News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

1. The proposed revision (downzoning) along West State / MLK Jr. Street is moving forward with circulation (review by city departments and associated stakeholders), with a couple of major revisions. The zoning would not be CBD-60. It would be CBD-52 for structures with less than 20% affordable housing, and CBD-62 for structures with 20% or more affordable housing. The quirk in the height is due to mandatory floor heights, which will be 12 feet for the first floor, and 10 feet for each floor above – in other words, five floors for projects with a lack of affordable units (=< 80% area median income), six otherwise.

For 510 West State Street, in which all 76 or 77 units are affordable (my unit count is 76, but they typed 77 in a couple sport of the Site Plan Review), the project would remain largely intact. The new setback requirement would push the fifth and maybe a very small portion of the sixth floor back from West State/MLK Jr. Street for the mandatory fifteen feet, so a little square footage would be lost there. The city had initially sought thirty foot setbacks, but the Ithaca Fire Department said that it would not be reachable by their trucks if the fifth floor was that far away from the street face.

Now, some more astute readers might be wondering is this affects Visum’s other West End project at 109 North Corn Street. The answer is no. The setback rule only affects buildings fronting West State / MLK Jr. Street. The downzoning is intended to protect an aesthetically pleasing segment of West State more than anything else. The setback does technically apply to West Seneca Street, but the building height there is 40 feet anyway, which is the same as the setback.

The affected blocks now also include the 300 and 400 Blocks of West State Street. The only publicly known project that would be impacted is INHS’s Salvation Army redevelopment, which was only aiming for five floors on the West State Street side anyway, but could potentially be impacted by the setback rule – the project design is still in the concept stages with no public images.

A speaker during public comment asked to extend the zoning further to Downtown, and some councilors have discussed further downzoning because “the developers can just pursue a PUD”. That thought process ignores the drawbacks. The more areas impacted and the more stringent zoning becomes, the more labor and time intensive it becomes for city staff because it would likely trigger more PUDs, even while resulting in less development in general because a PUD adds months to a project timeline, uncertainty that lenders don’t like, and forces the Common Council to take on the role of a second Planning Board (which some councilors might be fine with, but some definitely would not and raised this as a complaint during the vote on whether to create the PUD overlay to begin with). Also, if the downzoning were to be applied to a property against the owner’s wishes, say the County Annex property for example, it would likely trigger a costly lawsuit. TL;DR, it looks tempting for additional “community benefits”, but could have significant negative impacts and should be used sparingly.

2. Staying in the realm of laws for a moment, there’s an ordinance that should be made aware to residents of Northside and Fall Creek. A proposal from 1st Ward councilor Cynthia Brock would require every rental agreement and every home sales transaction within 1200 feet of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility’s boundaries to provide documentation of the potential issues and hazards of living near the plant – “you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences and discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of living and operating in proximity to a waste water treatment facility,” as the document states.

The document isn’t ill-intentioned, but this does impact over a hundred existing Northside and Fall Creek homes and apartments, and quite reasonably would have a negative financial impact on them, whether they plan to sell or if they rent out space. There is nothing on record that these residents have been notified of this proposal. City staff don’t even seem comfortable with the proposal as-is, they don’t think Fall Creek residents are substantially impacted and suggested a cutoff at Route 13, but the 1200 square foot radius seems to be the version being considered right now, paying a trip to city attorneys to see if it’s legal to apply it to all rentals, a detail added at the meeting. Honestly, this doesn’t seem well thought out at this time, and poses a burden to existing homeowners who have not been made aware because of the lack of sufficient outreach.

3. Arthaus and Library Place have had their tax abatement requests approved, on 7-0 and 6-1 votes. The former will bring 124 affordable housing units including special needs housing and artist-centric amenities to the city of Ithaca at 130 Cherry Street. The latter will provide 66 senior housing units on the former Library property on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street. Arthaus is expected to start construction at the end of the year, while Library Place will resume this month, with completions in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

County legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voted against the Library Place proposal, citing some of the concerns raise over the lack of affordable housing (three units will now be 80% area median income) and general discontent with the site. In my intro post to the project, I mentioned if vaguely that there was a legislator who thought the affordable housing, condominiums, and Travis Hyde projects were all terrible – that was McBean-Clairborne, who has generally favored county offices on the site instead of housing. The county did a study to consider renovating the old library for offices back in 2011, a couple years before the RFP, but the study found it was financially prohibitive because of the building’s unusual interior layout (that soaring 1960s atrium wasn’t a good use of space, and wouldn’t have been cheap to replace).

4. Carpenter Park is also moving forward, in this case with the pursuit of its special PUD zoning. The project is seeking the PUD because of some quirks in yard setbacks, and soil tests showing that they couldn’t place some of the parking underground as initially planned (so now it’s in an above ground garage between the ground-floor retail and the apartments in Buildings B and C). The project would bring about 411,600 SF of new space, including 208 apartments (42 affordable) and an expansion of Cayuga Medical Center’s medical offices, resulting in the creation of 150 jobs. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Brock opposed. The full council will vote on the PUD next month, and then the project can go to the planning board for design review. Keep in mind that the above designs might change somewhat, though the general scale and program mix should stay the same.

5. The Tompkins County Airport has received a $9,999,990 grant, as announced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference earlier this week. The county was strongly hoping these funds would come through. With the state grant, it means the county is only paying about $260,000 of the $24.5 million bill. Click the link here to learn more about the airport expansion project.

6. The Gun Hill Residences appear to be in the process of selling. A real estate trade magazine notes Southeastern U.S. regional bank SunTrust is giving the buyer a $13.3 million acquisition loan for DMG Investments LLC. DMG Investments is an American subsidiary of a Chinese development firm, DoThink Group of Hangzhou. The company has been active in upstate recently. DMG co-owns a new 322-bed student housing apartment in Albany and has projects scattered across the country. The full sales price has not been discolosed, as the deed has yet to be filed. It was noted that the ca. 1989, 94-unit, 273-bed Gun Hill Residences on Lake Street was nearly completely full at the time of closing (late spring, which is reasonable given a couple of kids might have washed out of Cornell or otherwise moved out). The property was previously owned by Rochester’s Morgan Communities, which was raided by the FBI last year. Morgan purchased the property in February 2011 for $6.15 million, and the current county assessment for Gun Hill is $12.65 million.

OLD render

NEW render

7. Some modest revisions to the Immaculate Conception School plans. Old render first, new render second. The design of the renovated school building has changed substantially, though the overall size has remained consistent. The changes could be due to any number of reasons, from cost concerns to utilities placements necessitating design changes. The single-family homes have been replaced with a four-string of townhomes, and the yellow string has been earmarked for for-sale units.

If I may – make one of the olive green townhome strings red or orange like the houses that have been removed. Keeps it from being so “matchy-matchy”, to borrow a JoAnn Cornish term. More renders can be found on INHS’s sparkling new website here.

On that note, on Monday May 13th the City of Ithaca will hold a Public Information Session for the proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment. The Public Information Session will begin at 4:00 PM, in the Common Council Chambers in City Hall. In accordance with the requirements of the PUD, the developer and project team will present information about the project and answer questions from the public.

8. Looking at agendas:

The city Project Review Meeting (the run up to Planning Board meetings) will look at signage changes for the new Hilton Canopy on Seneca Way, a Presentation and potential Declaration of Lead Agency for 510 West State Street (now 50-70% area median income, initially it was 80-90% AMI), The 141-bed, 49 unit Overlook student housing at 815 South Aurora (updated, and review of Full Environmental Assessment Forms Part 2 and 3), final site plan approval for Arthaus and consideration of preliminary site plan approval for the Chain Works District (the focus right now is the renovations for phase one, office space, industrial space and 60 apartments). Apparently, the “Ezra” restaurant at the Hilton is now being called “The Strand Cafe”, after the theater that once stood on the site. More information can be found in the May project memo here.

The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Chain Works as well. Their portion of phase one involves the renovation of two manufacturing spaces into industrial and warehouse space (i.e. minimal work, just a sprucing up of the digs). Also your casual reminder that, unlike Dryden, Lansing or really any other sizable community in Tompkins County, the town permitted the construction of not a single new housing unit – again – last month. It looks the next stage of Artist Alley ($150,000 buildout) and Cayuga Med’s radiation vault ($2 million cost) were permitted.

It appears that the Beer family is heading back for another visit to the village of Lansing Planning Board regarding their until-now cancelled senior cottages project. The only thing known at the moment about this latest iteration is that it would fit the village’s cluster zoning, which means 97 units or less, but not in the same configuration as before (the pocket neighborhood-style homes were too close for code). We’ll see what happens.

Nothing much to note in Lansing town. Review of the Osmica event venue and B&B will continue, as will consideration of the Lake Forest Circle subdivision renewal and the 12,000 SF commercial building proposed for North Triphammer Road just north of Franklyn Drive.

– Courtesy of the village of Trumansburg, we have a new working title for 46 South Street, formerly Hamilton Square – now it’s “Crescent Way”. PApar krief, including revised EAFs, supplements and BZA findings here. The final version has some site plan changes on the location of some townhouse string types, but the overall unit count remains the same at 73 units (17 market rate for-sale, 10 affordable for-sale, 46 affordable rentals). Approval is on the horizon, a little more than two years to the date of when the project was first introduced. The project will be built in phases, with completion not expected until 2023.

 





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





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.





News Tidbits 9/11/18

12 09 2018

1. The first phase of the airport expansion has been awarded. As reported by my Voice colleague/boss Kelsey O’Connor, Streeter Associates of Elmira placed a construction bid for $7,638,000 to complete the first of three phases. The initial phase will be covered with a state grant, and the airport has applied for federal funding as well – about two-thirds of the $24 million total cost is covered by grants, and the airport is looking for ways to close the gap. The bid was the lowest received, with Murnane Contractors offering a more expensive construction bid of $8,483,000 for the first phase, and LeChase Construction coming in with a bid at $8,996,000. Phase one entails renovating and expanding the terminal, updating the airline offices, moving screening equipment behind the counter areas, utilities upgrades and improvements to the lobby area for better flow. Streeter has a long track record in Tompkins County, with projects including the expansion of Ives Hall on Cornell’s campus, and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Also discussed at the meeting was an agreement to sell 15 acres of airport-owned land along Warren Road to the NYS DOT for $840,000. This vote was not without some contention, with residents of Hillcrest Road complaining about the relocation to a location near their properties, and the final vote to approve the sale was a 9-4 split. Note that this is just the sale of land, a site plan and environmental analysis have yet to be performed, but a new facility on Warren Road would allow the DOT to move from the inlet location that the city and county have sought to redevelop into mixed commercial and residential uses. The primary complaint seems to be that the sale was too sudden; and to be fair, it was short notice. I wasn’t even aware until reading the meeting agenda a week earlier. However, the intent to move to Warren Road has been stated on multiple occasions, and it’s been in the planning stages for about two years, since they decided the property they bought in Dryden wasn’t going to work out.

2. A couple of interesting little notes from the Journal’s article examining the City Centre project on the 300 Block of East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. The Ale House restaurant’s move and expansion into the ground level will create about twenty additional jobs, and the build-out of the new restaurant space will take place from January – June 2019. Secondly, the developer, Newman Development Group, says a tenant has signed up for one of the two remaining retail spaces, but a confidentiality agreement prevents them from naming the business. Talks are also underway for filling the third retail space. I don’t have revised numbers for the retails spaces (after initial approval, the ground floor retail was consolidated from four spaces to three), but the Ale House is filling the largest space (5,700 SF), and the remaining two are approximately a few thousand square feet each.

3. The city of Ithaca Common Council decided to be proactive at their last meeting and name preferences that they would place strong emphasis on when considering a PUD for the Immaculate Conception site on the 300 Block of West Buffalo Street. As reported by my new Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the site sits in the city’s recently-approved Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD). Within PUD-ODs, projects that don’t fit with existing zoning may be allowed if they offer community benefits. The Common Council and Planning Board both need to approve PUD-OD proposals.

A preference isn’t a stipulation, but since the Council votes on PUDs, it’s a strong clue to what they’ll expect in return for granting a variance. One is the inclusion of affordable housing, and the second is retaining the gymnasium for use as a publicly-accessible indoor recreation space, noting that the Greater Ithaca Activities Center is headquartered next door and would benefit from the facility.

In theory, a buyer could buy the property and do a straight-up renovation without needing to invoke the PUD-OD (the site is R-2a residential, but the building itself would give the benefit of pre-existing variances), but given the Rochester Diocese’s marketing of the PUD in advertisements, it’s a strong possibility a buyer will want to utilize the PUD.

Proposals for the site are due to the diocese by October 5th. Once a developer is selected and a plan submitted for review, then the process of PUD negotiation with the city can begin in earnest.

4. Here’s a look at Emmy’s Organics application for a tax abatement from the IDA. The organic cookie maker is planning a 14,650 SF facility on the 200 Block of Cherry Street in Ithaca’s West End, with a potential 20,000 SF on top of that in 2-3 years time if business continues to grow as it has.

With land acquisition, soft and hard construction costs, and new equipment, the project investment for phase one is $2,292,000, and would retain 28 jobs in Ithaca as well as support the creation of 19 new jobs. The time frame on this is quite fast – due to contracts that can’t be fulfilled in the existing premises, Emmy’s wants to start construction this fall and have the building opened by Spring 2019. Rowlee Construction of Fulton (Oswego County) has been retained as the general contractor.

According to the documentation, Emmy’s is seeking the standard 7-year abatement plus an energy incentive that enhances the 7-year abatement (the incentive tweaks the tax rate for those seven years and saves Emmy’s an extra $73,820), as well as mortgage recording and sales tax exemption on equipment and construction materials purchases. The abatement plus energy incentive would save $215,142, the sales tax exemption $97,600, and the mortgage tax exemption $4,298, for total savings of $317,040. New taxes in the first seven years would total $70,889 in revenue to the county, city and ICSD.

Although the application says 19 new jobs, that might be for both phases – only seven jobs are listed in the application, four production positions ($13-$15/hour), a $20/hour clerical positive and two $45/hour administrative positions. They state they are willing to pay a living wage, so it seems the IDA could make that part of the conversation. The meeting will be Thursday the 13th.

 





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 10/2017

31 10 2017

Tompkins County benefits from being a regional tourism destination. A combination of amenities like the colleges and wineries, scenic gorges and and convenient location have made it a popular weekend getaway from the big cities of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as well as some of the major Great Lakes cities. In the past ten years, the hospitality and tourism sector of the economy has grown over 20 percent, adding several hundred jobs even after seasonality is taken into account. An additional benefit is that the room taxes are used to fund arts and culture grants, community festivals and part of TCAD, the economic development agency.

Representative of that growth has been the growth in the local hotel industry. Around 2014 or so, one of the big questions was, how many hotel rooms is too many? The Marriott was in the works, the Hilton was in an earlier stage, two hotels were planned on the Route 13 corridor, and the Hotel Ithaca had its plans. For practical purposes, it was a good question.

However, the situation evolved over time. As is often the case, the hotels opened later than anticipated. The 159-room Marriott finished late last fall, the 76-room Holiday Inn Express was completed a couple months earlier, the Hotel Ithaca went with an expansion that actually reduced the available number of rooms by ten and opened earlier this year, and one of the suburban hotels, a 37-room independent boutique hotel, was cancelled. They all came onto the market later than expected. and the number of rooms added was less than originally planned. All the while, the economy continued to grow at a consistent 1.5-2% annual pace, Cornell continued to add students and the population slowly grew. Had all the hotels opened at once with their original plans, the impact might have been a big problem. But the reality was that the Hotel Ithaca’s impact was modest, and the HIE’s and Marriott’s supply is being absorbed (though the market does need over a year to fully adjust to a 12.8% growth in supply). For the record, Airbnb and similar services have their impacts as well, but the county estimates it’s the equivalent of roughly 40-60 hotel rooms.

With the market still adjusting to the influx, it’s probably a good thing that the Canopy Hilton isn’t opening until Spring 2019, well after a new equilibrium is achieved. However, it’s been a long road to get to this point.

First, a brief history of the site. In recent years, the Hilton site was a mix of private and municipal parking. From 1916-1993, the Strand Theater occupied the site. The Carey Building was designed to match the Egyptian Revival motif of the theater, but unlike the Carey, the theater closed in the late 1970s, attempted and failed at a reopening as a community theater, and after being vacant for over a decade, the building was deemed too far gone to save, leveled by the wrecking ball during the deep recession of the 1990s.

The first mention of a hotel on the 300 Block of East State/MLK Jr. was back in December 2012. Lighthouse Hotels LLC (Neil Patel) proposed a six-story, $16 million Hampton Inn on the site (v1). The 92-room hotel, designed by Jagat Sharma, would have resulted in the demolition of the Carey Building – recall this was before the Carey overbuild.

However, Patel violated an important rule when it comes to development – unless you have made previous arrangements, don’t propose something for someone else’s property. The proposed Carey demo caught Frost Travis by surprise, and he and parking lot owner Joe Daley were less than amused. Nor were Planning Board members, who were fond of the Carey and not fond of the surface parking proposed with the hotel. The project went nowhere, and a major reworking was required. Negotiations with the city and neighbors were needed to acquire the necessary land, and the IURA and Common Council agreed to have the IURA represent the city on divestiture discussions.

Fast forward 18 months to June 2014. Having hired on Whitham Planning and Design to handle the review process on behalf of Lighthouse Hotels, a new six-story sketch plan was presented (v2). This plan did not impact the Carey (by then undergoing review for the overbuild), and opted for a more modern design by Boston’s Group One Partners Inc., which specializes in urban hotel plans. By August 2014, a site plan review request was formally submitted, along with a modestly revised design (v3) – at the time, the six-story, 120-room hotel was pegged at $11.5 million. These early plans also called for a 2,000 SF retail or restaurant space on the ground level. By this time, Patel was a vice president at Baywood Hotels, a national hotel developer and management firm with over $1 billion in assets, and regional offices in suburban Rochester. The firm is so large, they have 26 hotels currently under development from Miami to Minnesota, but that might be conservative. Their planned downtown Syracuse Hampton Inn isn’t even listed, and the render for the Hilton Canopy Ithaca is out of date.

Technically the phrasing is “Canopy by Hilton Ithaca”. It will be either Canopy or Canopy Hilton on the blog.

The Canopy brand was launched in October 2014 to be the lifestyle brand geared towards younger leisure travelers. Of the eleven locations announced at launch, Ithaca was the only one not in a major city, and is arguably the only one still not planned for a major city. A month earlier, the newest 74,475 SF, 123-room, 7-story design rolled out (v4), with industrial warehouse-style aluminum windows, buff and “dark blend” brick veneer, stone base with precast concrete accents, and grey fiber cement and metal panels carried over from the previous design. The second floor would open up onto a terrace overlooking the front of the hotel, and the first floor had folding windows that could open the lobby area to the outdoors on nice days. 

By January 2015, the designed had been tweaked some more (V7 in the link, but the changes were pretty minor from V5-V7, facade materials and window treatments), the cost had risen to $19 million, and LeChase Construction was signed on to be the general contractor. In fact, Patel and Frost Travis has even worked out a clever plan to share construction equipment as both their buildings were underway. However, Patel and Baywood’s schedule fell behind Travis’s, so the plan never panned out.

During this time, the project had applied for the IDA’s enhanced tax abatement, and underwent Common Council review after its public hearing in November 2014. While concerns were raised about not paying a living wage to all staff, the council decided the pros outweighed the cons and endorsed the project. Baywood planned to hire 33 to 47 staff, of whom 11-20 would make living wage (multiple sources with different figures). Room rates were expected to be $160/night.

According to the 2015 application, the project’s combined hard and soft costs were $24.17 million, and the property tax abatement (the enhanced 10-year abatement) was $3,528,081. Another $980,928 was waived in sales taxes, and $45,000 from the mortgage tax, for a total tax abatement of $4.55 million. About $3.28 million in new taxes will be generated on top of the existing taxes on the land, along with room taxes and payroll taxes. During the public hearing, attendees went after the project for union labor, living wage and sustainable energy concerns, but the project was still approved by the IDA. They might have switched over to heat pumps, I’ll need to check into that.

After the original project was approved in March 2015, the city voted to approve the sale of its land in April 2015, and the IDA approved a tax abatement in July 2015, the Hilton plan sat dormant for a while before undergoing a major redesign in January 2016 courtesy of Philadelphia’s spg3 Architects, now Bergmann Associates. It turned out the project had struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, and underwent some “value engineering”. The general shape was kept the same, but the exterior materials were swapped, the building increased in size to 77,800 SF, the room total was brought up to 131, and the restaurant space was omitted, among other changes. This required re-approval by the city. The much longer comparison is here.

The very last version of the project, V9 in February 2016, added inset panels in the northwest wall, and some cast stone was added to the base. The second floor roof deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised.

The final form is faced with a few different shades of red brick veneer, topaz yellow and grey fiber cement panels, metal coping and cast stone trim. Floor height (ceiling of seventh floor) is 80 feet, while structural height (top of mechanical penthouse) is 92 feet. It’s not really a big impact on the downtown skyline, but it broadens the city’s shoulders a bit.

After approval and IDA approval, things were slow to start. Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, representing the Patel family, was reorganized slightly to include other family members in the ownership, and afterward it purchased the properties for the hotel project in August 2916. $1.8 million went 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. A $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union (formerly Eastman Saving and Loan of Rochester) was received at the end of September 2016, but things were stalled for a while, and only now is the project on its way to a Spring 2019 opening, two and a half years later than initially planned. William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor.

Long story, but at least someone wrote it up. Goes to show that property development can be a very complicated process.

It looks like foundation excavation is currently underway – I had head many of the underground utility work was taken care of when the Carey was under construction next door. A plausible schedule has foundation work done by the end of winter, with structural steel framing underway during the spring and summer.

October 15th:

October 28th:





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 8/2017

19 08 2017

The Breazzano Center is occupied, so for practical purposes this project is complete. The interior and exterior finish work is wrapping up (interior moldings, some cosmetic exterior panels), and it looks like the new street seating, curbing and bike racks are in – the development team may hold off on plantings until next spring, depending on how well the project team thinks the new landscaping will grow in to its new environment, and by extension, its ability to withstand the winter months.

The interior is relatively dramatic for an office and academic building. There’s lots of natural light thanks to the glass curtain wall, the natural wood paneling gives it a warmer look, and the lighting underneath the staircases in the multistory atrium is a nice touch. If I have any interior critique, it’s that there’s so much transparent glass and bright light, it can feel a little disorienting, creating a feeling of space that makes the 76,000 SF building seem much larger than it is. Some of the breakout rooms and one of the tiered large-group classrooms are also included in the photos below.

The exterior is a big change of pace from the CMU-faced residential buildings (much of it from Jagat Sharma’s hand) that define much of Collegetown. The glass curtain wall is unique, for the time being. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the aluminum panels on the sides and rear, though I recognize the cost utility provided, and necessary protection of certain interior spaces like the broadcast studio on the fourth floor.

Speaking to some construction workers on-site (the same ones who kindly gestured me to go in and take a look), they were uncertain when construction would start on Novarr’s complementary 24-unit apartment building at 238 Linden Avenue next door. But a timeline from April suggests next month, with completion next summer. That sounds reasonable – finish with one building, transition immediately to the next. Work on Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue townhouse project has yet to start either; it appears to be a makeshift parking lot for construction crews and company trucks.

Overall, it seems the recent work in this part of Collegetown and Ithaca is a net positive. With projects like the Breazzano, 238 Linden and Dryden South, within just a few years, a corner of Ithaca that once housed a few student-oriented businesses and mostly-rundown/vacant apartments will have been replaced with dozens of beds, office space for hundreds of Cornell staff, and classrooms for deep-pocketed students who visit for only a few weeks a year. Plus, it adds up to an additional $15 million or so in taxable property (and that’s accounting for the reduction as a result of the Tompkins County IDA PILOT agreement).  There’s a clear financial benefit to Collegetown business owners and to the city. Add an aesthetic bonus point for removing the power poles and shifting moving the electrical utilities underground.

The $15.9 million project will be 100% occupied by Cornell on a 50-year lease. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse is the general contractor.

Before:

After:

 

The wording on these sheets conjures images of a stuffy, tense maître d’ addressing his staff.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 12/2016

18 12 2016

The future headquarters of Tompkins Financial Corporation is starting to rise from the ground at 118 East Seneca Street. The elevator core and south stairwell are being poured section by section. Forms are being put into place to build the next level of the core. It looks like structural steel surrounded by concrete fortified with steel rods (rebar). The small holes within the elevator core are where the structual steel of the superstructure will tie in. The basement appears to be fully excavated with all the wood lagging in place. The four H-shaped steel bars next to the elevator core are piles, which will carry the building load. More on those in a minute.

The basement for the TFC HQ is a bit of an unusual setup. The excavated portion (12-13 feet deep) only encompasses the floor plate for the basement and ground floor. The second to seventh floors will have larger floor plates. The elevator core actually sits at the northeast corner of the ground floor’s floor plate – the area between it and the Hilton Garden Inn will be the driveway, and behind it, the customer parking lot. Stairwells to the upper levels will also rise on the northeastern boundary of the property, and the northwest corner of the first floor, close to the parcel’s lot line with the DeWitt Mall. The upper floors will have the support of additional load-bearing columns along the perimeter of the property (they will tie into the end-bearing steel foundation piles seen here in August, which seem to be capped and at ground level now).

Along with the perimeter piles and the piles within the ground floor plate, four support columns will rise from through the parking area to the floors above. Those appear to be pile caps for two of those support columns in the second to last photo. The four H-shaped steel bars are capped with a thick block of concrete from which the support columns will tie into, and use as their base. The weight of the building will be transferred through the steel structure, through the pile cap and evenly distribute the weight into those piles, which will transfer the load down into very firm soil 65-70 feet below ground level. This is what will give the building its stability.

Anyway, seems like I forgot to take photos of the drive-thru bank branch under construction across the street – which is probably close to completion at this point, if not already. The $31.3 million office building will open in March 2018. LeChase Construction is the general contractor, and HOLT Architects is responsible for the design.

20161209_125159 20161209_125207 20161209_125228 20161209_125243 20161209_125309 20161209_125322 20161209_125401 20161209_125416

tfc_hq_first_floor_plan

tfc_hq_profile