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

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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.

1-2-2014 333





Mixing Old With New

20 05 2014

4-13-2014 079

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.





The Purity Project Design

14 05 2013

So, I know I’m playing “catch-up” here, but the guys at Ithaca Builds have shown me a potential source for renderings – the specialized google search of city documents. Lo and behold, elevations for the Purity Project. From John Snyder Architects, it’s boxy and glassy and rather restrained as modern designs go.

purity_design_1

purity_design_2

The design would have a 5-story structure that tops out at 64 feet – more than enough to make it a visual focal point for the surrounding neighborhood.

purity_design_3

The rendering from Ithaca  Builds suggest the building will use brickwork for some of the lines of the facade. Also, personal opinion, the curved-wall two-bedroom units facing the inlet and West Hill would arguably be some of the coolest apartments in Ithaca. Construction is anticipated for commencement in September, going through to summer 2014.

 

 





Thurston Avenue’s Fitting Addition

13 05 2013

thurston ave 1

So, the folks at Ithaca Builds brought my attention to PDFs containing site plans, floor plans and elevations for the Thurston Avenue apartment project, slated for the wooded parcel at the northeast corner of Thurston Avenue and Highland Avenue. The design here has to contextually sensitive, since it lies within the Cornell Heights Historic District. So, boxy and glassy won’t cut it with this parcel. So, the architects in employ put their creative powers to work…and two restyles later

Design for Building 1

thurston ave 3

 

Design of Buildings 2 and 3

thurston ave 2

The latest design proposed by HOLT Architects shows four buildings with three styles – Building 1 (northernmost) and Buildings 2 and 3 (against Highland to its east) are fairly similar, though 2 and 3 are set into the hillside a little, and the design reflects that. Building 4 has massing more like a large house than an apartment building. Oddly enough, the PDF lacks elevations for Building 4. Assuming the floorplans in the PDF are similar on each floor in each building, this would produce 20 units, with 56 bedrooms (54 3-bedroom, 2 1-bedroom). Parking spaces were reduced from the originally proposed 40 to 27.

Does it fit within the context of the neighborhood? The designs demonstrate hipped roofs, porches, architectural elements similar to the surroundings, and material samples and colors shown seem appropriate…so, check. Also, for what incredibly little it’s worth, I think it’s a very good design for the parcel, so much I wish they would tear down the ca. 1966 Rabco complex next door (although, I do wonder if the Tudor-esque “exposed beams” are a bit overboard). But, the real test will come when these begin construction, which with approvals in hand, should start around November, with a summer 2014 completion.





The Revised Harold’s Square

12 04 2013

Two things. One, noting that it is not Harold Square, but Harold’s Square. Well noted.

Two, as shown by the Ithaca Times, the proposed design has been revised. And in the opinion of one armchair architecture critic, it has gone from meh to hideous.

haroldsrevised2 haroldsrevised1

For reference, the old renderings. Now, I thought the original design for the Commons side was fairly okay. The revised proposal…it looks grim, the “modern” steel sections are like tumors growing out of a rather cold and dour facade. The exposed truss on the tower portion is gone, but now there are narrow misaligned slit windows. Reminiscent of Cascadilla Hall. Or a prison. Or most closely, the rather awful 499 South Warren Street in Syracuse.

Don’t get me wrong, I like what the project provides – mixed-use, high-density, downtown-friendly. But unless the materials are mind-blowing, I fear this thing is going to age terribly.





It Pays To Ask

2 11 2012

Finding renderings and digging up information tends to be a one-person task. Once in a while, on a whim, I’ll email the marketers or a director of new projects, or whoever is in charge of something, and ask them if there are any public renderings. As one might expect, I don’t get a response back.

Until today.

Actually, until yesterday. I only check the ithacating email once every few days.

I had emailed Scott Reynolds, the Director of Real Estate Development for INHS, asking if I might be able to get a copy of the renderings. My reasoning in my intro email. “I follow Ithaca construction projects, but I’ve moved out of the area for the time being.” Essentially, this makes me some random guy, not a potential client.

I received renderings in response to my inquiry. A small piece of my faith in humanity has been restored.

The apartments have a fairly modern look, clean and contemporary if perhaps a little fussy with the rooflines. But, this design is much more comforting than certain other recently proposed projects.

The townhouses follow the same theme. There will be 16 townhomes (two rows of eight), and 19 apartments in the three-story building.

In conclusion: Scott Reynolds, you’re awesome. Thanks.





All Ivies Make (Architectural) Mistakes

28 11 2011

Somewhere during my crappiest Thanksgiving ever, I was reading through the online Daily Sun and came across some comment where the individual suggested that Cornell has the worst architecture in the Ivy League. I spent a little while mulling over that critique – sure, some of our halls are quite ugly, but the worst Ivy?

Curious, I decided to look at some  of other schools. I don’t have some chip on my shoulder over the lack of “pretty” buildings at Cornell, and certainly “ugly” is a subjective term. But Cornell is not the only school that has designed buildings that have earned harsh rebukes from certain audiences.

Harvard people have been criticizing themselves for years. One of the first things that came up in my search was a polite criticism of the modern architecture that took over Harvard’s campus starting the late 1950s (the Quincy and Leverett Towers). The article was published in the Crimson, the Harvard student newspaper, in the early 1990s. If you really want to go in depth, someone wrote an entire book dedicated to reviewing Harvard’s architecture. Today, Harvard is putting up modern buildings such as a science buildinga new graduate housing complex, and Tata Hall (I’m still wondering if Cornell plans on naming a building for Ratan Tata ’59) The take away could be that Harvard, like Cornell, builds in the style of the times; but it would be worth noting that Harvard has buildings 130 years older than Cornell.

Down in New Haven, Yale is no stranger to “ugly” architecture either, with such structures as the Art and Architecture Building and the Beinecke Library to its credit. Their newest set of dorms are designed in a Collegiate Gothic style that has mass appeal, but they decided to demolish several historic buildings to build it.

Going down the list, I didn’t see one campus that was “unscathed”. Princeton, U Penn, Brown, Columbia, even Dartmouth, which lacks your usual Science and Engineering building culprits. It seems most of them entered the 60s and threw cohesion out the window for daring departures that have, for the most part, not aged well. Even now, many of these schools are still trying some avant-garde edginess to further their names.

Would I venture support or denial of the “ugliest Ivy” claim? I am forced to stay neutral. I’ve only been to four of their campuses, not to mention it’s a matter of opinion. But, considering some of the college campuses out there, I know things could be much worse:








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