News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 2/26/2018: One, Two, Many Tweaks

26 02 2018

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. Than Lansing Star is reporting that developer Eric Goetzmann is in serious trouble. The village of Lansing Planning Board rejected his latest request for the Lansing Meadows senior housing component, which was to build twelve units on a fraction of the lot, and leave the rest vacant. Frankly, they liked the units, but the vacant and potentially saleable lot was too much for them to overlook. To be honest, they and the village Board of Trustees have been fairly accommodating to his other requests, but this seems to be the last straw, and they let him know it.

They will consider the latest revision, but only as a major revision, not as the minor change Goetzmann had hoped for. That means it will take months to go through the procedural review and vote. Meanwhile, the IDA has initiated legal action because Goetzmann failed to hold up his end of the deal they agreed to when he received his abatement back in 2011.

Some projects are successes. Some break even, some don’t turn out as well as hoped. But as Lansing Meadows goes, this is neigh close to a disaster.

2. On a more positive note, Lansing will be considering, coincidentally, another 12-unit townhouse project. Called “Triphammer Row”, the market-rate units are planned for the vacant rear portion of a Cornell-owned parcel at 2248 North Triphammer. This blog reported on the parcel in a news roundup back in July 2016, when it went up for sale:

“Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.”

The plan calls for roughly 1,350 SF units with ground-floor garages. They’re intended to be marketed towards seniors looking to downsize, and young families. The developer is Robert Poprawski, who runs a small hotel group (Snooze Hotels) in metro Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Poprawski is a 2005 Cornell graduate, so there’s the likely local connection.

The planning board is supportive, but the big issue will be the driveway – they would prefer the townhomes share Sevanna Park’s driveway. That’s tricky because Sevanna Park’s road is privately owned. Not impossible to make a deal, and it would likely have the village’s benediction, but it’ll take a little while to see if a deal can be made between Sevanna Park’s HOA and Poprawski (all things considered, given that a much larger retail/office building and parking lot could be built on the combined lots, 12 more homeowners doesn’t sound like a bad option).

The village is also reporting there are development plans for the balance of the Millcroft property (the 32-acre remainder of the parcel, once intended for luxury single-family homes, has been for sale for a while), and vacant 4.56-acre 9 Dart Drive. The Ramada Inn (correction: the new extended-stay hotel proposed behind the Ramada) and Target are the only businesses interested in buying their properties from the mall’s owner, and Bon-Ton’s on deathwatch. The town’s code and planning officer notes that if it weren’t for Namdar Realty buying the mall, it would have failed, which would have forced the remaining tenants out and turned the mall into a vacant husk, to say nothing of the property tax implications.

3. Let’s shift over to Dryden. It’s been rumored for a little while that 1061 Dryden, aka the “Evergreen Townhouses”, would be trying to shift towards a smaller footprint – here’s the plan. The approved proposal calls for 36 3-bedroom units, six strings of six units. The reduced size plan still has six strings of six units, but the middle four have been reduced to two-bedroom units. The total occupancy goes from 108 to 84, and the footprints have shrunk as bit. Old render at top, new renders at middle, new site plan at bottom with new footprints in red. HOLT Architects’ design is generally the same, though I have an armchair critique with the rear flanks of the strings – a window opening would do a lot for aesthetics, if the floor plans permit.

(You can check the town’s website for docs, but some webpages have been hacked and replaced with a phishing scam, so use caution).

According to Dryden town planner Ray Burger, the developer, Lansing businessman Gary Sloan, would like to start construction this summer. That would put these units on track for an opening in time for the 2019-2020 academic year (in other words, about 12-14 month constriction timeline).

4. Another project moving forward – 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. This is a Visum proposal to replace a five-bedroom house with a 5-unit, 28-bedroom apartment building. The project was approved by the city early last year. According to the advertisements on Zillow, rents are expected to be $1,200/person, plus utilities.

I asked Visum’s Patrick Braga to confirm, and he replied that building permits would be approved “any day now”, so they’re probably looking at an August 2018 opening. With regards to a follow-up inquiry about its near-identical twin planned for 126 College Avenue, Braga replied they he does not “have any information on the status” for that project.

5. The new Greenstar West End store. Maybe coming soon. According to the news release, if the membership approves the move, the new store would be open at 750 Cascadilla Street by November 2019. The expansion would more than double their floor space, and add sixty living-wage jobs. Membership will vote on the plan next month.

The above render is courtesy of STREAM Collaborative – even without their logo, their software relies on the same pack of white Priuses, Volvos, and Touraegs to fill parking spaces (my family of mechanics would be proud I use vehicle models as a telltale attribute). The design is attractive for a big box – it has shed roofs and exposed wood trusses that give it a warmer, less industrial appearance. For the record, STREAM also did 118 College Avenue in the previous tidbit.

6. Honda of Ithaca has been sold to the Maguires for $3.5 million. The sale was recorded with the county clerk on the 20th. The acquisition means that Maguire represents just about every major vehicle make in the Ithaca area. It also drew some impassioned responses regarding customer service experiences, which given Maguire’s very visible presence, is not to be unexpected.

According to county records, the 27,558 SF dealership was built in 1985 as Cutting Motors Buick-Pontiac-GMC, and sold for $1.8 million in 2009. It was renovated and expanded in 2012; the portion closest to Elmira Road is the expansion space.

7. The Lambrou family’s latest project is coming along. Being built at 123 Eddy is a contextually-sensitive two-family home at 123 Eddy Street. While modular, the home was designed to have features respectful to its location in the East Hill Historic District – this includes a double-decker porch, roof brackets, shake siding and decorative columns and railings. The new three-bedroom units should be ready in time for the 2018-19 academic year.

8. Quick note – building permits for both the Amici House residential and head start/daycare buildings have been filed and granted by the city. The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. Welliver will be the general contractor.

9. Looks like a pretty quite planning board agenda for this month. A pair of new projects, but they’re small ones. Let’s have a look:

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III.A. Stewart Park Inclusive Playground 6:15

B. College Townhouses – Modified Site Plan approval 6:35

C. Proposed U-Haul Self-Storage Project – Sketch Plan 7:10

Although vague, this is like for the former Salvation Army property at 339 Elmira Road. U-Haul purchased the lot in January 2016 from the development group that planned and cancelled a hotel for the property. As noted on the Voice recently, there’s been a building boom in self-storage facilities lately.

The most plausible guess for this corporate-owned property is that this will likely take after the chain’s default design for self-storage facilities, with maybe some modest aesthetic differences. Not especially pretty, but the city would probably prefer that over a parking lot for U-Haul trucks.

D. Proposed duplex and parking – 207 and 209 First Street 7:30

207 and 209 are a pair of run-down rental two-family homes in Ithaca’s Northside. After the previous owner passed away, they were sold to local businessman David Barken in June 2017. Barken previously caused a stir in Fall Creek when he bought, renovated and sold a Utica Street home for a much higher price (he said on the list-serve it wasn’t intended to be a flip, it was intended for a family member who decided to live elsewhere). Barken purchased the home for $160,000 in September 2016, and it sold for $399,500 in June 2017. He also rents out a couple other units in Fall Creek.

EDIT 3/8: Rather than a tear-down and replacement, the scope of the project appears to be that the homes would be renovated, and a new duplex would be built towards the rear of the lots. Per email after the meeting from David Barken:

“While in its beginning phases and still taking shape, I have no intention to tear down the existing homes. Instead, I plan to steadily improve these properties, working on both the exteriors and interiors as the planning phases for any future project moves forward.

Rather than de-densification, my aim is to add more fair market rate, non-student housing to the downtown market and add to urban density in our city’s core. I am designing the site for a total of 6 apartments, with an emphasis toward communal interaction, landscaping, and urban gardening. I envision a pocket community for renters, complete with the 4 renovated units in the front of the lot and an additional duplex placed in the rear of the parcel.”

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks FGEIS

B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 311 College Avenue – The Number Nine Fire Station

6. Reports 8:20

7. Approval of Minutes (1/23 and 1/30) 8:40

8. Adjournment





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 2/2018

19 02 2018

Things continue to move at a good clip over at “The Lux” at 232-236 Dryden Road. It looks like the insulated concrete forms (ICFs) have acquiesced to standard wood framing and ZIP panels on the upper floors. The building facing Dryden Road, 232/The Lux South, has commenced with framing of four of its five floors, and the elevator core/stairwell stands at full height (zoning only allows four floors/45 feet, but its a sloped site, so technically that bottom floor is a partially exposed basement level). 236/The Lux North has begun work on its basement level with the construction of ICFs covered with a vapor and water-resistant barrier (Resisto), and it appears that the first blocks for an elevator core/stair column are being assembled.

There might have been some internal reconfiguration. Site plan review documents noted that 232 Dryden will have 20 units and 53 bedrooms, and 236 Dryden will host 40 units and 138 bedrooms. But, a recent post on Visum’s facebook page suggests the project will have 207 bedrooms, not 191 as originally conceived. Everything appears to be on track for an August 2018 occupancy.

Even with the expected Cornell dorm additions in the next three years, the Lux’s location in inner Collegetown gives it an advantage over more remote housing options – students/parents with deep pockets will often pay more to be next to campus, while the amenities and worry-free living help seal the deal (worry-free in the sense that there’s no “deferred maintenance” to be concerned with when the units are brand new). Rents here are going for $1,200-$1,300 per bedroom, though they have a promotional running right now for 10% off rent for the first month.

It appears there was an unusual but interesting contest held by Visum that invited students to compose interior designs for the three common rooms in the complex. Registered applicants (individual or group) received floor plans and interior documents to aid in their designs, and had about eight weeks to submit their final plans (December 2nd – January 21st). The winning team gets $2,500 and a building lounge will be named in their honor. Snagged from the website and included below are some mockups of the gym, a study room and a commons space.





210 Linden Construction Update, 2/2018

18 02 2018

So here’s some good news – 210 Linden Avenue is moving forward once again. The city’s Board of Public Works (BPW) held a special meeting on the 30th that would create a loading zone in front of 210 Linden Avenue. This is important because the new state fire code restrictions say no construction can occur along Linden since the street is no longer considered wide enough. By eliminating the parking space in front of 210 Linden and replacing it with a loading zone, it created a “wider” street since a fire crew would no longer have to worry about parked cars along the street frontage. This made it easier for the project to obtain a fire code variance from the state.

BPW is ostensibly not a fan of the arrangement, but given that the developer (Visum) was notified by the city of the change after the existing building had been torn down, they were willing to grant the loading zone given the unique circumstances.

Well, mostly unique. One other project was subject to the the same issue under very similar circumstances – Novarr-Mackesey’s 238 Linden Avenue. That project team is also asking for a loading zone during this month’s BPW meeting, and hopes to be granted a state fire code variance as well (and 210 Linden gives them reason to be optimistic). While every future project planned for Linden is now in limbo, it appears likely these two will be able to move forward.

Also in the good news category, a state fire code variance was granted for another Visum project, 118 College Avenue, under the expectation that the city and NYSEG will follow through with their plans to bury the power lines on College Avenue in the next two years. With the lines to be buried relatively soon, the state felt comfortable granting the variance for a building taller than 30 feet (118 College is just under 45 feet).

The buildings are aiming for an August 2018 completion. They are wood-framed structures, which in comparable economic circumstances, can move along faster than a concrete or steel. Even then, it’s still going to be a tight deadline for William H. Lane Inc.

A glance at Zillow shows that the basement 1-bedroom unit appears to be spoken for (the basement unit was a modification to the original plan, perhaps because many amenities will be shared with its siblings 201 College and “The Lux” at 232-236 Dryden Road), but the nine 4-bedrooms/2-bath units (1,365-1,440 SF) have not. Zillow says there are ten 4-bedroom units – that doesn’t seem correct. They are going for $4,400 apiece, or $1,100 a bedroom. That’s actually a sizable price drop from the $5,000/month they were being offered for before the fire code debacle.

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 12/2017

18 12 2017

Some progress on Visum’s latest project, “The Lux” at 232-236 Dryden Road in Collegetown. 232 Dryden, the building closer to Dryden Road, has started work on exterior framing – the partially-above grade basement level, built into the slope of the site, appears to have been framed with Amvic insulated concrete forms (ICFs), similar to those seen at the Ithaka Terraces and the Fox Blocks at the Thurston Avenue Apartments. These are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete – they tend to be a more expensive approach, but they also tend to have a higher grade of insulation (higher R-value), making for a more energy-efficient structure. There has been talking of making the complex net-zero energy capable, provided that the energy of an off-site solar array can be procured. STREAM, the architect of The Lux, also did the Ithaka Terraces. The exterior walls will be assembled block by block, with new pours as rows of blocks are set in place. The rebar provides additional stability. It appears the cinder block elevator core/stairwell has been assembled as well.

232 Dryden might be the more visually prominent of the two building, but it is also the smaller one – it will have 20 units and 53 bedrooms. 236 Dryden will host 40 units and 138 bedrooms.

Speaking of 236 Dryden,  Welliver has the foundation excavated, and the steel piles are in. However, judging from the steel rebar sitting on the edge of the site, the concrete pours have yet to take place, and it looks like the wooden forms are just now being built on the far side of the footprint.

Pessimistically, I could note that this is one of the few Collegetown projects that was able to move forward after the building code change that brought multiple other projects to a halt – the power lines on Dryden Road aren’t close enough for the project to infringe on the new regulations. I had heard Visum might actually pay for the burial of power lines on the 200 Block of Linden Avenue, but even if they did, they would still have to deal with NYSEG’s slow schedule.

 





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 10/2017

23 10 2017

Continuing yesterday’s theme, here’s another one of Collegetown’s development opportunities playing out, though perhaps it was less obvious as the Linden Avenue properties – coming soon to Ithaca, 60 units with 191 beds of student housing at 232-236 Dryden Road, just east of Collegetown’s core and part of the eastern transition to the Belle Sherman neighborhood.

Once again, this is a case of Visum Development Group scouting potential opportunities at the right time and place to make something happen. Along with a large surface parking lot, the previous building on this site was a 30-unit apartment building and the former dormitory for the historic Cascadilla School, a private school with a 140-year history on the corner of Oak and Summit Avenues in Collegetown. The 4-story building once housed dorms, a dining hall and a gymnasium, but after its sale to private ownership after World War I, it was remodeled again and again, each seemingly more unsympathetic than the last. By the late 20th century, it was a grim, awkward-looking box, stripped of ornamentation and of its historic value. The previous owner, the proprietor of the Hillside Inn, had owned the property for several decades; Visum paid about triple the tax assessment ($7.65 million vs. $2.55 million) to buy the property in September.

There are two buildings to be built, totaling 84,700 SF – 232 Dryden (The Lux South) and 236 Dryden (The Lux North). This allows for different plane grades, meaning they’re different elevations. That makes it easier to blend in with the neighbors, and creates less ambiguity with height limits, something that bedeviled Visum with its 201 College Avenue project. As with 210 Linden, zoning is CR-4 – four floors, 45 feet from average grade, no parking required with a city-approved transportation demand management plan (TDMP). Usually, that means free bus passes or Carshare registrations, ample bike storage, and explaining how students can easily commute to campus by walking.

The project was proposed in March 2017 and approved by August. Overall, the changes were fairly modest. No zoning variances and little public opposition helped to create a smooth review process. The biggest change came during the design review process, and affected the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity, and the balconies are throwbacks to the Cascadilla dormitory’s long-gone shingle-style balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (that is the actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (real stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

The loan, for $16,354,628, was granted by S&T Bank, a regional bank based in Pennsylvania that has no retail banking presence in Ithaca, but has served as the financier for several projects, including the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Elmira Road, and Visum’s just-opened 201 College Avenue project. A breakdown of the costs shows the total project cost is $22,780,334. There’s $13,020,010 in hard costs (materials/labor), $7.65 million for property acquisition, $475,000 in soft costs (architect/engineering/legal), $250,000 for the demolition, and the rest is for taxes during construction and interest reserve (interest on the construction loan during construction). $650,000 (5% of the hard cost) is set aside as contingency funds just in case the expenses clock in higher than expected.

Despite the rather pretentious name and logo, it’s hard to argue the amenities don’t live up to the premise – according to the marketing website, tenants of The Lux and other Visum properties have access to a media lounge, study room, hot tub, sauna, full-service gym, game room and outdoor terrace. Tenants will have trash removal, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, and bike storage. I feel poor just typing this stuff out. Units are 1-5 bedrooms, with the smallest being 1 bed, 1 bath and 435 SF, and the largest being a 1693 SF, five-bedroom, five-bath. Rents will be $1200-$1300/month. Visum is running an offer that if all tenants on a lease (presumably a larger unit) can show they’re members of a registered student org, they get 10% off the first month and a $150 check will be given to their organization. Many larger Collegetown units are legacy properties among student groups (fraternity annexes, bandies, club and NCAA sports), passed down from year to year by members of the org. This may be a clever move to make next years’ renting a bit easier on Visum, whose CEO noted softening in the market this year.

A trip to the site shows caisson (steel pipe) piles have already been laid for The Lux South, and demolition is ongoing of the old apartment building on the site of The Lux North. The pipes extend down to the solid shale bedrock 46 feet below grade, according to local engineering firm Elwyn & Palmer. A deep foundation by any measure. A benefit to building in Collegetown is that the ground is much more amenable to deep foundations than the weak, water-logged soils of the West End.