Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 9/2018

29 09 2018

The past couple of months haven’t been the best for Ithaca development. Apart from the recent lull, most of the high-profile projects have engendered some animosity or involved in a publicly relations mess. In the case of the Hilton Canopy, that would be the incident with the sure-footed construction work on the scaffolding. My goal when reporting it back in August was to be impartial and thorough and I still I don’t know enough about the work environment to make a comment. From the public comments and my emails, it’s not 100% clear if there were violations and how severe they were; there’s some subjectivity in their application (harnesses are to set up in ways that don’t pose other safety concerns or obstacles, for instance, so if it could be proven that it would have been a risk a harness wouldn’t have been required). OSHA is reviewing and will make their judgement calls as they see fit, even if it takes up to six months to hash out.

On the bright side, the Hilton is moving along, the warehouse-style windows are being fitted and most of the sheathing has been attached to the exterior steel studs. The water-resistive barrier will prevent moisture seepage from damaging the gypsum sheathing panels. The yellowish Behr paint “applesauce cake” colored fiber cement panels were replaced with a somewhat darker and browner tone, “sauteed mushroom” from rival Glidden. As Glidden Paints says, a “(m)id-toned warm beige, this color makes a statement as an exterior body color as well as an interior accent wall or warm meditation space.” I don’t make these names up, I just report them.

There hasn’t been too much news about the project apart from the scaffolding controversy; the Canopy brand has been touting Ithaca-area attractions on its facebook page and the brand website states a mid-2019 opening.

 





News Tidbits 8/11/18

11 08 2018

News Tidbits 8/11/18

1. It looks like the Mettler-Toledo facility has a buyer. Ongweoweh Corporation bought the 27,000 SF property at 5 Barr Road in Dryden for $3.24 million on August 3rd. Readers may remember that Mettler-Toledo decided to consolidate the Hi-Speed Dryden plant with a new facility in the Tampa Bay metro, taking 185 jobs with it. Founded in 1978 in Spencer, Ongweoweh Corporation is a Native American-owned pallet management company providing pallet & packaging procurement and design services, recycling services and supply chain optimization programs. The firm had only recently bought its existing 17,577 SF headquarters at 767 Warren Road in Lansing, for $2 million in September 2016 – as Ongweoweh moves to the larger space, it’s putting 767 Warren up for sale for $2.3 million. It’s not clear if this physical expansion will add jobs, and a request for comment was not returned. The company employs a little over 100 people according to a third-party profile, and 58 are based in the Ithaca area.

2. Let’s talk about another business expansion – Emmy’s Organics. The organic cookie producer’s new warehouse and HQ came one step closer to reality this week when the city’s Planning Committee gave its approval to let the full Common Council vote on the sale of 2.601 acres of IURA land to Emmy’s for $242,000. The land is towards the south end of Cherry Street, it’ll be the terminus of the extended Cherry Street, which will be lengthened 400 feet and create two new one-acre lots to sell to business that contribute to the IURA’s goals of job creation for LMI individuals. Examples include drilling tech firm Vector Magnetics, lab electronics manufacturer Precision Filters and the Crossfit Pallas gym. A fourth lot on the west side of the newly extended road would be deeded to the city as a natural buffer between development and the waterfront/Black Diamond Trail.

The initial phase of the $1.25 million development includes 4,000 SF of office/breakroom/entrance area, a 4,500 SF production area, and a 5,500 SF warehouse (14,000 SF total). If growth continues as it has, the plan is to implement a second phase in 2-3 years for a 20,000 SF expansion. The new facility will create at least five new jobs (total staff 24), and the potential expansion would likely add at least another twenty given that phase two called for the parking lot to grow from 22 to 41 spaces.

The rendering of the new HQ above, which is a STREAM Collaborative design, shows both phases. The section in the foreground is phase one, the shed roof structure at back is phase two. The section of parking lot towards the left is a phase two addition as well. No zoning variances are required. Whitham Planning and Design is leading the project through the city review process.

3. Let’s linger on Whitham for a moment. From their website is likely one of the runner-up proposals for the North Campus Residential Expansion over at Cornell. They were partnered with Ann Beha Architects and Baltimore-based Design Collective for a competing design that was ultimately not selected. Cornell interviewed four development teams before going with their final choice, Integreated Acquisition and Development, a firm associated with John Novarr and Phil Proujansky who did the Breazzano in Collegetown. Although owned and operated by Cornell, there is a developer’s fee IAD will earn for developing the NRCE project on behalf of Cornell. That fee varies per project and is usually confidential, but 3-6% is common in commercial builds, and by that yardstick, for a $175 million project IAD stands to make several million dollars.

With nothing more than a site plan, I’d be willing to guess that given the team members, the plan would have been a contemporary design, though perhaps more conservative than ikon.5 – Ann Beha designed the elegant if subdued first phase of the Cornell Law School addition.

4. The Hotel Ithaca is moving forward with the next phase of plans for its South Cayuga Street property. The next project is to tear down the vacated south wing, a 2-story structure built in the 1970s, and replace it with a surface parking lot. At a glance, this is not at all a welcome proposal for a downtown street corner. However, it comes with some promise of a hotel addition down the line. A development pad will be created for a “future market-driven addition”, meaning that if business grows and they decide to expand the hotel, they’ll have a level, stable, shovel-ready site. Until then, it’s seventeen fewer parking spaces the hotel will need in the Cayuga Street parking garage. The $550,000 project would be carried out from August to November, and NH Architecture is handling the landscaping, refinishing of the tower wall and overall application on behalf of owner Hart Hotels.

5. Visum’s not wasting any time on its affordable housing proposal for 327 West Seneca Street. The three-story, 12-unit building is planned for an October start and an April 2019 finish, and will be going before the planning board this month Declaration of Lead Agency and review of Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form.

The project is an interesting little case study of how maximum height isn’t necessarily optimal. The zoning allows four floors; they want to serve 70-80% area median income, which requires 18 bedrooms for economic feasibility at this site. But to have four floors, the materials need to be fire-rated, and the units would need either emergency exit stairs, or an elevator. Since it’s a small building lot, an elevator would eat into the square footage of units, about a bedroom per floor, so there’s no net gain in rentable space with a fourth floor, but there would be an increased project cost. One could save costs by putting in the stairs vs. the elevator, but the fourth floor units would be harder to fill because they would pose greater access difficulties – ask around and see how many people want to walk up four flights everyday. This is actually one of the major reasons why the Village Solars in Lansing are also three floors, the expense of elevators would have driven their budget higher than the mid-market segment Lifestyle Properties wanted to serve.

Net-zero energy use is being explored (electric heat pumps powered by off-site renewables), and yard and setback variances are being sought after the city seemed receptive to a variant sketch plan with a few more square feet in the units for the sake of livability. STREAM penned a traditional design fitting with the block, and the revisions added a few more windows into the sides of the structure.

Also in the projects memo for this month are final approval for Benderson’s 3,200 SF addition at 744 South Meadow Street and the Declaration of Lead Agency for Cornell’s new north campus dorms. The Benderson project’s landscaping plan was modified slightly, and a new rear exit door and front awning are being considered.

6. Out in the towns there’s not much going on next week. A special meeting of the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board will decide whether or not to defer to the city as lead agency in the environmental review of Cornell’s north campus expansion. The town of Lansing will be holding public hearings for a one-lot subdivision and a four-lot subdivision for single-family homes.

7. The Lansing Village Cottages plan has its work cut out for it. The design has been tweaked such that the first two home clusters were combined, and the road connecting to Craft Road was realigned. The Millcroft Way connection will have a vegetative buffer and the road would be for emergency vehicle only. However, Millcroft Way residents are still seething – they have $500,000-$700,000, 2,500 SF+ homes locked under a covenant, while the same person who sold their lots is now selling to a developer planning 800-1200 SF cottages. Concerns include traffic, home values, density, and too many senior housing developments, which is a bit of an odd one. Logan’s Run isn’t just a street in Dryden.

The village is pretty hesitant to support this – the Board of Trustees sent the proposal back over to the Planning Board, hoping that they could make some recommendation as to whether it meets the goals of the village. On the one hand, that would seem an easy yes at a glance, it’s senior housing close to urban areas in an affordable price range. However, after shelling out close to $50,000 for lawyers to fight Lisa Bonniwell over her lawsuit to stop the East Pointe Apartments, money that won’t be paid back (perhaps indirectly in property taxes in a few years), the village is afraid of another Article 78 lawsuit, and the residents of Millcroft are very deep-pocketed and willing to go to court. This is vaguely reminiscent of a study that shows wealthier areas are much more adept at stopping density and new housing in general because they have more leverage – one of those being that a fear of costly litigation is a strong municipal deterrent.

8. We’ll end on a positive note – after eight years of back and forth, it appears site prep has begun on the 20 senior housing units planned as part of the Lansing Meadows project. Since developer Eric Goetzmann had until July 31st or else face significant legal action (Goetzmann applied for and received a tax abatement for the BJ’s that was contingent on the housing, and it was at risk of being clawed back), I had dropped by August 3rd. After looking around, it did not seem to be under construction; a bit of upturned dirt and a bulldozer on site. The village decided it was, if barely, according to the Lansing Star:

Yes, he scratched the earth. Yes, he does have the soil fencing in,” {Village Code Enforcement Officer Adam} Robbs said. “He has hired a dedicated contractor at this time to do the site work. He has a culvert permit and approval to install a temporary culvert for construction use. I do have a preliminary set of plans. I am hesitant to say he has begun a significant amount of work… but he has begun work.”

>We’ll see if it merits an update in October.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

As previously mentioned on the Voice, the new 131-room Canopy by Hilton is one floor short of topping out. Interestingly, the ground level/lobby uses Georgia-Pacific DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing, while the upper level use National Gypsum eXP boards. I’m not sure why the change – both are fire-rated, mold and water resistant. It probably doesn’t have to do with the exterior finishes (brick veneer is used at both ground level and on some of the wall projections above), but it’s possible it has to do with the construction material. The ground level is composed of poured concrete, while the upper floors are structural steel and accompanying steel stud walls. Regardless of the reason, both are being covered with the same water-resistive barrier. You can see the interior stud walls through the rough window openings, but interior work hasn’t progressed much farther than that on the more recently erected upper floors. The lower floors appear to be undergoing utility rough-ins.

It still isn’t clear what the replacement panel color will be for the yellowish “Applesauce Cake” – not sure if Whitham Planning and the rest of the project team persuaded the city “Dark Ash” grey was okay, or if another color was chosen. If someone knows, feel free to chime in the comments.

Further information on the Canopy hotel can be found here.





City Centre Construction Update, 4/2018

12 05 2018

Mostly just clearing out my stash at this point; as the webcam shows, exterior framing is up to the third floor.

A number of changes have been made to the City Centre project, inside and out. Whitham Planning and Design shepherded the alterations through the planning board, which was generally okay with them. Among the revisions:

-Landscaping Changes. Among them, street tree species and layout, and tree grates are being replaced with FlexiPave porous paved covers. The number of shrubs was decreased, perennial flowers increased. Bike racks were relocated, street lights, curbing and curb ramps were adjusted, concrete planters were added by the parking drop-off area, a pergola with string lights was added, bollards were added, the sidewalk width along East Green Street was reduced from 6′ to 5′, and pavers were changed to a slightly darker shade of grey.

-On the first floor, the lobby layout was reconfigured, and some exterior doors were relocated for ease of access. The number of retail spaces was reduced from four to three, but the total square footage for the retail is about the same (11,000 SF). A storm water vault and fire pump room were added in the underground garage, and the parking spaces were reconfigured slightly to accommodate (still about 71 spaces).

-The unit mix has changed from 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms, and 53 two-bedrooms, to 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. Still 192 units total, but with fewer studios and two-bedrooms and more one-bedrooms, basically. This might have to do with what’s easiest to rent to the target market (young professionals, a few downsizers, deep-pocketed students). Perhaps studios aren’t seen as having enough space for the upmarket market segment.

-The exterior facing materials have been changed from Nichiha aluminum panels to Overly Dimension XP Metal Systems, and Alucoil Larson ACM aluminum panels. The color palette is generally the same, perhaps slightly greyer with the revised paneling. Air intake vents were added to the building facade. Fenestration (window size/arrangement) was also changed up.

The floor buildout is a rather interesting process, because they’re practically building from the inside-out as each floor is added. The interior steel stud walls and structural steel supports go up first, then roof decking overhead, and then what appear to be prefabricated modular exterior wall panels with Marvin Windows already fitted. The dark panel is Dow Thermax Xarmor, which apart from sounding like a Star Wars extra, is a heavy-duty fire-rated fiberglass insulation board covered with a dark exterior facer that serves as a water barrier. These panels can be set into place very quickly, saving time and labor costs. The ground-level is more typical fireproof gypsum sheathing. The steel rails on the upper floors are likely for the aluminum exterior panels, so they may clipped into place.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 4/2018

5 05 2018

Construction continues on the Canopy, but the plans are in a state of modest flux. The fiber cement panels were changed to a different manufacturer, which uses a different paint supplier. The original Cem5 fiber cement panels use Swiss Pearl paints, while the revision proposes Nichiha panels using PPG paints. The replacement colors are very similar.

However, the dull yellow “Applesauce Cake” accent panels (itself a replacement for Cem5 “Carat Topaz”), was rejected by Canopy. The replacement color, a charcoal grey “Dark Ash”, was disliked by the board, so the project team is still trying to determine a suitable color replacement with enough to get the order filed with the manufacturer without delaying the construction timeline. I wonder if, given the orange Canopy logo and branding, if a soft “rustic” orange shade might be available? The thought being that it would tell visitors quickly that this building is a Hilton Canopy, and a warm, subtle shade would brighten the facade without being obnoxious. From what I see, one can custom order panels, which is no doubt more expensive, but I’m not seeing a list of standard colors anywhere.

While excavating, the project team did find some small fragments of the Strand Theater, which stood on the site until its demolition in 1993. The “most decorative” pieces are going to be used in a display inside the hotel lobby, and further consideration is being made for an exterior mural.

The landscaping is being tweaked to extend a sidewalk through the property to Seneca Way, as well as a curb-cut and smaller planters to fit within the property line. A pair of ginkgo trees planned for the property are being replaced with some dense shrubs and perennial instead. This is the eleventh version of the project I now have on file. Background info and specifications can be found here.

The hotel has completed foundation work and is up to the second floor. The steel skeleton and elevator cores/stairwells continue to rise, with thinner exterior steel stud walls on the ground floor and fireproof gypsum panels on the second floor. The finished product should be coming onto the market in about a year.

 





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 10/2017

31 10 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After approval and IDA approval, things were slow to start. Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, representing the Patel family, was reorganized slightly to include other family members in the ownership, and afterward it purchased the properties for the hotel project in August 2916. $1.8 million went to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. A $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union (formerly Eastman Saving and Loan of Rochester) was received at the end of September 2016, but things were stalled for a while, and only now is the project on its way to a Spring 2019 opening, two and a half years later than initially planned. William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor.

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

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

October 15th:

October 28th:





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part I: History and Planning

28 08 2017

Being as large and complex as it is, it was hard to figure out a way to present the Maplewood project clearly and coherently. After some thinking, it seems the best combination of clarity and detail will be to split it into three sections. This section, Part I, will be an overview of the site history and project planning. Part II will examine and break down the site plan with all of its contributing structures. Part III will be the regular construction update, which will be bi-monthly just like all the others.

Quick primer note – Maplewood Park was the name of the old complex. The new one is just called “Maplewood”. With the shorthand for Maplewood Park being Maplewood, it can get confusing.

Let’s start with the background. Love it or not, Cornell University is one of the major defining organizations of the Ithaca area. It employs nearly 10,000 people and brings billions of dollars in investment into the Southern Tier, Tompkins County and Ithaca. That investment includes the students upon which the university was founded to educate.

Traditionally, neither founder Ezra Cornell nor first university president Andrew Dickson White were fans of institutional housing. Their preference was towards boarding houses in the city, or autonomous student housing (clubs, Greek Letter Orgs, etc), where it was felt students would learn to be more independent. This mentality has often underlain Cornell’s approach to housing – it’s not a part of their primary mission, so they only build campus housing if they feel it helps them meet academic and institutional goals. If many potential students are opting for other schools because of housing concerns, or the university is under financial strain because it has to subsidize high housing costs in their scholarships, then Cornell is motivated to build housing in an effort to improve its situation and/or become more competitive with peer institutions.

With that in mind, being one of the top-ranked schools in the world means that, in the historical context of the university’s goals and plans, new housing is rarely a concern. Cornell will update housing in an effort to be more inclusive and to improve student well-being, but with labs, classrooms and faculty offices taking precedence, building new housing is rarely an objective. Only about 46% of undergrads live on campus, and just 350 of over 7,500 graduate and professional students.

From 2002 to present, Cornell has added 2,744 students, with a net increase in Ithaca of about 1900. The net increase in beds on Cornell’s Ithaca campus during that same time period is zero. While Cornell did build new dorms on its West Campus, they replaced the University “Class of” Halls. 1,800 beds were replaced with 1,800 beds. In fact, the amount of undergraduate and graduate housing on campus had actually decreased as units at Maplewood Park and the law school Hughes Hall dorm were taken offline, either due to maintenance issues, or for conversion to office/academic space. When the announcement for further decreases came in Fall 2015, I wrote a rare Ithaca Voice editorial, and even rarer, it brought Cornell out to the proverbial woodshed for poor planning and irresponsibility.

To be fair, while Cornell was the guilty body, removing housing isn’t a problem on its own. It’s when the local housing market can’t grow fast enough to support that, that it becomes a problem. The Tompkins County market is slow to react, for reasons that can be improved (cumbersome approvals process) and some that can’t (Ithaca’s small size and relative isolation poses investment and logistical hurdles). In the early and mid 2000s housing was added at a decent clip, so the impacts were more limited. But housing starts tumbled during and after the recession, and it was unable to keep up. As Cornell continued to add students in substantial quantities, it became a concern, both for students and permanent residents.

By the mid-2010s, Cornell was faced with financial strains, student unhappiness and worsening town-gown relations, all related to the housing issue. As a result, the past couple years have become one of those rare times where housing makes it close to the top of Cornell’s list of priorities.

In weighing its options, one of the long-term plans was to redevelop the 17-acre Maplewood Park property. The property was originally the holdings of an Ellis Hollow tavern keeper and the Pew family before becoming the farmstead of James and Lena (sometimes Lyna) Clabine Mitchell in the early 1800s. In 1802, James was passing through from New Jersey to Canada with plans to move across the border, but stopped in the area, liked it, and bought land from the Pews, then moving the rest of his family up to Ithaca. Apparently there’s a legend of Lena Mitchell attacking and killing a bear with a pitchfork for eating her piglets. Many of the home lots in Belle Sherman were platted in the 1890s from foreclosed Mitchell property.

Like many of the Mitchell lands, it looks like the property was sold off around 1900 – a Sanborn map from 1910 shows a brick-making plant on the property along the railroad (now the East Ithaca Rec Way) and not much else for what was then the city’s hinterland. It’s not clear when Cornell acquired property, but by 1946, Cornell had cleared the land to make way for one of their “Vetsburgs”, also known as Cornell Quarters. The 52 pre-fabricated two-family homes were for veterans with families, who swelled Cornell’s enrollment after World War II thanks to the GI Bill. Once the GIs had come and gone, Cornell Quarters became unfurnished graduate housing, geared towards students with families, and international students.

The Cornell Quarters were meant to be temporary, and so was their replacement. In 1988-89, the university built the modular Maplewood Park Housing, with 390 units/484 beds for graduate and professional students, and an expected lifespan of 25 years. The intent was to replace them with something nicer after several years, but given Cornell’s priorities, and housing typically not among them, it fell to the back burner. As temporary units with marginal construction quality and upkeep, poor-condition units were closed off in later years, and capacity had fallen to about 356 beds when the complex’s closure was announced in May 2015 for the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

Cornell had long harbored plans to redevelop the Maplewood site – a concept schematic was shown in the 2008 university Master Plan. After weighing a renovation versus a rebuild with a few possible partners, the university entered into an agreement with national student housing developer EdR Trust to submit a redevelopment proposal. The partnership was announced in February 2016, along with the first site plan.

The core components of the project were actually fairly consistent throughout the review process. The project would have 850-975 beds, and it would be a mix of townhouse strings and 3-4 apartment buildings, with a 5,000 SF community center to serve it all. The project adheres to New Urbanist neighborhood planning, which emphasizes walk-ability and bike-ability, with interconnected and narrow streets, and parking behind buildings rather than in front of them. Energy-efficient LEED Certification was in the plans from the start.

However, the overall site plan did evolve a fair amount, mostly in response to neighbor concerns raised through the review process. Many residents on or near Mitchell Road were uncomfortable with multi-story buildings near them, so these were pulled further back into the complex, and late in the process the remaining Mitchell Street multi-story buildings were replaced with very-traditional looking townhomes with a smaller scale and footprint. More traditional designs were also rolled out for the pair of townhouse strings closest to Worth Street, since neighbors noted they would be highly visible and wanted them to fit in. The building planned in the city’s side was also pulled inward into the parcel early on due to neighbor concerns – it became an open plaza and bus stop. The university was fairly responsive to most concerns, although the most adamant opposition didn’t want any multi-story units at all, and really preferred as few students and as few families as possible.

For the record, that is every site plan I have on file. Go clockwise from top left for the chronology. So from beginning to end, there were at least five versions made public. The final product settled on 442 units with 872 bedrooms, with units ranging from studios to 4-bedrooms.

It’s also worth pointing out that the town of Ithaca, in which the majority of the property lies (the city deferred the major decision-making to the town), had a lot of leverage in the details. The town’s decades-old zoning code isn’t friendly to New Urbanism, so the property had to be declared a Planned Development Zone, a form of developer DIY zoning that the town would have to review and sign off on. Eventually, the town hopes to catch up and have form-based code that’s more amenable to New Urbanism. The town also asked for an Environmental Impact Statement, a very long but encompassing document that one could describe as a super-SEQR, reviewing all impacts and all mitigation measures in great detail. The several hundred pages of EIS docs are on the town website here, but a more modest summary is here. If you want the hundreds of pages of emailed comments and the responses from the project team, there are links in the article here.

Some details were easier to hammer out than others. The trade unions were insistent on union labor, which Cornell is pretty good about, having a select group of contractors it works with to ensure a union-backed construction workforce. Also, at the insistence of environmental groups, and as heat pumps have become more efficient and cost-effective, the project was switched from natural gas heat to electric heat pumps, with 100% of the electricity to come from renewables (mostly off-site solar arrays).

Taxes were a bit more delicate, but ended up being a boon when it was decided to pay full value on the $80 million project. It was a borderline case of tax-exemption because Cornell would own the land and EdR would own the structures, and lease the land for 50 years; but Maplewood Park was exempt, so it could have been a real debate. Instead, EdR said okay to 100% taxation, which means $2.4 million generated in property taxes on a parcel that previously paid none. Some folks were also concerned if the schools could handle the young child influx, but since Maplewood Park only sent about 4 kids to the elementary school on average, and the new plan would send 10 students when the school has capacity for another 26, so that was deemed adequate.

On the tougher end, traffic is a perennial concern, and Cornell wasn’t about to tell graduate and professional students and their families to go without a car. Streetscape mitigations include raised crosswalks, curbing, and landscaping, EdR is giving the town $30,000 for traffic calming measures (speed humps and signage) to keep the influx of residents orderly and low-speed. A new 600,000 gallon water tank also has to be built (planned for Hungerford Hill Road).

One of the thorniest issues were the accusations of segmentation, meaning that Cornell was falsely breaking their development plans up into smaller chunks and hiding their future plans to make the impacts seem smaller. This has come in the context of the Ithaca East Apartments next door, and the East Hill Village Cornell is considering at East Hill Plaza. However, neither were concrete plans at the time, and still aren’t – to my understanding, Cornell had some informal discussions about Ithaca East but decided against it early on in the process. And they only just selected a development team for EHV.

In the end, many of the concerned neighbors and interest groups were satisfied with the changes, and actually lauded Cornell and EdR for being responsive. The EIS was formally requested in May 2016. The Draft EIS was accepted in August 2016, public meetings on it were held in October, and the Final EIS was submitted at the end of October. After some more back-and-forth on the details (stormwater management plan, or SWPPP), the Final EIS was approved right before Christmas and the project was approved in February 2017, starting work shortly thereafter for an intended August 2018 completion. With the wet summer, the project managers asked for a two-hour daily extension on construction (8 am-6 pm became 7 am -7 pm) to meet the hard deadline, which the town okayed with a noise stipulation of less than 85 decibels.

Rents for the project, which include utilities, wireless and pre-furnished units, are looking to range from $790-$1147 per bed per month, depending on the specific unit. Back of the envelope calculations suggest affordability at 30% rent and 10% utilities, for 40% of income. Cornell stipends currently range from $25,152-$28,998, which translates to $838-$967/month.

On the project team apart from Cornell and Memphis-based EdR are Torti Gallas and Partners of Maryland, New Urbanist specialists who did the overall site plan and architecture. Local firms T.G. Miller P.C. is contributing to the project as structural engineer, and Whitham Planning and Design is the site plan designer, landscape planner and boots-on-the-ground project coordinator for municipal review. Brous Consulting did the public relations work, and SRF & Associates did the traffic study. Although not mentioned as often, STREAM Collaborative did the landscape architecture for the project. The general contractor is LeChase Construction of Rochester.

So that’s part one. Part two will look at the structures and site plan itself. And then with part three, we’ll have the site photos.