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:

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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.

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Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 8/2016

31 08 2016

Tompkins Financial Corporation’s decision to build in downtown Ithaca is seen as something of a major victory by civic groups and local leaders. For one, it’s a major economic investment, and for two, it’s taken by many as a sign that downtown Ithaca has “turned the corner”.

Tompkins Financial Corporation is the parent company of Tompkins Trust Bank, as well as some other financial units. The company can trace its roots back to Tompkins County Bank’s formation in 1836. Along with Tompkins, TFC also manages several smaller banks throughout New York and Pennsylvania, totaling 67 branches and about 1,100 employees. About 280 of those work in downtown Ithaca at the current headquarters.

Currently, the office space is decentralized, scattered throughout multiple downtown sites and one suburban site, some of which are owned and others of which are rented. The bank began studies several years ago to examine a new headquarters, and looked at an urban location downtown, and a suburban location. Throughout the last 50 years, most large private companies have opted for the latter, and not without good reason. The logistics are simpler, the land is cheaper, the parking is easier – a study commissioned by TFC showed they could have saved over three million dollars by choosing a suburban site. But, as downtowns like Ithaca’s have made a resurgence in popularity, and given the bank’s long-time presence in downtown, they decided to pursue the urban option.

The new headquarters, first proposed in March 2015, will keep 282 employees in downtown (making an average annual wage of about $81k), add 18 more from the consolidation of the Craft Road office in Lansing, and potentially add a number of new jobs as the bank continues to grow. The IDA application gives 6 new positions over 3 years, all well over living wage; paperwork submitted to the city says 77 jobs over ten years. The project applied for and received a ten-year tax abatement from the Tompkins County IDA, saving about $4.06 million in property taxes and $2.112 million in one-time sales taxes. The community hearing was generally supportive for an abatement, and even with the reduced short-term tax bill, a net positive of $3.78 million will still be paid in taxes over the next decade.

Now, a little about the site and the building. The project is really two separate projects, one much smaller than the other. The first, at 119 E. Seneca, will build a 965 SF drive-thru bank branch on what is current first floor parking underneath a 1970s office building owned by TFC. The surface lot will be reconfigured to support the drive-thru functions, and retain a small amount of parking space.

Across the street is where the real meat of the project is. Construction is currently underway on a 7-story, 110,000 SF commercial building at 118 East Seneca, with customer services and 20-25 parking spaces on the first floor and office space on floors 2-7, which will have larger floor-plates that will overhang over the first floor. The first through third floor offices will be geared towards consumer retail operations, and the top four floors will house general operations and senior leadership. The building will be 100 feet tall, just like the 10-story Marriott finishing up a few blocks away. Modern office buildings usually have 14′ floor-to-ceiling heights due to the size of heavy-duty commercial utility systems, better visibility and natural light penetration, and to provide ample accommodation for tenants’ computer equipment. A bit of a prestige factor also comes into play. Materials include a granite base, stone veneer on the front, light and dark brick veneer, and aluminum panels on the top floor’s sides and rear walls. TFC’s HQ will be built to LEED standards, but the company will not be seeking LEED certification due to the costs involved.

The new headquarters replaces a parking lot and drive-thru bank branch  built in 1990, and prior to that the site was home to the two-story Temple Theater, which despite described as “cramped”, “shabby” and “grungy”, brought to Ithaca the first showings of “The Godfather” and other big-budget films of the early 1970s. The Temple Theater operated from 1928 to 1976, when it closed not long after the mall opened in Lansing. The building was razed not long afterward.

Estimated costs have bounced around a little bit – initially reported as $26.5 million, they were up to $28 million by the time of the IDA application, and $31.3 million at the time of groundbreaking. The March sketch plan called for final approvals by June 2015, but they didn’t happen until December 2015. Not entirely the city’s fault, the timeline was very ambitious.

The site has been partially cleared and the existing drive-thru branch has been demolished. Currently, the project is undergoing foundation excavation and pile-driving. You can see the trenches being dug along the perimeter, and wood lagging and steel H beams have been laid along the outer edges to provide stability to the soil and buildings of adjacent properties. According to the report from Elwyn & Palmer, the project team will dig down about 12-13 feet for the sub-floor, thenceforth pile driving shall commence, 65-70 feet down. It’s anticipated the sandy soils will make the pile-driving move along faster, but the other buildings nearby will necessitate temporary support installations during the excavation process. Ithaca firms HOLT Architects and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects are responsible for the design of the project, and Rochester’s LeChase Construction is the general contractor.

When TFC’s new headquarters opens in March 2018, expect something of a glut in the local office market as a lot of space is emptied in a short time. TFC CEO Grag Hartz has said that 119 and 121 East Seneca would be held onto and rented out, with the bank retaking space in those buildings as it needs. However, their office and bank on the Commons (the historic 2 and 3-story buildings on Bank Alley just south of the M&T Building) would be sold. The project is indirectly spurring Bank Tower’s conversion to apartments, given the tepid office market but very hot residential market downtown. Token teaser if you’ve read this far – a second conversion project is in the early stages.

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News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





Coming Up: Yet Another Round for CIITAP Revisions

9 03 2016

The city is trying yet another approach to CIITAP. This one involves cash payments.

Previously, the city considered a multi-faceted set of revisions, but a number of issues were raised – namely, there isn’t good documentation on stats such as the proportion of local labor typically involved in a CIITAP project. While the IDA voted in February to adopt a labor policy that requires solicitation of bids from local contractors and local labor participation in CIITAP projects, that’s more to provide future guidance after some projects have submitted documentation, and doesn’t achieve any near-term changes in CIITAP as requested from some corners.

So here comes the latest iteration, a lump sum deposit into a “community benefit fund” for general use (hopefully a formalized HOME/CDBG type of disbursement and not just a grab-bag for different programs). The idea was raised at the last PEDC meeting and the IURA explored options.

The overlying theme is to select a plan that doesn’t change affect bottom lines – not to make any easier on developers (the accusations of the current CIITAP being too easy is what brought about this revision in the first place), but to not chase them out to a hay field in Lansing either, costing the city a fund payment, jobs and future tax revenue, not to mention encouraging suburban sprawl. The IURA looked at a bunch of different proposals, shown below.

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The preferred option goes for a 1% upfront cost and a total abatement on increased property taxes for three years, and then moving to a 70% abatement on new construction for year 4, tapering to full taxation after year 10. This option was determined to have the least impact on a project’s financial feasibility.

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There’s a positive and a negative to this approach. If a developer is proposing a $20 million project, forking over $200,000 to the city right off the bat could be a major obstacle towards getting a loan and bringing an approved project into reality. But it might be overcome if they can effectively explain to an investor or potential lender the tax benefits in the financial analysis. It definitely makes the development picture more complicated, but this might be the only way to keep the current version of CIITAP, which has done a lot to help redevelop downtown. The Common Council members will share their at their Wednesday meeting.