News Tidbits 4/12/19

13 04 2019

1. Here’s a story of a clever use of space – Therm Inc. has recently expanded its facility on South Hill, and stopped leasing space from the nearby South Hill Business Campus as a result. That left an 18,870 square-foot hole to fill in Suite 30.

The site’s business manager, Linda Luciano, had had artists inquiring for a space, but never something that small enough to fit their needs. This vacancy was a chance to try something new, to build little studio spaces within the larger open floor plan of the warehouse space. It’s worked out well. Extremely well, as Ithaca Times editor Matt Butler reported this week as the Times feature article. Segment below:

” ‘A few studios’ turned out to be a severe underestimation of how many Ithaca artists desperately wanted their own studio space. With a calculated proposal for six studios in hand, she went to the building’s owners to lay out her vision, and they were receptive. Luciano then set about contacting artists who had previously reached out to her about renting space, meanwhile losing sleep over fears that she wouldn’t be able to find tenants for the studios and would have to start over with a new plan.

“I started calling people on my list, and we planned an open house,” Luciano said. “Before we could have the open house, they were all rented. That’s when I said ‘Oh my god.’”

It hasn’t slowed down since that initial wave, either. Seeing the success of the first push in October, Luciano and building owner Andy Sciarabba came up with a plan to add four more studios to the original six, deeming it Phase Two. Those four sold immediately in December, before they were even built. The same went for more units that were proposed in January. After the final phase, which is currently underway, Luciano plans for 27 more studios constructed in the former Therm space, with a much-requested gallery space included. Those are scheduled to be finished and opened in August; half of them are already leased…”

To put this in perspective, there are eighteen now plus a small kitchen and lounge space, and the addition will provide 27 more studios and a gallery space. The new build has so far taken over about a third of Therm’s old space, so the addition will likely the fill the rest of it out. The studios are a few hundred square feet each and rent for $275-$450/month depending on size (the price includes water/AC/electric/heat, with free parking), and leases are 12-month. I had not heard of anything trying this on a large scale, but it appears to be working out very well for the South Hill Business Campus, which hopes to spruce up the exterior to draw a little more attention to “Artist Alley”. It gives artists their own spaces outside of home, it offers collaboration between studios, and this seems to have tapped into a critically underserved market.

For those who want to call dibs on the last studios before they come onto the market next summer, the contact webpage is here. If you want to check them out in person, the address is 950 Danby Road.

2. Touching real quick on a pair of Dryden projects in the early stages. The “Mill Creek subdivision” is quite frankly a monstrosity in size. This is a 908-acre property on Caswell Road just west of the village of Freeville, and the plan would be to subdivide it into 39 home lots. No further subdivisions would be allowed, only single-family homes would be permitted, and it’s not clear if the developer is pursuing conservation zoning – per planning board minutes, it seems that the lots will be plated and the road laid out, and then sold parcel-to-parcel to custom builders.

If the owner did want to build, they have the expertise to do so – a deed check shows this property is owned by the Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties and have built out thousands of housing units in Tompkins County since the 1950s. The unimproved land is valued at $1,132,600, about $1,250/acre, and has been in their possession since 1954, so this doesn’t appear to be a rash decision.

Doing the math and removing a small amount for internal loop road still gives over 20 acres per lot, these properties would be very large and potentially expensive, because with improvements, that much acreage will be worth more and it will add up quickly. Maybe it’s a bit out of character for this blog, but this proposal actually seems rather worrying from an environmental and infrastructure perspective. Density in urban areas tends to draw the most attention, but these lots could potentially have much bigger impacts because of the amount of natural space that would be consumed by a sprawling high-end housing development.

As for the medical facility at 2141 Dryden Road, it sounds like it will be a two-story facility, and while they suggested parking in the front, the board requested to move it to the back (a couple handicap spaces in front are okay). There was some concern with its choice of locations (the board would much prefer the office be located in the village or a more built-up area) and curb-cuts/traffic impacts.

3. For the creative types: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance is sponsoring a contest to design streetlight banners for the neighborhood, like the ones on the Commons. The plan is to make up fifteen of them and have them hanging for two years. Here are the design criteria:

Designs that are timeless will be favored. Avoid using trendy colors, fonts that may fall out of taste.

– Collegetown is at the intersection of the Cornell campus, student life, and the Ithaca community, and as such, designs should be inclusive of all of the following groups: Cornell students, Collegetown businesses, and the City of Ithaca.

Consider these banners as creating a brand and identity of Collegetown as a whole.

Submissions must be a 24″ x 60″ image, 300dpi, with a legible “Collegetown” on the image. May include photographs, graphic designs, or scanned images. No inappropriate content. Submission are due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday April 16th, and are to be submitted here. First places get $125 and their design on the flags, second place $75, and third place $50.

4. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there are some unusual LLC formation notices in the Journal classifieds. 628 West Seneca Street LLC, 625-27 West Buffalo Street LLC, 629-631 West Buffalo LLC, and 205 North Fulton LLC have all been created in the past couple of weeks. They are a parking lot, an apartment house, a one-story commercial building (Emmy’s Organicsm which they will vacate for larger digs in then ear future), and another one-story commercial building (Superior Glass) respectively. They are all owned by the same guy (Robert Bond).

The LLCs are all registered to the address of Alternatives Federal Credit Union across the street at 125 North Fulton, which is a little worrying because AFCU bought 634 West Seneca a few years ago and tore it down for a parking lot. It would be very unfortunate if they decided to take down more buildings for surface parking, given that this is an area the city’s trying to build up. It’s also not clear what might happen to the Rhine House in such a situation. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on.





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.





News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





GreenStar Co-Operative Market Construction Update, 2/2019

2 03 2019

We’re going to rewind the clock a bit on this to before GreenStar. It’s early 2017. Two major regional medical service providers are eyeing locations in the affluent and growing city of Ithaca. The first is Cayuga Medical Center / Cayuga Medical Associates. The second is Guthrie Clinic / Guthrie Medical Group.

How bad did these two want to outdo each other and lock their rival out of the city? So much so that Cayuga Medical Center paid several times the value on Carpenter Business Park. So much so that Guthrie bought a site that would fail to meet their needs.

For neither CMC or Guthrie was it the best of moves, but not everything is done rationally. In June 2017, Guthrie paid $2.85 million for the properties at 750 and 770 Cascadilla Street, over the asking price of $2.7 million. For those millions they purchased 3.12 acres, with a 37,422 SF printing press/ warehouse built in 1980, and a 30,000 SF storage facility built in 1988. Cornell University had previously used the facilities as part of its printing press operations, and had been seeking to sell the properties since July 2016.

Guthrie started looking at its options at that point, and wasn’t liking them. But there appeared to be an opportunity. The developers of City Harbor, working on their mixed-use proposal a couple of blocks away, would provide Guthrie a convenient escape hatch to Pier Road, where they could build a structure from scratch that would suit their needs. In return, Guthrie would offer up its recently-purchased Cascadilla properties to GreenStar on a long-term lease, with an option to buy.

For GreenStar Co-Op Market, the site was a welcome opportunity of its own, a real estate version of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Founded in 1971, GreenStar has been leasing its current location at 701 West Buffalo Street since the fall of 1992, following a fire that destroyed their store on North Cayuga Street. Satellite stores operate out of the DeWitt Mall at 215 North Cayuga Street in Downtown Ithaca, and at 307 College Avenue in Ithaca’s Collegetown neighborhood. Specializing in locally-sourced and organic foods, the co-op has enjoyed significant market growth in the past decade, with sales increasing by nearly 50% since 2011, to over $22 million annually.

That was both a good and a bad thing. As I wrote for the Voice back in April 2018, GreenStar makes a very small profit on sales, and relies on membership growth as a supplement. But their West End store was jam-packed, all built out with no more room and increasingly agitated co-op members. With other grocers moving in on the organic and natural food market, it was going to be grow, or perish, taking 200 jobs with it. GreenStar had been in talks with landlords and developers for a new space, and City Harbor’s project team was one of those who listened. Just as City Harbor’s Pier Road was Guthrie’s escape hatch, 770 Cascadilla Street was going to be GreenStar’s.

Plans were first announced in December. As a Co-Operative food market, GreenStar has to put any kind of move of this scale out to its shareholders for a vote, through paper and electronic ballots with a three week voting period in March of 2018. The vote for the move was 92% in favor. The project was approved by the city last July, and the groundbreaking was this past November. If all goes well, the lease agreement will allow GreenStar to buy the property from Guthrie in 2030; this passed the member vote with 97% saying yes.

The plan is to renovate 770 Cascadilla into the latest and greatest GreenStar flagship. 750 Cascadilla would come down for a 160-space store parking lot and landscaping. The new space would have an edible garden, outdoor cafe, mezzanine stairway and classrooms. The building would be refinished, insulated, and potentially net-zero energy compatible, meaning all the energy it consumes comes from renewable sources. Breaking it down, the new retail area will be 16,500 SF, there will (well, was, see the last paragraph in this entry) be 5,200 SF mezzanine space for office and administrative functions, and a 13,000 SF kitchen and events space. With the addition of the mezzanine, the warehouse will be expanded in square footage from about 30,000 SF to 35,219 SF. The Space @ GreenStar would be moved to within the new store, and shrink from a 225-person capacity, to 125, and once moved in the old Space @ GreenStar location will be put up for sale. The Space isn’t much of a revenue generator for the Co-Op, and is rarely utilized at full capacity.

The project will take a little over a year, from November 2018 to December 2019 (the store itself wouldn’t open until February 2020, after the equipment is in, shelves are stocked and electronics are tested). Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is in charge of exterior design, and architect Pam Wooster will handle the interior layout. Elmira’s Edger Enterprises will be the general contractor for the buildout. Delaware River Solar will supply the solar energy to power the building via an off-site array.

GreenStar, which is carrying out the project with its City Harbor partners (Edger Enterprises, Morse Construction and Lambrou Real Estate) as Organic Nature LLC, did apply for and receive a standard seven-year tax abatement worth about $625k, about 4% of the project cost. $130k in new taxes would be paid over the period. GreenStar’s project would add at least 40 full-time equivalent positions with most jobs in the $15-$16/hour range plus benefits (Starting pay will be about $13.50/hour plus benefits; GreenStar has previously been certified as a living wage employer, though they appear to have been just below it in 2017). Generally speaking, the abatement application was one of the less contentious public hearings, which could be due to GreenStar’s stature in the Ithaca community, its labor and environmental practices, and because dedicated opposition could put 200 jobs and the whole Co-Op at risk of closure.

According to GreenStar’s TCIDA tax abatement application, while the project is $4.9 million to build (hard costs), the overall project costs are $14.8 million. Other sources have said $3.7 million in hard costs, so YMMV. Along with $8.7 million in bank and credit union financing, and $4.6 million in cash equity, the Co-Op has launched a $2.5 million capital campaign to sell investment shares to owners to help cover the project costs.

At present, a large gap has been opened in the exterior of 770 Cascadilla’s CMU facade. This is where the entrance of the new GreenStar will be, and it was practically the only major design change during the review process. The steel sitting aside the building may be for building out the mezzanine. A pile of debris sits next to 750 Cascadilla, which will itself be a pile of debris in due course. About the biggest loss here will be some pretty fantastic street art.

In the past couple of weeks, the interior was revised as a cost-cutting measure, shrinking the mezzanine by roughly half and reducing the size of the classrooms from 108 seats to a single room of 33, with the former first-floor classroom space now replaced by offices for GreenStar staff. The opening also appears to have been pushed back by 1-2 months, to “early spring 2020”.

 

Early render

early render

final render

 





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 2/2019

25 02 2019

The timber piles are in and the 6″ concrete slab has been formed and poured, thus completing the lion’s share of foundation work for the 323 Taughannock residential project. The orange tarp is to allow curing without snow or rain penetrating and potentially upsetting the curing process and damaging the concrete, and ituility connections poke out through the slab. As previously mentioned, this a modular wood frame, and the pieces will be framed and sheathed off-site by Benson Wood Products, and then assembled on-site by local firm D Squared.

An interesting little note from Matt Butler’s piece at the Times, Flash initially intended for a five-story design, but found it cost-prohibitive. According to co-developer Steve Flash, “(w)hen we did soil samples and had a system for a five-story building, the costs of the foundation were too much for the number of units we could create. That might be different in a larger project where you could spread the costs out a little bit […] None of it was a surprise, we knew it going in […] We knew what we were getting into. It’s a challenge.”

To be a little more explicit, the larger the building, the heavier it would be. Given the waterlogged soils, the heavier the building would be, the deeper the piles would need to be, and likely, the structure would be too heavy for the budget-friendly wood timber pile system. They would have had to use much more expensive steel piles. In general, building denser is going to be more cost-efficient, but if it creates a sudden jump in hard costs, then it’s not in that “sweet spot” for construction costs vs. revenue, and out of the realm of economic feasibility.

Anyway, look for the pieces for the eight townhouse-like units (a studio and 2-BR in each), to start showing up over the next several weeks. Completion is expected this summer.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 12/2018

3 12 2018

Some projects have clear, concise histories. This is not one of them.

323 Taughannock started off in the summer of 2014 as a $3.5 million, 23,000 SF mixed-use building with ground-level office, 18 covered parking spaces, and 20 apartment units on the three stories above (total of four stories, 50′ height). The firm proposing the building was Rampart Real LLC, managed by local lawyer Steve Flash, who partnered with businesswoman Anne Chernish to develop the plan.

Flash had long had an interest in Inlet Island. He was an original co-owner of the Boatyard Grill restaurant on the island, and is an owner and co-manager of the nearby Finger Lakes Boating Center. In 2007, he sought to build a five-story condo/hotel on Inlet Island, and was shot down. If you think Ithacans are opposed to development now, take a look at the previous link. Current affairs don’t hold a candle to how anti-development the community and many local elected officials were for much of the 2000s. But Flash continue to scout out opportunities where he might be able to do something in time. He picked up the vacant, rundown former bar at 323 Taughannock Boulevard for $280,000 in July 2011.

The apartment plans, which were designed by STREAM Collaborative, were reviewed, revised, and approved by the city. Although the original plan was to build the apartments out from January – August 2015, the project had been unable to move off of the drawing board and into reality due to cost concerns related to “parking, soft soil, and relatively tight space,” according to Flash. Being on the waterfront means that the soils have a high water table and are easily compressed, making multi-story construction difficult. The challenges faced with the apartment building were complicated by the proposed first-floor parking, which posed constraints on the building’s structuring, and raised construction costs beyond feasibility. Long story short, although the approvals were in place, the cost projections became too steep for the developers to follow through, and the site sat quiet.

With the original plan no longer feasible, a replacement development plan was submitted in December 2016. This was a proposal for eight for-sale townhouses. Totaling 20,174 SF it’s effectively 16 units in eight townhomes – the first floor will consist of 8 studio type apartments that could also be used as commercial space. The second and third floors, which have separate entrances, will be occupied by 8 townhome style 2-story units. The original idea was that they could be live/work spaces, or that renters would live in the studio units and their rents would help cover the mortgages of the townhouse owners. Offhand, I remember they were to be in the upper 300s to low 400s price range.

The general aesthetics of the design remained the same – as with the apartments, the for-sale townhouses are being designed by local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative. The facade “features historic and contemporary elements of rustic bricks, steel, traditional clapboard siding, and window casings”, per STREAM’s website. Five of the townhomes are larger – 645 SF studios with 2 bed/2 bath 1,608 SF units above, for a total of 2,253 SF in the “Unit A” townhouses. “Unit B”, with three examples, is a little smaller, with 514 SF studios and 2 bed/2 bath 1,384 SF upper-level units, for a total of 1,898 SF (the IDA application shows slightly different square footages for each unit, probably due to design revisions). Four units will have private elevators. The property will be landscaped and include eight on-site parking spaces with access to nine more next door. The public will have access to the waterfront on a paved promenade.

During this second round of review, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five had their balconies moved from the second floor to the third floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design was still roughly the same, the changes were only in the details.

The second set of reviews did get drawn out a bit because the project was caught up in the city’s TM-PUD affair, their fight to keep the Maguires from moving forward with their dealership at Carpenter Business Park. But the design fit zoning and was in line with the city’s desire for a more active, denser waterfront. The project was approved in May 2017.

Six months later in November, Flash and Chernish sold a $203,000 stake in 323 Taughannock plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira, who own the Arnot Mall and some commercial and multi-family properties in the Elmira/Horseheads area. As 323T LLC, the new joint venture gave Arnot a 75% stake to Flash and Chernish’s 25%, meaning Arnot is now the primary developer. 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 burgeoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city.

One of the decisions made in this change of ownership was that the units went back to being rentals – very expensive rentals, to the tune of $3,400-3,500/month for the upper-level units. By HUD guidelines, that’s affordable to someone making $140,000/year. The studios will go for $1,400-$1,500/month. Seeking a ten-year tax abatement, sales tax exemptions and mortgage tax exemptions proved to be the most controversial part of this project, and to be fair, it’s a tough sell from a public relations perspective to say your ultra-luxury units deserve a $605,855 tax abatement. But the IDA decided that the long-term property tax increase would be worth it, and the project could potential spur development elsewhere on the island and the West End, and granted the exemptions in January 2018. One of the people who raked the developers and the IDA over the coals was Amanda Kirchgessner, back when she was a well-meaning citizen and before she became a highly controversial state senatorial candidate.

Tompkins Trust Company has lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. 323 T LLC partner equity was expected to be $1.153 million at the time of the IDA application, but that may have changed, since the bank loan was only expected to be $3.461 million at the time – total project cost was $4.615 million.

Ithaca’s Taitem Engineering is in charge of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural design services. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company, working with applicant contractor D Squared Inc. (Doug Boles and Doug Dake) of Lansing. Benson’s primary work is as a modular and timber-frame builder for properties in and around southern New Hampshire where they’re based. With 323, the wood-frame wall system will actually be framed and sheathed off site by Benson, and transported over to be assembled by D Squared like pieces of a puzzle. The modular approach potentially saves on materials and labor costs makes the construction itself more energy efficient, and may make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage. The plan is to have the project be “nearly net-zero”, meaning it’s efficient in its energy use, and close to having all of its energy needs met by renewable sources (the project will be powered by an off-site solar array). For the record, yes it will use heat pumps.

Taitem also designed the rather unusual timber-based pile system deployed at the project site. The project itself is relatively light as building go, but because of the waterlogged soils, a deep foundation is still required for structural stability. Instead of heavy-duty steel, treated timber can do the job for a fairly modestly sized project like this, an affordable, lighter-load alternative. As long as the timber isn’t exposed to high levels of oxygen (open air, there isn’t enough dissolved in groundwater), they can last for hundreds of years. You can see the piles in the photos below, and watch the pile driving process in the embedded Twitter video courtesy of Ithaca second ward councilman Ducson Nguyen. All the piles are in place, and a 6″ concrete slab will be formed and poured over the top.

Construction is expected to take about eight months, roughly placing a timeline for completion at summer 2019.

Before:

 

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