Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

The Masonic Temple renovation is low-key but worth an explainer. Here we go:

The 17,466 SF Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is a bit of an unusual building. It was one of the last designs by prolific local architects Arthur Gibb and Ornan Waltz, and completed in 1926. The style is Egyptian Revival, which was also used for the Sphinx Head Tomb at 900 Stewart Avenue, and to a lesser extent in the Carey Building, which was built around the same time. Egyptian Revival architecture uses what are or are perceived to be Egyptian motifs (stark facades, strong symmetrical elements, Egyptian-themed ornamentation), and experienced a resurgence in the 1920s following the opening of King Tut’s tomb – the early 20th century designs are sometimes grouped in as a subcategory of Art Deco.

Keep in mind that Freemasonry is a loose affiliation of fraternal groups, with some degree of secrecy (that they like to play up, for better or worse). Although diminished in this age, they played a role in community social life much as Greek Life does on college campuses. The Ithaca Freemasons wanted something exotic with just a hint of foreboding, so the architects went with minimal ornamentation, strong symmetry, simple, slit-like windows, and a bare, impassive facade, here a thin limestone veneer over a steel frame (a modern idea for the time). To quote William D. Moore’s Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes, “a critic claimed that Ithaca’s Masonic Temple could help visitors to imagine themselves ‘transported to the civilizations of the Pharaohs…There is no mistaking this structure for an abode of commerce’.”

By the 1990s, the Masonic Temple had fallen into disuse, and local developer and major landlord Jason Fane picked it up in 1993. Fane had made his intent clear that he preferred to demolish the building and build new on the site, a stone’s throw from the hear of Downtown. In response and concern to that idea, the building was landmarked in 1994. You could probably see some parallels to the Nines situation here, only the Nines owners aren’t already multi-millionaires and don’t have a negative public image.

It’s a difficult building to reuse. Not only does one contend with the extra hurdles and costs of working with a landmarked historic structure, but the rooms are cavernous and the building has been described as functionally obsolete – its outdated mechanical systems and lack of handicap accessibility have made it a difficult sell to prospective commercial tenants. The last tenant was the Odyssey nightclub, which moved out over a decade ago. Older folks tend to remember a restaurant prior to that, Europa.

Fane himself was never a big fan of what was considered his “white elephant” property; out of concerns he was letting it decay to the point of an emergency demolition, the CIITAP tax abatement rules were modified in 2014 to say that applicants had to be code compliant on all their other existing properties, and was targeted at Fane, who was seeking an abatement at the time for an apartment proposal at 130 East Clinton Street (it was denied and the project was never built).

The best way to describe the Masonic Temple problem is that it’s not the location, and it’s not out of a lack of interest – it was simply the cost of making it code-compliant and more accessible for tenants. Early plans considered putting The History Center here, while an earlier plan from 2012 considered buying the property from Fane and making it into a community center. The 2012 plan never made much headway – Fane was not keen on selling, and he still harbored hopes of demolishing it. The History Center plan was also seen as more expensive than a specialized space for The History Center.

The city has long hoped that they and Fane would see eye-to-eye, and finally it appears that dream is coming true. In July 2015, the city Common Council voted to support an application from Fane to the New York State Main Street Program, a state-sponsored grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers. In December of that year, the state awarded Fane a $500,000 grant towards the rehabilitation of the building (which cost a little over $1 million total). The initial plans were to get the ball rolling on construction in summer 2016, but it does appear that much-lauded renovation plan is finally moving forward now.

The renovation, designed by architectural preservation specialists Johnson-Schmidt & Associates of Corning, calls for the creation of three commercial spaces, the installation of a ramp at the rear of the auditorium, and a new elevator on the southwest side of the building. With the interior kitchen still intact, it is likely that at least one of the commercial spaces would be geared towards a restaurant tenant.

A new roof membrane will be applied, the exterior limestone and stucco will be cleaned and repaired, the street windows repaired and repainted, and the auditorium windows, which had been boarded up by previous tenants, will be replaced with similar-looking new windows. The front entrance’s stone steps would be redone, and the front doors and lamp posts would be restored. The Ithaca Landamrks Preservation Commission signed off on the work in January 2017. The plans can be seen in the application here.

At the moment, it looks like asbestos abatement is underway, and the ground-level light wells are having their deteriorated concrete removed and replaced. Kascon Environmental Services is performing the asbestos removal, and McPherson Builders Inc. of Ithaca is the contractor-of-record. I asked Fane via email if the plans had changed at all since January 2017, or if there were any tenants on board, but as is often the case with him and his lawyer/representative Nate Lyman, there is no response.

3/30/2018

4/28/2018





602 West State Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

The new Elmira Savings Bank is open in Ithaca’s West End, and this project is done. A former restaurant is now 5,000 SF of renovated space plus 1,600 SF in a contemporary addition. Design-wise, it’s a smart re-use of a century-old structure, modernizing it but maintaining the integrity the original structure. Kudos to HOLT Architects for a successful blend of old and new. Elmira’s Edger Enterprises brought the $1.7 million project from the drawing board and into reality.

There’s no doubt that the project is further proof in the increased vitality and attraction of Ithaca’s long-forsaken West End, and another step on the the path to turning it into a stronger neighborhood. Within just a block, one has the new Planned Parenthood (2014), the 17-unit Iacovelli Apartments (2013), the renovated HOLT Architects office (2016), a gas station renovated into the Jade Garden restaurant (2015), and the new microbrewery opening up in the rear of the Cornell Laundry warehouse.

If there is one thing I wish had gone different with this project, it was the sale of the property and removal of three low-income families. That got ugly, and it tarnished what was otherwise a decent project. The story I’ve been told in the two years since is that the bank were mislead by the previous owner, who gave them old rental paperwork saying tenants were month-to-month, and ESB mistakenly assumed it was still accurate. So there’s something to be said about due diligence and taking a couple hours out to meet with tenants before any notices go out.

The northern end of the property has preserved a few mature trees, and in the long-run ESB would like to partner with a developer, affordable or otherwise, to do something along West Seneca. Plus, there are organizations like Lakeview, who coincidentally looked at doing a development where ESB is nowand are moving forward with affordable housing in the West End. More opportunities for mixed-use plans with market-rate and affordable housing will open up as properties go on the market and Ithaca’s economy continues to develop – and plans like Cayuga Med’s are big if auspicious question marks.

While it’s great to have new housing plans brought forward, it’s also important to maintain existing affordable housing (and programs to assist) while adding those new options. With Lakeside and Parkside scooped up and pushed upmarket, and Maple Hill now market-rate Ithaca East, that takes hundreds of units out of the equation, and this is a significant concern. It’s no surprise that tensions boiled over given the difficulties in preserving existing LMI housing options, and in approving and building new ones.

Anyway, enough with the final thoughts. Enjoy the photos.

Before:

After:





619 West State Street Construction Update, 1/2016

21 01 2016

Now for something that is out of the ground, though it’s a renovation rather than a new build. McPherson Builders is continuing their work on HOLT Architects‘ new headquarters at 619 West State Street. HOLT, which has been at its North Aurora Street location for 30 years, is looking to move into the renovated, net-zero energy structure this spring.

In a change-up from the norm, this post also comes with quotes. I had to chance to speak with HOLT Principal Quay Thompson and HOLT President Graham Gillespie with regards to the renovation project and the firm’s interest in the West End neighborhood. The interview was mostly for another piece about businesses growing in West End; that and the TM-PUD writeup from the last news tidbits were supposed to appear in the Voice this week, but then the Times’ Josh Brokaw ran a very similar writeup about Inlet Island as part of their feature series this week. Cue the grumpy face. Rather than look like a “me too” article, the pieces, which are finished and submitted, will now be published early next week.

One of the quotes I really liked but found hard to fit in the West End piece was Quay Thompson’s description of the work underway on 619 West State. I think it’s fair to include the full breadth of that quote here.

Q: “This new building is supposed to be a net-zero space, correct? And there’s space for other tenants?”

Quay Thompson: “We’re renovating it to be a net-zero structure, and there’s space for two additional tenants. Sustainability is a key feature, the energy we put in, we want to keep in the building.

The building envelope is critical. We’re increasing the thermal performance in the walls by adding interior insulation, we’re also redoing the roof to increase its thermal performance. These older buildings have a lot of thermal issues, even the foundation slab, it just draws heat right out, so we had to renovate the slab.

Mechanically, we’re adding photovoltaics and working with Taitem [Engineering] to maximize efficiency. We did a lot of energy modeling and performance modeling to determine out energy needs. We’re looking to be truly carbon-neutral. Mostly LED lights inside, daylighting controls, even the studio frontloads are scheduled. There is some behavioral change and a learning curve involved with things like lighting timers. We’re excited about the opportunity, put our money where our mouth is.”

HOLT, through an LLC, is paying for the renovation with an $897,500 loan from Tompkins Trust Company.

From this month:

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From November 2015:

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