration of environmental review to the 124-unit Arthaus affordable housing project at 130 Cherry Street. According to my editor Kelsey O’Connor, the latest revisions propose a five-story building that would include a gallery, office and affordable rental space. It would include parking for about 36 vehicles and 7,600 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. All of the units would be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80% of the area median income, or about $30,000 to $45,000. The north end of the property will also include a publicly accessible path leading to the inlet.

Speaking in favor of the project were neighborhood business owners and non-profits, and in opposition was councilman George McGonigal, who said both in a letter and in person that it was too big for the site and threatened the industrial character of the neighborhood. They have bigger concerns than housing nearby. Cherry Street is difficult to access with large trucks and commercial vehicles, the Brindley Street and Cecil Malone Drive bridges are small and in poor shape. Secondly, Cherry Street doesn’t provide much room for operations to expand, so that hinders their long-term operational planning. It’s not just lot size, but also the soil – the Emmy’s Organics project fell through because of poor soil not amenable for warehouse and other light industrial functions that rely on a concrete slab. Thirdly, the city’s strict environmental laws, fees and higher property taxes make an urban site less appealing. They can get more land with a lighter tax burden in Lansing, Dryden, or any of the other outlying towns. With these issues in mind, many of the industrial businesses down there now aren’t looking to stick around. Several have already sold or made purchase options with developers as they seek areas with lower taxes, easier access to highways and less strict environmental ordinances.

The unanimous approval by the city planning board allows the project to move forward with consideration for preliminary approval. The goal is to gain approval at next month’s meeting, and once affordable housing funds have been secured, to start construction of the project, likely in December of this year.

5. The Chain Works District presented plans for phase one at the Planning Board meeting. There are four buildings in phase one, of which two are in the city. 43,400 SF Building 21 would be renovated into a commercial office building. The work here is limited to replacing walled-up window openings with new windows, exterior cleaning and painting, and new signage and entrance canopies. Building 24 is a combination of renovation and expansion. The partially built-out basement and first floor would be renovated for commercial office space, the second and third story would be residential, and a new fourth floor would be built for residential uses, for a total of 135,450 SF across 4.5 floors. As with Building 21, new windows would be installed, and the exterior cleaned and painted. New landscaping, sidewalk and parking areas are also planned.

At a glance, the residential in the first phase would host 60 market-rate rental units. Each floor will have one studio unit, nine one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and one four-bedroom unit. According to the Site Plan Review document, the project would begin renovation in October, and be open by August 2020. The other two building in phase one are renovations of industrial and manufacturing spaces in the town, Buildings 33 and 34. These will retain industrial uses.

This meeting was only for the purpose of sharing and discussing plans, with no voting at this time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board was reluctant to approve any plans without more information about who will be occupying them. That seems a bit odd, because projects are analyzed for their physical impacts, not the tenants, but the Times article says parking and landscaping may change slightly depending on the tenant. According to project representative Jamie Gensel, the USDA is considering renting out some of the office space. The USDA maintains a research facility inside the Holley Center on Cornell’s campus, and there were plans in the late 2000s to build an addition, which were later shelved during the Great Recession. It’s not clear how much space they’re seeking. Not sure what to make of that writeup, honestly, or being told to move the buildings into a different phase (personally, I’d like to be renovations before any new builds happen).

6. 815 South Aurora Street, aka “Overlook”, also continued its review at the planning board meeting. There were some minor design tweaks, seen in the before image (above) and after image (below). Changes in exterior colors, panels, ground-level entrances and fenestration, particularly on the side facing South Aurora Street. The fire trucks are  to indicate that emergency vehicles will be able to safely pull in and out from the road. Overall, project size remains at 49 units and 141 bedrooms.

There’s been some pushback from neighbors regarding size and neighborhood character. There’s an argument that these are dependent on Chain Works, but that argument doesn’t pass the smell test – if Chain Works didn’t happen, fewer units on the South Hill market would make the project even more appealing to Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals. The planning department wants more geotechnical information and bedrock to be removed, details about the new planting and landscaping, and energy systems. Documents submitted indicate the all-residential development will use electric heat pumps. The board has requested a shadow study and flesh out the environmental impacts, which is a common request for larger developments.

7. At least one project is fully approved. Although it seems at least one planning board member asked for affordable housing, the four-unit market-rate Perdita Flats infill at 224 Fair Street was granted preliminary site plan approval. The project is intended to be a sustainable building showcase of eco-friendly features, a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing. The owner/developers, Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt, will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





News Tidbits 8/13/16: The Forward Advance

13 08 2016

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1. In the news, Neil Golder’s lawsuit against the planning board and the 201 College project was dismissed on technicality. The Tompkins County State Supreme Court decided that since the lawsuit was based on preliminary site plan approval and not final site plan approval, the project was subject to further changes and that it wasn’t appropriate for the court to hear this case at this time. So in other words, Neil will probably file his lawsuit again if/when final approval is granted, since changes between preliminary and final are unlikely to be significant. The scorched earth approach will likely continue.

It’s going to be a couple of weeks before that happens. In what the Times described as “an odd move”, the project is heading before the BZA for a zoning interpretation. Even the city’s planning department director, JoAnn Cornish, thinks it was a strange move on the board’s part, and one that kind of upends her department’s authority since they had looked at the facade length and decided it fit the zoning. More about the planning board’s (John Schroeder’s) odd decision and reasoning here.

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2. Looks like there’s a twist in Tompkins County’s plans to redevelop the NYS DOT site on the Ithaca waterfront. The DOT is no longer looking at moving to Enterprise Drive in Dryden, even though they bought the land there in 2005. Now they’re looking at a site along Warren Road up by the airport. So close to the airport, in fact, they apparently needed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to sign off on it. The FAA has agreed to a location and the DOT is working out a long-term property lease. The cost of moving is now estimated at $11-$12 million, slightly less than the $14 million estimated for the Dryden location in the Fisher Associates study, but estimates being as they are, it would be prudent to keep an eye on those projections.


3. The Dryden town planning board recently reviewed plans to convert the former Stevens Furniture at 2085 Dryden Road into an auction house specializing in books. The 10,000 SF would be renovated with no substantial exterior modifications. It’s a fairly small, unobtrusive plan, and by itself not much of a write-up.

However, this project is being proposed by Danby’s David Hall. The same David Hall who wanted to create the Summit Enterprise Center on Danby’s Gunderman Road, and led to all sorts of rancor among town residents and officials. His company, National Book Auctions, was to be one of the tenants of the business center. Danby’s planning board notes are online up to June only,  so the question is, is the Danby plan still moving forward and this is a case of filling a pressing need, or is the Summit project done and out?

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4. For this week’s eye candy, here’s the first image of the two-family home that Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou wants to build at 123 Eddy Street. Jagat Sharma is the architect. The land is currently a double lot with 125 Eddy, and at present it’s part of the lawn. A planned subdivision would create a building lot on which Lambrou could put up the home. As part of the East Hill Historic District, the design has to pass ILPC muster, and at a glance, the projecting window bays (not sure they meet the definition of bay windows?), porch and comparably-pitched roof should help.

Note the lack of a garage. The street is up to 13 feet below the houses on that block, and there are no off-street parking spaces planned for either of the 3-bedroom units. The BZA would have to grant a zoning variance for a deficiency of two spaces.

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5. Tiny Timbers and the Evergreen Townhouses were both up for review by the town of Dryden’s Planning Board. Tiny Timbers once again had only a few minor quibbles among board members, who voted to approve the sketch plan and send it to the Dryden ZBA. The Evergreen Townhouses had much more resistance, but the PUD concept was approved with some stipulations on fleshing out the project further before it may continue in the process. In Dryden, the town board gives final approval to project proposals, so both of these are moving along, but not fully approved just yet. In the meanwhile, Tiny Timbers is finishing construction on prototype #2.

6. Someone’s had a busy week. On Wednesday, a Rochester-based LLC picked up the Chateau Claire Apartments, a ca. 1960 64-unit apartment complex in the village of Lansing, for $5.3 million. The same day, a second Rochester-based LLC picked up the adjacent 37,400 SF shopping center for $1.3 million. The properties are collectively assessed at just under $6 million, so the purchase price seems pretty reasonable for a decent if not especially desirable stretch of property.

With a little digging, it turns out under the LLCs, the sellers were the same for both, and the buyers the same for both. The sellers were the Goldberg family who owned Bishop’s of Ithaca, a home improvement store. After enjoying success with growing Bishop’s into a small chain, Stan Goldberg turned to development and was a major local developer from the ’60s through the early ’90s. He sold Bishops to his employees in 2003, and passed away last year. The buyer was Park Grove Realty, a startup real estate firm out of Rochester staffed by former Conifer LLC employees and making waves for proposing a 140-unit apartment complex on Bomax Drive two miles away. A little piece of old Ithaca fades, and a newcomer makes their first foray into the region.

Park Grove has taken out a $1.14 million construction loan to renovate the Chateau Claire units – kitchen and bathroom remodeling, washer-and-dryer installations, roof repair, new balconies, gutters, landscaping and lighting.

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7. And the other big sale(s) of the week, also from Wednesday – Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, the Patel family, finally purchased the properties for the 131-room Hilton Canopy hotel project. $1.8 million 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. This marks a big step in moving the 77,800 SF, $20+ million project forward.





A Long Voyage Ahead for The Waterfront

27 10 2015

The NYS DOT property is probably the next big, Old Library-type project facing the county in the upcoming couple of years. There’s a lot to consider in a possible move of the DOT to Dryden, and subsequent sale of the site to a chosen developer. For that, the county paid $78,000 to Fisher Associates to conduct a feasibility study, the results of which are shared below.

The feasibility study examined multiple angles – environmental, physical, market and financial factors. It has to, because without a through examination of the site, the county could under-price themselves, or vice-versa, there may be fewer or no offers, should buyers think the site’s a poisoned chalice.

But let’s start with the initial disclaimer – things are years out. The Old Library site issued an RFEI in November 2013, and a preferred developer was only named in August. Plus, everything is still dependent on a DOT move, which will have its own schedule if it happens. All things considered, although the county has generously offers 2017 as a construction start date, it’ll probably be the end of the decade if not the 2020s before any soil starts to turn, assuming there’s an interested developer.

So let’s start with a look at the site’s history and environmental concerns. According to Fisher Associates’ Environmental Site Assessment (ESA, link here), the property was virtually unused until the NYS DOT bought the land and starting building their facilities on it in 1958. There were petroleum tanks underground, but they were removed and the land re-mediated in 2004, and now the only tanks on-site are above ground, and in good condition. Some concerns still exist with salt brine tanks, debris in the inlet, and materials from when the DOT used a septic system, before it was hooked up to the city sewer. None of these appear to be potential deal breakers, just things worth noting.

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Perhaps surprisingly for a waterfront property, the vast majority of the site isn’t in the 100 or 500-year flood zone. Most of the site is elevated just enough to avoid flood risk.

Empire GeoServices of Cortland conducted the geotechnical report and site soil analysis. Looking at the soil conditions, being next to the water poses some limitations. Most of the lower elevations of the city suffer from poor, water-logged soils, which are soft and compressible near the top – in a few cases, shallow spread foundations, typically the cheapest option, have been damaged by excessive soil settling, so those are not recommended. Deep, pile foundations, like the ones used at the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek (micro-piles), Marriott (caissons) or some of the big box stores, are a safe option because they go down to more solid soil layers, but they’re more expensive. Shallow mat foundations can also be used in place of shallow spread foundations, but they’re also more complex and expensive, and are really only suitable for “light buildings” with less pounds for square inch. A mat foundation was used for Cornell’s new rowing center.

Long story short on the soils, it means that whatever is built will need a complex foundation, and its likely that whatever gets built will be priced at a premium. The study tacks on an extra 10% to the cost for townhouses and mixed-use buildings.

In the study, there are three plans considered – a hotel plan, a multifamily/townhouse “preferred” plan, and a maximum density plan. The site plan PDF is here, for you kids following along at home.

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The hotel plan imagines a 124-room hotel (midsize in the Ithaca market) with 6450 SF of commercial space. The plan includes 10 townhouses and 52 multi-family units in the 850-1200 SF range. There are 286 parking spaces, as required by zoning – 1 for each hotel room (124), 1 per 100 SF of commercial space (64), 2 for each townhouse (20) and 1.5 for each apartment-type unit (78). 1 Space for 100 SF commercial space is fairly generous to drivers – the ITE trip generation manual shows most commercial retail to be well below that threshold, with only service outlets like fast-food joints, coffee shops and bars exceeding the 1 space/100 SF value.

The market issues with this plan are focuses on the hotel. A hotel was envisioned for the waterfront for decades, but being off by itself with only few nearby attractions (the trail and farmer’s market, not much else), it’s not as desirable as downtown, nor is the land as cheap as the Southwest suburban corridor. The feasibility study notes the waterfront might be a draw in the summer, but the weather the rest of the year would limit its appeal. With increased interest in living in the city, the hotel idea has had less allure in recent years. Still, the option was included for the sake of comment and critique. The study says a hotel would need 120+ room to support fixed costs (taxes, maintenance), and recommends a brand not present in Ithaca, like Hyatt or Starwood (Westin/Sheraton).

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The multi-family/townhouse plan does away with the hotel and instead focuses more on residential. The plan is composed of 14,160 SF of commercial space, 46 townhouses and 84 multi-family units (130 units total). 356 parking spaces are provided.

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The maximum density plan is as it sounds – the maximum legally allowed by zoning. The plan calls for 13,950 SF of commercial space, 137 multi-family units and 378 parking spaces.

Note that all three plans have a new indoor farmer’s market building, but that’s a separate development being spearheaded by the market.

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Renderings make for great eye candy, but the emphasis is definitely not on the architecture here, because it’s a bit like predicting what new cars will look like in 2020. You know it will probably have four wheels, lights and doors, but everything else is just for show. Whoever buys it will come in with their own idea of how things should look (see Form Ithaca’s waterfront study for their take). For the sake of reference, a copy of the aerial renders of each layout is here.

Now for a financial summary (link), the feasibility in its essence. HR&A Advisors, who partnered with Fish Associates for the study, notes that development can work with a potential buyer’s bottom line, but it’s going to be expensive and the developer will seek to minimize risk as much as possible – there’s not much padding in the profit. There are few comparable products in the county to the site, which makes determining the market size, rents and level or risk somewhat more difficult than usual. The study assumes a 3-year, single-phase build-out.

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The study assumes about $2.15/SF for a residential unit – in other words, a 1,000 SF unit (like a larger 2 bedroom or smaller 3 bedroom unit) renting for $2,150/month, similar to the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek or Gateway Commons downtown, which were used as comparables. Luxury housing, without a doubt. The waterfront commands a price premium, but the disconnection to the rest of the city could hinder rentals. Some condos/owner-occupied units are possible, but rentals would be the majority. Development costs range from $165/SF for a townhouse, to $215/SF for a multi-family unit, to $287/SF for the hotel. The value of a project ranges from $39-$45 million depending on plan, and with development costs taken into count, the land could sell for something less than $1,000,000 to $2.5 million. Over time, the project may generate $13-$22 million in tax revenue over 20 years, depending on approach.

waterfront_concept_financial_2

The land itself will not sell for the price required to cover the DOT’s cost of moving, which will have to be underway before any sale takes place. The move is estimated at $14 million. This means that the city and county may have to chip in on upfront costs in order to get a good project in that will pay itself off via tax revenue. HR&A notes that an RFP should be flexible in its options, and be open to zoning variances that might improve a project’s chance of success.

 

dot_concept_1

For what it’s worth, Fisher associates also did a conceptual layout for a new DOT facility here.

According to the county, here are the next steps in the process:

  • A financial plan for the redevelopment of the Cayuga Inlet site that reduces the risk for private developers and generates revenue to support the move of the existing NYS DOT facility.
  • An analysis of the project’s impacts on infrastructure and utilities, the natural environment, neighborhood and adjacent properties, and the surrounding road network.
  • An estimate of the land value of as well as the individual components of the plan. The result will be an order of magnitude valuation of the site to better understand the project’s ability to attract private investment, support debt, and support a purchase price and tax revenue stream that could be used to advance the NYS DOT facility’s relocation.
  • A draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit developers to redevelop the site.
  • An estimate of the ongoing direct fiscal benefits to accrue to the City of Ithaca and to Tompkins County, including real property taxes, personal property taxes, school taxes, sales tax, and other applicable taxes and fees.
  • A financial strategy for moving the DOT site with some combination of revenue from sale of the site, direct funding from NY State, and, possibly, a local contribution from anticipated tax revenues.

Expect that last one to be potentially controversial. The state might move slow but could be supportive, but the city will have to explain and hope that a possible initial investment in the DOT’s move to Dryden could pay off over subsequent years. Voters don’t always like long-term plans.