News Tidbits 8/23/14: Soooo Much Rendering

23 08 2014

In the news this week are a bunch of updated renders. The Planning Board meeting is next Tuesday and the city needs to have all their updated building proposal files in order. Let’s take a look.

1. This one was approved in July, but it’s worth noting that Cornell has been given the green light to begin construction with its addition to the Gannett Health Center off of Ho Plaza. This is probably about as smooth as the approvals process for a large project gets. Cornell knows everything the city wants (and vice versa), sending enough detailed renders and assessments to write a book, so the city is left with few questions that need to be asked, and any recommendations or suggestions from the board are addressed promptly. The finalized renders by Ithaca-based Chiang O’Brien can be found here. Looking back at the initial proposal, most of the differences are in the roof/skylight layout, and some of the window and facade banding was tweaked. The $25.5 million project is all clear for its March start date, for a completion in fall 2017.

gannett_rev1_final_1

2. Hark, developer Josh Lower’s 307 College might be nearing preliminary approval. A few more tweaks to this 46-apartment, 96-bedroom project since last time; the brick has been differentiated in the front and back, and the blank wall on the northwest corner now has slit windows, created by angling the walls slightly inward. As a result, the windows to their east, and the second-floor windows on that corner have been reduced. They look a little odd, and I wonder if they couldn’t have just done an art wall instead. As with many Collegetown midrises, the design is by local firm Sharma Architecture.

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3. Another project getting a mild makeover is Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock project for the waterfront of Inlet Island. Revised PDF here. Compared to the previous renders, the waterfront side now comes with more balconies, the fourth floor has been redone, and the “first floor” parking area has been tweaked. All-in-all, it’s a fairly substantial design modification by architect STREAM Collaborative. The project seeks to add 20 residential units to Ithaca’s underutilized waterfront. For the naysayers, the argument will need to be something other than ecological; the environmental study was completed by Toxics Targeting (the company run by aggressive environmental activist Walter Hang), and 323 was given the all clear.

323taughannock_rev1_1 323taughannock_rev1_2

4. You want more renderings? You got it! Here we have revisions for the proposed 120-room Hampton Inn in downtown Ithaca. We also have project details from the Site Plan Review (SPR) – the project will cost $11.5 million, and is aiming for a construction period from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016. This project has been meeting with quite a few city officials, the Board of Public Works for the sale and transfer of the city parking lot to the developer, and the IURA for tax breaks. Looking over architect Scott Whitham’s refreshed design, the massing is still the same,but the facade materials have changed up. Gone is the yellow stucco-like material, and here comes the brick (hopefully not the stamp-Crete kind). At least the brick makes it more compatible with its neighbor the Carey Building.

hampton_rev2_1

5. Last on the list, the 160-room Marriott. I thought this one was good to go, but apparently it still needs the Planning Board’s approval of the, uh, value engineered design, seen here. The protrusions on the top floor and roof have been trimmed back, the materials have been down-scaled, and the LED-light waterfall effect that was such a discussion point at the meeting last month is now being done with what the PDF calls panels (curtains, I think). The top few floors will be light blue, the middle floors medium blue, the lowest floors dark blue. The crown design has also been modified a bit. The start date for this has been pushed back so many times, I’ll sincerely be amazed when they have steel coming out of the ground.

marriott_rev1_1

I should note that a couple other projects, 205 Dryden (Dryden South) and 327 Eddy have also been revised, but it’s just their A/C vents, a very minor detail that I’m going to save the bandwidth and not bother re-hosting. If you’re really interest, revised plans for 205 here, and 327 here.

With all of these projects noted, it would appear that we have nothing brand new on the agenda for the PDC meeting on the 26th. Stone Quarry and the Marriott are up for revised final approval. The Carey Building addition, 205 Dryden (Dryden South) and 307 College (Collegetown Crossing) are under consideration for final approval, and 323 Taughannock is up for preliminary approval. The only project being reviewed and not up for approval is 327 Eddy, which will be undergoing “Declaration of Lead Agency”, which is an obscure way of saying the Planning Board agrees to conduct the environmental and design review. The approvals would result in 160 hotel rooms, and 117 additional housing units in (82+18+40+96+24) 260 bedrooms, if I have my numbers right. With the exception of Stone Quarry’s rumblings, there’s not a whole lot of opposition left at this point, which means this fall and next year could be pretty busy, with a lot of hardhats on the streets.

6. Now for something different. The vacant parcel at 707 East Seneca, discussed here previously, is being offered for sale at $175,000, well above its assessed value of $100,000. The agent makes note the property could allow four units, but does not note that it’s in a historic district subject to stringent design guidelines.





The Student Who Designed A Collegetown Apartment Building

12 08 2014

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Here’s another installment in the Collegetown history series.

I like to imagine that it’s every architect’s ambition to have one of their designs built, a building they can touch with their hands. For some, it takes longer than others. Firms have their hierarchies, and companies have their preferred architects. Many budding designers have to start out small, designing housing additions or lobby areas or pavilions, slowly working their up to larger and grander projects. I imagine the Cornell students hard at work in Sibley and Rand Halls dream of the day that one of their designs becomes reality.

It just so happens that for one Cornell student, their big break came a little sooner than most. It happened while they were still a student at Cornell. The building they designed stands in Collegetown today.

I’m not talking William Henry Miller, or some architect from the much simpler times of the nineteenth century. For this, I only need to go back to the early 1980s.

At the time, the company Student Agencies, Inc. was based at 409 College Avenue, just like it is today. Student Agencies is a student-run business that operates Big Red Shipping and Storage, Hired Hands Moving, and produces the Cornellian yearbook and TakeNote, among other things. 409 College is the second building from left in the lead image, and I’ve included a google screencap below. Back in the Disco Era, the Student Agencies building was a rather ramshackle three-story house with a bump-out. You can see the outline of it here, in a photo of College Avenue ca. 1968. The building housed Student Agencies, and a restaurant called “The Vineyard”, a 1970s mainstay for bland Italian-like food until it closed in 1980.

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In the fall of 1980, Student Agencies decided to up their game with a new, modern apartment building, one of the first planned in Collegetown area. At the time, Collegetown was still something of a drug-ridden ghetto, lacking today’s high-end units and wealthy students; it was a no-go for many Cornellians. Student Agencies, being the shrewd businesspeople they are, decided to add a twist to their development by making it into a design competition. In a collaboration with Cornell’s architecture school, 4th and 5th year architecture students were invited to submit designs for a mixed-use structure on the site, within zoning constraints. The designs would then be judged on practicality and aesthetics. The judges consisted of the Chairman of the Architecture Department (Jerry Wells), another Cornell architecture professor (Michael Dennis), two Syracuse University architecture professors (Werner Seligmann, the dean, and Prof. Walter Danzinger), Mick Bottge of the Ithaca City Planning Board, and two Student Agencies reps, Peter Nolan and Ed Clement. The winner would not only see their design built, but also win $1,000 (about $2,893 today). Three runner-ups would receive $250 each, and $250 would be donated by SA to publish a booklet of the designs. $2,000 ($5,786 adjusted) was a lot less than hiring a design firm, and it also gave Cornell students an ability to showcase their talents in a practical event. Win-win.

27 designs were received. Now, I would sacrifice a goat to your deity of choice if it allowed me to obtain a copy of the booklet, but I’m afraid I’m out of goats. The winners were announced in March 1981, and the first prize went to Grace R. Kobayashi ’81. The runner-ups were Mustafa K. Abadan ’82, Dean J. Almy ’82, and George M. How ’82. Ms. Kobayashi’s five-story design called for a theater, retail space, and apartments on the upper floors. In an interview with the Sun, she mentioned that although the competition ran for three months, she created her design in only a week and a half. As for the award money, she added “realistically, the award money will go towards graduate school, but maybe I’ll go to Europe.”

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Well, Ms. Kobayashi wouldn’t have to worry about grad school money. The following year, she received an extremely prestigious fellowship from the internationally-renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, to the tune of $10,000. The history gets harder to trace after that; she was selected as a fellow for the Amercian Academy in Rome in 1989, and had been a practicing architect in the NYC area at the time. Presently, it looks like she may be an instructor at the Pratt Institute in NYC. Mustafa Abadan is a partner at SOM, Dean Almy is an associate professor of architecture at UT-Austin, and George How went to work for equally-presitgious Kohn Pedersen Fox, and co-designed NASA’s headquarters. Sadly, he passed away in 1993 due to complications related to AIDS, aged 35.

As for the building, it would be a few years before it was built, finally beginning construction in 1985 and finishing in fall 1986. Today, it blends in seamlessly to the fabric of the 400 block of College Avenue, creating a fully built-out block of similar massing and scale, unique and yet part of a cohesive group that gives some some urbanity to Collegetown. I wonder how many other towns can claim to have a Grace Kobayashi design in their midst?





That Time Someone Wanted a 10-Story Building on Stewart Avenue

30 07 2014

403_stewartave_1965_large

In keeping with the history theme that is another facet of this blog, here’s a historical construction project to go with all the Collegetown news in the past week. After all, one giant proposal deserves another, 50 years its senior.

I owe reader “Ex-Ithacan” for suggesting this one, as he remembered the proposal when he was a kid, and inquired about it on the website Skyscraperpage.com. Although his source was the Ithaca Journal, I had a hunch the Cornell Sun would have also run a feature about such a large project, so I checked the Sun archives.

Oh hey, I was right. An article about the project, from February 16, 1965, can be found here, sandwiching some extraordinarily sexist advertisements. First, let’s try and put ourselves in the 1965 timeframe. Cornell was rapidly expanding, Collegetown was even more of a ghetto than it is now (let’s not forget old Ctown’s heroin sales and murder), and the big theme for cities was Urban Renewal, where cities desperately tore down their inner cores in an effort to draw in suburban-style development that might bring people back into the cities (retrospectively, this was by and large a failure). Anyone looking back at this time as idyllic in Ithaca is blowing smoke.

403_stewartave_map

The site in question is 403-415 Stewart Avenue. The site was home to a luxurious house belonging to Zeta Psi until WWII; after they moved out, it burnt down a few years later, and the site was reclaimed as it is now – a parking lot used by Cornell.

The parking lot was to be developed by a private group called “State and Aurora Corporation” into a 10-story building housing 70 luxury apartments. The intended clientele were Cornell faculty, Cornell retirees, and deep-pocketed locals. The building would have had a construction cost of $1 million (about $7.57 million today). Even at this time, zoning of the site allowed only 4 floors, so it needed a variance. Cornell placed a high value on the property, and since they owned the lot, one of the sale stipulations was that their staff would have had first dibs on 3/4ths pf the units, similar to what we’re seeing with the Greenways project off of Honness Lane.

403_stewartave_1965

The design itself is a dated melange of modernism and brutalism, created by Sherwood Holt (no relation to Ithaca-based HOLT Architects). The 70 units ran the gamut from studios to 3 bedrooms, and the top two floors were designed to be larger “penthouse” units. There would have been 67 feet of frontage on Stewart Avenue, and 109 feet on Williams Street. I wouldn’t call it much in the way of frontage though, it looks to be built onto a podium. Zoning at the time required two parking spaces per unit, so this project would have needed 140 spaces. 70 were surface spaces on the south side of the lot, and 70 were in the pedestrian-unfriendly podium (an ordinance at the time required half of all new parking spaces to be “indoor” spaces).

Also like now, proponents and opponents had similar arguments to today’s debates. Mayor Hunna Johns promoted the revenue it would bring (which would pay for the city’s investment in sewer lines to the site), and because Cornell had expressed interest in building on the site, local officials feared another tax-exempt property if the private developer wasn’t granted approval. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 local residents signed a petition against the proposal, saying it would burden utilities and cause congestion. It looks like the planning board had only minor suggestions for the development, so it’s hard to imagine it didn’t get ZBA approval.

So why wasn’t it built? My guess is that Cornell did an assessment of its needs, and decided that it wasn’t a high priority to sell to the developer; and when the Ithaca real estate market crashed in the late 1960s, it probably killed the proposal for good. Cornell still owns the site, but zoning rules permit only a 4-story 40′ building (as they did in 1965). It’s outside of the Collegetown zoning, and if it ever gets developed is anyone’s guess.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

 





The Elephant in the Room: 330 College Avenue

23 07 2014

Note: After Jeff Stein of the Ithaca Voice sent me a photo of the rendering last night, I quickly wrote up and published this entry. Shortly after that, he mentioned that he wished to have the “scoop“, and since it was his photo, I obliged and rescheduled this for noon today. This updated version has the uploaded render from the city website. So if you saw this last night, then saw it was gone, you’re not going crazy. -BC

330_college

Let’s be clear: this will not happen. What Jason Fane was thinking in proposing a 12-story building for the Green Cafe site has everything to do with seeing what he can get away with. The calculating businessman as always, shocking the board and meeting attendees with a massive proposal…my only guess is that he is willing to negotiate down. The likely goal is to end up with something still above the 80′ 6-story limit for that site, and apparently the way to do that is shock and awe.

A copy of sketch plan can be found here. Mostly site photos, but we can see the first floor layout (6,000 sq ft in three retail units, and some apartment space; the building also shares a rear corridor with Fane’s Collegetown Center next door) and a render from the angle of the third floor of the Ciaschi Block, but set too far back from the street to actually exist.

I mean just look at it, it overwhelms the large 312 College and Collegetown Center buildings next to it. This thing is a goddamned behemoth of a building, as Ithaca standards go. It’s a lovely design, I think, I’d love to see this downtown on the old Tetra Tech/Rothschild’s property. Of course, that’s like saying a Mercedes SLS is the car you’d like to buy, but you make only 30K/yr. It’s not reasonable.

For the record, the never-to-be-built design is by Fane’s preferred architect, Jagat Sharma of local firm Sharma Architecture. The current site is that of the vacant Green Cafe, and before that short stint as a restaurant in 2009/2010, the one-story structure was used for meetings and storage by Bank of America. Built in 1998 and occupying 0.97 acres (including the apartment building attached), it has an assessed land value of $2.5 million, as it sits on what is probably the most expensive corner in the city. Everyone expected a redevelopment, just not this large.

8-21-2012 113

I can hardly believe I’m even writing about this. It’s so spectacularly overboard that it defies all common sense and logic.

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Mixing Old With New

20 05 2014

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After something of a dry spell, a couple of projects are due to come forward in the next few weeks, both involving similar concepts – additions to existing structures.

First, 140 College Avenue. Site plan here, details of the revision here and here. This actually isn’t the first time this one has come up to bat, having made its rounds in the news a little over three years ago (token disclaimer: I wasn’t a fan of it then, and my mind hasn’t changed). 140 College, better known in historic circles as the John Snaith House, has been targeted for a one-unit, 12 bedroom, 3,800 sq ft addition by its owners, the Po Family Realty. The addition, by local architect Jason Demarest, would be built on the south side of the building, separated by a glass partition. The Po family has already run the gauntlet with the planning board, since the Snaith House is a local landmark. Their plan was approved, but given the zoning, it required 6 spaces, for a total of 12 parking spaces for the whole building. Apparently, this made the project less workable, and it’s been on hold since. The developer is using the recent changes to Collegetown zoning as an impetus to change the terms of the project’s approval, reducing the number of parking spaces for the building to a total of 4. The project as proposed eliminates 2 of the 6 parking spaces on site, so only 4 would be left. Originally, 8 spaces had been secured off-site (4 on site + 8 off site = 12), but the lease on those will expire before this project is complete, as construction is tentatively slated to start late next month, and they are unable to renew those leases. Rather than renting new off-site spaces, the developer just wants to keep the total at 4. In exchange, they will provide bike racks, and all tenants membership in Ithaca Carshare. Before the zoning change, this would have been a tough sell, but it stands a good chance of approval going forward.

snaith_1

Project number two, on the other hand, is new to the boards. This one targets the Carey Building, which has been in the news quite a bit as of late as the new Ithaca/Cornell/IC/TC3 business incubator is being built on the second floor, set to open this summer (more details on the renovation process can be found over at Ithaca Builds). A third floor addition has been in the works, projected for a 2015 completion. Well, there has also been discussion of a little more expansion beyond that, and that became clear with this document sent to the city this week. Local developer Travis-Hyde Properties proposes an additional 3,600 sq ft of office space on the third floor, and two more floors above that with 14 micro-apartments. This is within current zoning and no variance will be needed. Micro-apartments are a rather new phenomenon, but have significant potential in urbanized areas, especially cities like Ithaca where their lower square footage (think 400-500 sq ft) permits a lower monthly rent, which can hopefully make a small dent in the affordable housing issue the region is struggling with.

There’s no official render, but we have a massing study that gives a pretty good idea of the proportions of the vertical addition:

carey_1

Given that Travis-Hyde looks to be partnering with local firm John Snyder Architects on this one, expect something modern, with generous amounts of glass. I generally am not a fan of building additions, but I’ll reserve judgement until actual renders come out for this one. At the very least, this will be better than that hotel proposal from the Patel family a couple years ago that proposed tearing the Carey Building down. the only take-away from that stale proposal is that if you want to make enemies in the business community, go ahead and propose projects for land you don’t own, and the owners have no intention of selling.

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The Six Contenders for the Old Library

22 04 2014

libe_0414

Most people are aware that the old Tompkins County library is about to be left completely vacant. As covered by Ithaca Builds last fall, the county issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI), inviting developers to cast their lures and offer proposals, and the plan perceived as best would garner its developer the ability to buy the old library and build on the parcel. The county expressed preference for proposals that were eco-friendly and would create senior housing, so the proposals play to that preference. In a long if thorough process, the County Planning Advisory Board will make a preliminary review, recommend its choices to the legislature, and the legislature will select the finalists, who will be asked to submit more thorough proposals of their initial entries, detailing info such as project financing. The county makes it final selection in November, with sale of the parcel to the winning developer in March 2015.

This is exciting, it’s like watching competitors at an Olympic event.  All proposals can be found at the county website here, individual links are included with each shot below. Feel free to voice your opinion on your favorite proposal in the comments.

1. DPI Consultants

DPI Is a private developer operating out of Rochester. Their group has some previous local involvement, converting the old county jail to offices in the early 1990s, and they were involved with the Johnson Museum addition a few years back.  Their plan calls for 76 condos and 8 apartments in 2 5-story buildings (max buildable height for the parcel is 50 feet, for the record). The condos would be mid-to-upper tier for pricing, and the project would have underground “automated parking”.  This proposal is the only one that does not have a focus on seniors.

dpi_libe_0414

2. Franklin Properties

Franklin Properties of Syracuse has teamed with a group of local firms (STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering, among others) to propose a 68,000 sq ft “wellness center” for the library site, which they call the “Cayuga Community Education Center”. The first two floors would have a cafe and medical offices for doctors and non-profits, with three floors (32 units) of senior housing on top. The building would incorporate solar panels and is aiming for a 2017 opening if selected. The proposal seems to be the only one that reuses the original library, and already has some letters of support from local businesses.
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3. Integrated Acquisition and Development

IAD proposes a LEED-certified, 115,500 sq ft, four-story structure they call “Library Square”, with 90 apartments, conference rooms, a library and fitness center space. The project suggests a late 2016 completion. Parking is behind the L-shaped primary structure. IAD has been involved in the Ithaca area previously, being the owner of several properties in Lansing (Warrenwood, the medical offices of Trimhammer), and the lead developer of several of the office buildings in Cornell’s office park near the airport.

iad_libe_0414

4. INHS (Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services)

Locally prolific non-profit INHS comes up to bat again, this time proposing a project for the library site. Their proposal, called “DeWitt House”, calls for a 4-story, 60,000-80,000 sq ft building with 60 to 70 units of affordable housing, not specifically geared to seniors. The selling feature is an internal courtyard, along with community space and 6,000-8,000 feet of commercial space for rent. This one also has underground parking. The time frame for this one seems to be the latest, with completion in the 1st quarter of 2018.

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5. Rochester Cornerstone Group / Cayuga Housing Development

Cornerstone is a Rochester based non-profit housing developer. CHD is directed by the same people as the Ithaca Housing Authority, who operate Titus Towers. The proposal consists of 70-80 units of affordable senior housing, in a 4-story 54′ structure (i.e. it would need a zoning variance). The building would have covered ground-level parking and some surface parking. Full occupancy would be in late 2016. Token snark here, but next time, ask the architects not to use the glare tool in your renderings. Building roofs are not shiny.

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6. Travis Hyde

Ithaca based private developer Travis Hyde submitted the last proposal on this list. Travis Hyde is involved with the renovations of the Carey Building, the construction of Gateway Commons, and further back, Eddygate in Collegetown. Travis Hyde teamed up (once again) with Ithaca-based HOLT Arechitects for their proposal, which is probably the one that discusses architectural context the most out of the six. The 4-story 90,000 sq ft building would have 48 apartments with office and community space at street level. While it discusses providing senior housing, it doesn’t appear to be explicitly senior housing. Parking would be minimal, on the western edge of the site, with mass transit/municipal parking garage incentives being explored. Spring 2017 is the suggested completion date.
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May the best project win.





130 East Clinton Goes Even More Boxy

10 06 2013

Not much in the way of new and exciting to mention as of late – the last planning board meeting focuses on projects already covered here and on Ithaca Builds (Harold’s Square, The Purity Project, the Thurston Ave. Apts and Klarman Hall), and the town cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting, which is what happens when no one has anything that needs to go to the boards. Thankfully (from this perspective anyway) it is construction season, so much work is underway around-and-abouts.

One detail work noting and sharing is a redesign for the 130 East Clinton project, designed by Sharma architects on behalf of  steretoypical one-percenter Jason Fane and his real estate company. No longer does it have hipped roofs.

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130eclinton_rev2

130eclinton_rev3

Apparently, the architects decided to go with the “box of boxes” look, with a little bright color on the extensions for a little character. The design before was traditional and rather bland. Now it’s more modern but still fairly bland. But it’s density in a growing downtown, so I’m not complaining.








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