News Tidbits 9/20/14: Ithaca’s A Habitation Destination

20 09 2014

1. Expanding on the Ithaca Times piece on increased tax revenue from construction in the city, the IJ has come out with its own piece. Here are your spark notes:
I. Of the 6.16% increase in the tax base (an extra $1.2 million in revenue), 53% is due to commercial property construction.

II. “Only” 59.2% of property is tax-exempt now. Of which 83.5% of that 59.2% is Cornell and its holdings.

III. Buildings permits are lagging forecast revenue a little ($631k vs. $700k expected), but some larger projects are only getting permits now, so it will probably balance itself out.

2. One more set of revisions for 323 Taughannock, pdf here. The differences compared to the previous revision are minor; the projecting “tower” on the southeast side has seen its windows tweaked, and the roof layout has been modified as well. This should be the last revision, since the project is up for final approval this month. The 20-unit residential waterfront project is set to begin in January, with a six-month build-out and $3.5 million price tag.

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3. According to the IURA (Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency) meeting minutes, the city is very much interested in selling off a parcel it owns on Inlet Island, once it buys out the DEC’s property. Currently, 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard is used as a municipal parking lot. The 1.29 acre parcel was acquired for $1 by the city in May 2003. The parcel is assess for over $300k, and that’s not including an adjacent parcel also used for parking (416 Taughannock). This is a large waterfront zoned (WF-1) piece of land, where the zoning is for one or more buildings with of 3-5 stories and nearly unrestricted lot coverage. For a developer, that means that there’s a lot of possibilities here. This would hit the market in early 2016 at the earliest, after 323 Taughannock has been built. But if 323 is successful, then I think this parcel will be highly desirable and any development on its land could potentially be quite large. Along with the DOT site up by the Farmer’s Market, and Ithaca could have quite the developed waterfront at the end of the decade.

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4. Since approval in late summer of 2013, all has been quiet on the wooded and hilly site of 130 East Clinton. Frankly, given that it’s a Jason Fane project and he doesn’t usually dawdle (having significant resources allows him to secure construction loans with relative ease) I was surprised, and in private, this was a topic of debate. Well, now we know. He’s seeking tax abatements for his 36-unit market-rate project through the city’s CIITAP incentive program. As previously briefed on the Voice, CIITAP is a program that allows an abatement on a portion of property taxes for up to 7 years. The parcel needs to be in a targeted urban area, 3 stories, and receive at least $500,000 in developer investment (130 East Clinton’s projected cost is $4.5 million). The city’s meeting is the 18th, and if the city endorses the project, then chances are good the county IDA will grant the abatements.

Fane’s probably the least-liked developer in town due to his colorful local history (this would also explain why I had hits to the blog the other day with the search phrase “fane like mr. potter”), but there’s no compelling reason to deny his CIITAP application. He meets the program requirements, and for Fane, this is all about the money and taking advantage of an opportunity. Presumably, if the tax breaks are approved, we could see this one begin excavation and site prep before year’s end.

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5. Another revision – this one the “Hampton Boutique Hotel” formerly known as the Hampton Inn downtown. A large number of major changes here – a floor has been added (bringing it to 123 rooms, 74,200 sq ft, 7 stories and 92 feet from ground to the mechanical penthouse roof), the external materials and the window layouts have been altered substantially, and of course, it’s no longer being proposed an a Hampton Inn (for comparison’s sake, the previous design is here). About the only thing that’s the same is the footprint. Part of these changes are likely the result of the Carey Building addition planned next door – the blank wall shown below faces the Carey’s rear side.

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6. A lot more info about the Chain Works District proposal. For one, it will be in four phases. The first phase will consist of the redevelopment of 4 buildings on site – 21, 24, 33 and 34, which combined will create 343,510 sq ft of space, of which 18,520 sq ft will be new. Phase one is planned as office/mixed-use (21/24) and manufacturing space (33/34). New roads and parking lots will also be developed. Phase 2 will be renovations and selected demolition of the rest of the complex, and 3 and 4 will be brand new building on the factory’s 95-acre land. There’s no rush, phase 4 won’t be completed until about 2030.

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5. Next week is going to be a fun week for this blog. Why, you ask? Well we’re going to have two new projects at the Planning Board meeting that will be presenting their sketch plans -

The first is 114 Catherine Street in Collegetown. Currently, 114 Catherine, also known as the “Mission Apartments”, is a 5-unit apartment building last renovated in 1985, assessed at about $590k, and owned by Lambrou Real Estate. 114 Catherine is in a CR-4 zone per the new form guidelines, which allows for a 2-4 floor all-residential building with no off-street parking required. At about 0.27 acres, 114 Catherine is fairly large as Collegetown lots go (much of the current site is used for parking), and given the Lambrous’s multiple building Collegetown Park Development that abuts the property to the north, whatever gets proposed here is a likely continuation. Expect another Sharma Architecture design, as Jagat et al. have been the Lambrous’ go-to architects for the past couple decades.

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The second is…”Gun Hill Housing Project”…be still my beating heart. I’m cautiously optimistic that Travis Hyde Properties might finally, finally have achieved enough environmental rehabilitation of the once-toxic factory site that construction is now feasible. Fingers crossed, because this has been a huge pockmark on the city since the factory closed in 1986 (and demolished in 2008), has been in development hell for years, and redevelopment would really be a feather in the community’s cap. The last I heard, it would be about 45-50 units of non-student oriented condos, and most likely a HOLT Architects design (HOLT being a popular choice for Travis Hyde). I’m sure local environmental activist Walter Hang will be going over the project details with a fine-toothed comb, but like I said, fingers crossed.

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The Past and Future of Mixed-Use

13 09 2014

 

I figured I’d change this up from the standard construction update format. There hasn’t been enough development news tidbits this week to merit putting up a new entry; better luck next week, ladies and gents.

I was impressed by the Ithaca Times recent editorial, “The Mixed-Use Future“. It’s a piece that upholds the value of mixed-use projects and that single-use neighborhoods shouldn’t be maintained strictly because that’s the status quo.

Mixed-use projects are something that have only recently picked up steam, as urban areas embrace new urbanist concepts in an effort to add vibrancy to decaying downtowns. Ithaca has arguably been one of the most successful examples in upstate. But it had to work to get there, and the process hasn’t been without acrimony.

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I’ll rewind the clock back about 15 years to the start of the new millennium. Ithaca’s downtown was quite a bit different from today. There was no Gateway Commons, Breckenridge, Seneca Place or Cayuga Green. The Commons was plagued with high vacancies, severe enough that then-mayor Alan Cohen was mulling over reopening it to vehicular traffic. The big news at that time was the county library’s plan to move into the old Woolworth’s on Green Street (which they purchased at low cost, the owner had struggled to fill the building after Woolworth’s closed in 1998).

The last two newer developments I mentioned, Seneca Place and Cayuga Green, are closely tied together. They and the Cayuga Street garage all depended on each other as the sort of “pie-in-the-sky” redevelopment plan that Ithaca desperately wanted.

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In the early 2000s, their working titles were the “Cayuga Green at Six Mile Creek” and “Ciminelli/Cornell Office/Hotel” projects, and collectively they were called the “Downtown Development Project“. Cayuga Green has heavy city involvement. At the time, the swath of land surrounding the library on its block was all city-owned surface parking, with the helix for the Green Street parking garage to its east (it was actually kinda neat looking for a parking garage ramp; a photo can be found here).  The first phase of Cayuga Green would also be the lynch pin for the Ciminelli project; the city would convey the parking lots to the IURA, who could sell them off and partner with a developer to build a parking garage to serve the Ciminelli building and some of Cayuga Green. This phase would become the current Cayuga Street garage, which opened in June 2005 with 700 spaces, 34,000 sq ft of first floor retail, and a nearly $20 million price tag. The 185,000 sq ft Ciminelli project was constructed concurrently and also opened in 2005 as Seneca Place on the Commons, with the Hilton Garden Inn for its hotel occupant, Cornell as the primary office tenant, and retail space that would fill up over the next couple years.

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Phase II focused on a couple things (IIA and IIB, technically). The Green Street Garage would be redeveloped, the helix torn down, and a movie theater would go in the renovated space under the garage. The city owned the top two floors of the 3-story garage, and used eminent domain on the owner of the first floor. Originally, there was to be either 36,000 sq ft of retail on the first floor, or an intermodal transit center (a hub for TCAT and Greyhound/Trailways, essentially). The garage would add two more floors and have space for 1,082 cars.

Perhaps thankfully, this was never done (though the zoning was raised from 60′ to 85′ for the land that the Green Street garage sits on). The Cayuga garage picked up more retail space as the plans were rewritten. A 12 screen national theater chain was proposed for the retail space of the Green Street garage, but given the plans for an expanded theater at the mall in Lansing, it became clear that such a project wasn’t feasible. By good fortune and negotiation, Cinemapolis agreed to take the space, and the theater shrank from 12 to 5 screens and went into the Green Street garage.

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IIB and Phase III are the residential portions, Cayuga Place Apartments and Cayuga Place Residences (Cayuga Green condos). As originally proposed, there was going to be 70 to 80 apartments with ground-floor retail, and anywhere from 40 to 122 condos. The city IURA had entered a contract in 2002 with Cincinnati-based Bloomfield/Schon to develop the units. The apartments were first proposed in 2005, and with abatements approved, the 68 units and 15,000 sq ft of retail space opened in 2008. The condos are a lot more complicated, bouncing between several iterations and layouts (here’s a few versions 1, 2, and 3, here’s 4 and here’s 5) before settling on the 45-unit design currently under construction. Part of the problem was financing, especially during the recession; a later problem was that the land along Six Mile Creek is not that great for construction. It will have taken 15 years, but the downtown redevelopment project will be complete next year.

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There’s been an enormous amount of controversy. A 20-year abatement was used for Seneca Place, the labor used in some of the construction was from North Carolina, and the fight with one of the property owners (Thomas Pine, who ran Race Office Supply on the corner of Seneca and Tioga) was pretty ugly. The fight over the apartments and condos was even uglier in some ways, because the developer requested and received a 10-year tax abatement (and the ICSD was not game). Instead of bringing new, permanent jobs like an employer’s new office or factory, this was housing, and it was market-rate and premium housing at that. The retail portion offered jobs, if they could lure shops, and retail doesn’t exactly pay well either. Some, such as local megalord Jason Fane, said the project would fail. There have been problems, certainly. The Cayuga garage has struggled to fill its retail space. Only now with the impending addition of TC3’s Coltivare restaurant and learning center has it filled most of the space (Merrill Lynch took the leap a few years ago and rents some of the space; then there was that failed wine tourism center). It has taken years for the condos to begin construction. But, slowly and haphazardly, the project is building up and out.

Ithacans did a lot of soul-searching. Were the costs outweighing the benefits? Was growth downtown, or even in the county, a good thing?

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Ask a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen opinions. I think that for all the problems and strife, that the city has benefited from the downtown projects. Through local character and some luck, the downtown residential units are full and most of the retail space is occupied. Seneca Place and Cayuga Green demonstrate that mixed-use can add life to underutilized parcels and spark interest in neighboring properties. Each project should be weighed carefully, of course. But thanks in part to active urban reinvestment, Ithaca is in a position many upstate cities envy.

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News Tidbits 9/6/14: What Makes A Neighborhood?

6 09 2014

1. A trio of notable articles from the IJ. The first one is about the 128 West Falls Street development (previously discussed here), and the negotiations done with neighbors in order to make the project acceptable to the neighborhood. The developer (Heritage Builders) and the neighbors worked together for a compromise. Some of the neighbors are still upset about their being any development at all (in which case, I must ask why does one live in an inner city neighborhood with vacant land), but if most of them are on board, I’m glad they and the developer were able to address each other’s needs and concerns and come to a reasonable solution. There are still people willing to make compromises, thankfully.

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2. Article number two has already been foreshadowed by Ithaca Builds, namely that old Elmira Road is getting a more pedestrian-friendly makeover. Bike lanes, sidewalks (only on the north side due to budget cuts), curbing, all in an effort to make it more friendly to all street users, from walkers to bikers to drivers. And it’s only going to take three days? Color me surprised.

At least one building on Elmira Road will be getting a makeover soon – a renovation prepared by local firm STREAM Collaborative will turn the old BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road into the the Finger Lakes ReUse Center’s new headquarters.

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Image Property of STREAM Collaborative

3. Piece number three is that, surprise surprise, Ithaca has a higher cost of living then most other upstate cities. Most upstate cities are a little below the national average (4-12% less). Ithaca is nearly 6% above. Ithaca has the highest cost of living outside of the the New York City and downstate metros. If anyone feels uncomfortable using numbers from a conservative think tank, here’s their government source. Personally, I always just go with Sperling’s. Taking a closer look at those numbers gives a big clue why Ithaca is more expensive – the housing cost is over 31% above the national average. Every other parameter is virtually average. except that one.

I’ll give an example: Syracuse and Ithaca are only about 50 miles apart. On a scale with 100 equaling the national average, Syracuse has a score of 88.9, Ithaca 113.4. Quite a difference. Food, utilities and transportation are cheaper in Ithaca. But housing is astoundingly different – Ithaca’s 131.2 to Syracuse’s 45.4, which is what causes the disparity. Granted, I know that for many, living in the Syracuse area is undesirable (and I say this as someone originally from the Syracuse metro). Ithaca is in demand, ergo, prices for homes and apartments go up. But as middle-income families feel the pinch, spiraling housing costs pose a serious concern to the region’s economic well-being.

4. Now for a piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, an informative piece they did about the recently-approved 205 Dryden (Dryden South) project by Pat Kraft. No shocking revelations, but the interview with Kraft is a nice asset. I do take some umbrage with his complaint that the Collegetown form zoning makes it feels like he’s not developing anything, and he’s being told what he can build. There are reasons for that. Certain landowners have a blemished track record, and this is better than years of bickering with city agencies because of someone’s artistic license, or more likely, profit maximizing through value engineering.

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5. Stone Quarry is getting really nasty, really fast. INHS has retained the services of Philips Lytle out of Buffalo (the same law firm that handled the indefinitely-postponed 7 Ridgewood project). Meanwhile, neighbors are demanding that the HUD funds for the subsidized project are withheld, on the grounds of environmental issues, not having enough time for community notice and comment, and that the project is “incompatible” with the neighborhood. They’re considering a legal challenge to stop the project, which was approved during August’s PDC meeting. There’s a ton of documentation that’s been uploaded in recent days – a 1,189 page environmental assessment report for the site, public notices, and so on, and so on. The city has also released point-by-point rebuttals to the filed complaints, and formally requested that HUD release the approved funds. If I had a workday where I just had to write rebuttals all day long, I might be hitting the bottle when I go home. IJ news summary of it all here, Voice summary of the events of the PDC meeting, including angry neighbors and the mayor’s outspoken support for the project here.

I’m going to call out one statement, this being from a group called the SRNA (Spencer Road Neighborhood Association) – they describe the neighborhood as being full of affordable housing, and run off some examples. The first is an 18-unit townhome project at 324 Spencer Road, called the Belmont Apartments. I’m familiar with this development because they advertise their townhomes as “NEW” on Craigslist, even though they were built in 1995. Rents there run from $1100-$1250, which is about equal to, or a little above the area mean. It’s middle-income, market-rate housing. Affordable in context is the cute word agencies substitute in for low-income housing, so using it to describe a market-rate, middle-income project seems misleading.

The second is the primary reason why I’m writing this whole thing – discussions of a 14-15 townhome development at 661-665 Spencer Road by local low-income services group TCAction (that address also happens to be their headquarters). I checked the minutes they cited and I can’t find any record of that. It could have been said and just not recorded in the minutes, but that seems like an odd thing to leave out. The three duplexes at 634, 636 and 638 Spencer check out, and they were built in 2008/2009.

Like many projects lately, tempers will be flaring, so for those of us without a dog in this fight, we might as well break out the popcorn and watch this boxing match play out from our ringside seats.

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6. Here we have the projects memo for proposals to be discussed at September’s Planning and Development Board meeting on the 23rd. No curveballs here; the project memo only reviews projects that have already been seen and have had initial comments (sketch plan), so everything here has come up at least once before. 128 West Falls Street will be looking for PDB declaration of lead agency (the board’s agreement to conduct formal design and environmental review) and recommendation to go to the BZA for zoning variance. The Hampton Inn downtown is looking to obtain PDB declaration of lead agency, as is the Chain Works District on South Hill. The Chain Works is probably the vaguest proposal they’ve had to review, because it’s over 15 years and the developers have only a couple ideas fleshed out on the Emerson site’s redevelopment. It also makes a few voters wary because once the environmental review is complete and the developer’s T1, T4 and T5 zones are approved, the developers have an enormous degree of freedom to develop the site as they see fit because it’s a PUD, a Planned Unit Development. They’re also using the town’s equivalent, called PDZ, for the portion of the 95-acre site in Ithaca town. For more about these details, Jason at Ithaca Builds offers a great summary here.

307 College and 323 Taughannock are up for final approval, and 327 Eddy for preliminary approval. There’s also a couple of minor zoning changes up for review.

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7. Here’s your morbid amusement for the week – the Lansing school district might have difficulty installing its new septic system because it could be disturbing a previously-unknown Native American burial ground. I think we have a plot point for the next Stephen King novel.





News Tidbits 8/30/14: There Never Seems To Be Enough Housing

30 08 2014

1. In a glance at the economy, some good news: over in Lansing, a new research building is under construction, and expected to add jobs. the new “Northeast Dairy and Food Testing Center” is a 50-50 collaboration between local firm Dairy one Cooperative Inc., and Chestnut Labs of Springfield, Missouri. The new 17,000 sq ft building at 720 Warren Road is a $3.5 million investment and will add 11 jobs at the outset, 3 through Dairy One and 8 through Chestnut Labs. 4 more jobs would be added over the following two years if all goes to plan.

According to the TCIDA report, Chestnut opted for Ithaca as its first satellite office because of a desire to expand into the Northeast and its proximity to Cornell. Although construction was supposed to begin last fall, it looks like we can expect construction to be completed this spring. I have yet to see a rendering, but the design is supposed to be by Syracuse-based Dalpos Architects.

2. Revised renders for 327 Eddy. The 28-unit, 64-bedroom Collegetown project looks nearly the same, except for one crucial detail – the east courtyard and stairwell have been transposed (mirrored), with the east courtyard on the south face and the stairwell on the north face. A few more windows were placed in the west courtyard as well. This is a smart suggestion, whoever’s it was; the 100 Block of Dryden obscures the blank faces of the side wall and stairwell, making it less prominent. The side with more windows faces down the hill, and given the relatively historic building next door, the views are likely to be more protected, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing from most vantage points.

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3. As reported by the IJ last Wednesday, the much-anticipated Harold’s Square project will be getting another revision. The building was originally supposed to be one floor of retail, three floors of office space, and six floors of apartments, with a penthouse level consisting of conference, mechanical and exercise rooms. Now, the top two floors of office space will be apartments instead. Currently, the building has 46 apartments approved, and any changes will likely need to be approved by the planning board. The article also notes that high construction costs in the growing economy are forcing businesses to rethink their development strategies, although the exact same thing happened during the recession due to the tight bank loan market. There’s always a reason.

I really can’t say this change-up in use really surprises me. Ithaca’s office market is not that great. The biggest employers here are colleges (who house offices on or very near campus), research/labs (who need specialized spaces), and tourism (hotels). It’s extremely tough to build office space in the Ithaca market because there’s so little demand for it. Seneca Place downtown was able to be built in 2004-05 partially because they secured Cornell as a tenant. But I’ve heard through the rumor mill that Cornell doesn’t fully use their space post-recession, and the university keeps renting it out as flex space and as a gesture to the community. On the other hand, apartments go like hotcakes, since the residential supply is much less than demand, and the success of recent projects indicates apartments are a safe investment in downtown.

Here’s what I expect – the building will be a little shorter, since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling ratios than office spaces. The exterior will be revised, mostly the low-rise section facing the Commons. The massing may change up, but given that there were 46 apartments on six floors initially, at a minimum I think another 20 apartments to be proposed.

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4. The Stone Quarry Apartment project by INHS has been approved. It wasn’t a pretty process, but it’s been greenlighted for construction, which is expected to begin this fall with an intended completion in October 2015.

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5. On the topic of affordable housing, another protested project is coming up for review, the 58-unit Biggs parcel project near Cayuga Medical Center. The project needs an approved SEQR from the town of Ithaca before it can move forward; the sketch plan is to be discussed at the September 2nd meeting, there will be no vote at that time. The working name of the project has gone from Cayuga Ridge to Cayuga Trails; I’m just going to keep calling it the Biggs parcel. There’s only a tenuous little overlap between the opposed parties here and those against Stone Quarry, but if the Ithaca West list-serve is any indication, the argument against the project is one part logic, one part bluster. There have already been allegations thrown around from both sides with this project, which is co-sponsored by the rural equivalent of INHS, Better Housing of Tompkins County, in a partnership with project developer NRP Group of Cleveland. While this Jerry Springer-type showdown continues to unfold, here are some updated renders of the project, courtesy of RDL Architects of suburban Cleveland:

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Nothing to write home about, simple and colorful. But there’s a good chance these never leave the drawing board. If it does somehow get approved, construction will start in Spring 2015 and last 12-14 months.

6. In other West Hill developments, EcoVillage is building their 15-unit apartment building/common house in their third neighborhood, TREE. Article from the Ithaca Journal here, and photo gallery here. I only reach EcoVillage once in a blue moon because it’s so far out of the way from other developments; my last photos are from spring 2013. At that time, the first set of houses were going up for the 40-unit neighborhood. According to the EcoVillage website, the first TREE residents, with homes designed by Jerry Weisburd, moved in last December. When all is complete by next spring, EcoVillage will actually be a fairly sizable village, with virtually 100% occupancy and a population around 240. Unlike many West Hill developments, EcoVillage has had comparatively weak opposition from West Hill residents. Lest they change their mind, EcoVillage adds a neighborhood about once a decade, so they have probably have nothing to worry about until the 2020’s.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.





Back To The Future: Collegetown in the 1980s

20 08 2014

Entry #3 in the Collegetown history series.

I’ve gotten to know a few people over the past several years of writing about Ithaca development. One of those is a gentleman who I consider to be the patriarch for the online dispersal of Ithaca development news, the gentleman who goes by the online nom de plume of “Ex-Ithacan”, but by day, he’s mild-mannered Tom Morgan. Tom and I had talked about Ithaca development years before I started the blog; we first chatted online right before I started at Cornell in 2006, and we even met on one occasion, enjoying a late lunch at Viva downtown. He’s a super-terrific guy, and for me, a source of never-ending inspiration. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, but his comments are even-keeled and optimistic. Even though he lives well outside the area these days, he’s appreciative of the city of gorges and its many quirks.

Anyway, Tom’s been around the block many times, and his online flickr albums cover dozens of small cities from Iowa to Florida to Connecticut. After my piece about the “Great Collegetown Auction“, he contacted me, saying that he had some old photos that show what the original house at 400-404 College looked like. My eyes went wide as I looked through the four photos – although he couldn’t remember exactly when he shot them, we deduced a hazy date around fall 1986. There aren’t many online photos of Collegetown from before the 2000s, so these were a treat, from when Collegetown was in its first major redevelopment period. Tom has generously permitted his totally ’80s photos to be used for today’s post, a history tour of sorts.

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Photo courtesy of Tom Morgan (Ex-Ithacan)

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Same angle, nearly 28 years apart. This photo was one of those use to narrow down the years – Snee Hall, built in 1984, sits in the background of both, and the red Jetta in the older photo was first produced in that body style in 1984. More important are the two buildings under construction – on the far right, the Ciaschi Block is underway, replacing a worn-down house seen here in a photo dated September 1985. The Student Agencies building (409 College, second from left) is close to completion, some external scaffolding still up on the otherwise complete-looking structure. It was finished in 1986, the result of the student design competition that was the topic of last week’s post. Using these details, that’s how we came up with 1986 as the year this and the other photos were taken. The eastern half of the 400 block of College Avenue. The ca. 1912 Chacona Block (411-415 College, far left) looks virtually the same, and 403 College Avenue (second from right) only has cosmetic upgrades – an updated entryway and a paint job. Before Stella’s, it was the home of the Triangle Bookstore, and a grocer before that.

The building in the middle, 405-407 College Avenue, looks like a renovation and addition might have taken place; but it wasn’t a wrecking ball that claimed the old building, it was a devastating fire. In October 1998, a fire broke out in the Chang-An Gourmet restaurant on the first floor, and quickly spread through the wood-frame building. Luckily no one was killed, but the building was totally gutted. It was then replaced by the current structure, which was developed by Travis Hyde, designed by HOLT Architects, and opened in 2000.

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Photo Courtesy of Tom Morgan

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Now for the west side of the 400 block of College Avenue. Not as different as in the first photo set; Sheldon Court’s fifth floor was added in 1981, and Bill Avramis built 406-410 College in 1979-1980; there were three floors and a disco planned, but I dunno what happened. The old Papp House at 400-404 house is visible, and this is the only good photo of it online to my knowledge (a slice of it appears in this 1968 photo by Mike Harris). As written about a couple of weeks ago, the Papp house was replaced in the mid 2000s, after Bill Avramis’s son George won it in an auction.

Funny that Porsches are parked on the west side of College Avenue in the present-day photo in set 1, and the old photo here in set 2. Cornell students never tire of having flash to show off their cash.

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Photo Courtesy of Tom Morgan

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Oh my, I have seen the old NYS Liberty Plates since the late 1990s. Probably the last time I saw an early ’80s Mercury Capri, for that matter. Looking west, down the 100 Block of Dryden Road. I know I don’t have a photo from this angle, so google is picking up my slack. Eddygate and its 64 units were brand spanking new in 1986. Most notable are the house with a bump-out on the left, and a woody lot that no longer exist – they would be replaced with Jason Fane’s Collegetown Plaza in 1988-89. The three older buildings down the street are still there, with coats of paint or freakish ornamentation.

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Photo Courtesy of Tom Morgan

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Last but not least, the northeast corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road. Once again, the Ciaschi Block is underway, and the five-story building in back, Jason Fane’s Collegetown Court (208 Dryden), was nearly new, having been completed in 1985.  The makeover of Fane’s building at 202-204 Dryden is a recent event. Johnny’s Big Red Grill sign was still up when I first arrived on the hill, but it was taken down in 2009 when the IFD expressed concerns with the deterioration of the brick facade, and renovations commenced. The sign went up for auction on EBay, and it was bought by a Cornell alum, Carolyn Coplan ’76. She offered it to the university and several local preservation groups, but no one had the money for restoration and storage. It eventually ended up at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.

The building on the edge of the old photo, “Collegetown Convenience Store”, is better seen in the September 1985 photo mentioned earlier. Although not a part of this photo set, a Mike Harris photo from 1968 shows a gas station used to be on that site. The building is not long for this world, if John Novarr has his way. It’ll be interesting to see how Collegetown will look in another 28 years.





News Tidbits 8/16/14: Weighing the Arguments

16 08 2014

1. Although there might be five proposals still in the running for the old library space, if one goes off of public sentiment, there are two leading candidates – the DPI proposal for its 84-unit project (76 condos, 8 apartments), and Franklin/O’Shae’s 32-unit mixed use proposal, the one that re-purposes the original 1967 structure. I spent an evening in the office doing work while listening to the entire audio file for the August 12th meeting and its 28 speakers (not something I intend to talk about with my colleagues). The DPI proposal has some heavy hitters speaking on its behalf – former city councilpersons, the former head of Ithaca’s city planning office, Cornell and IC faculty, and so forth, talking about the need for market-rate condos in the city. The Franklin/O’Shae proposal, which has an online petition, went for an ecological tactic, saying that the project would result in less waste (the building wouldn’t be demolished), and it would minimize neighborhood disruptions. Some of the Franklin/O’Shae project supporters said that there were too many units in the other proposals and that they weren’t sustainable; condo proponents countered with the Danter study, which showed very high demand for condos in downtown, and that the DPI proposal recycles materials from the old structure, rather than the structure itself (which has had asbestos issues). Both sides’ arguments have valid points and flaws. We shall see what happens moving forward.

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2. INHS is going up to the BZA for variances for two projects – a single-family home to be built on a slightly too-small lot at “203” Third Street (near Madison Street), and a four-unit set of townhouses at a vacant parcel at 402 S. Cayuga, a piece of vacant land abutting the Y-shaped intersection of South Titus Avenue and South Cayuga Street. As usual for INHS, the five housing units would be marketed as affordable owner-occupied housing to moderate-income households. The townhomes are intended for completion by June 30, 2015, and the single-family home by December 2015.

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3. Over at Collegetown Terrace, a BZA-approved lot tweak is being requested to modify the lots, a split that would separate Buildings 5 and 6 from the lot where 7 would be built. 7 would have lot frontage on a private street rather than public street, which is why the BZA is needed. The whole reason for this split is financing for the massive project. The project is much easier to finance in smaller chunks, especially since it’s being built in phases. The key takeaway from this otherwise minor note is that Building 7 (120 Valentine Place) does not have financing for construction, so who knows when it will start. If the lot tweak is passed (and there’s no compelling reason for it not to be, since no changes to the design will occur), maybe end of summer/early fall; otherwise, it’s anyone guess.

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4. Meanwhile, another student-oriented project is on hold, perhaps indefinitely. The 45-unit project at 7 Ridgewood is being put on hold, as the person directing the proposal for developer CA Living, Cornell alum Stephen Bus, has left the company. Whether this project eventually continues, gets revised, or is cancelled completely has yet to be determined. But this is the second failure for the site, which had a proposal for an attractive 30-unit apartment building in the mid-1990s that also ended up being shelved.

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5. Seems legit this time – the Ithaca metro posted a 400 job increase as compared to June 2013, to 65,600 (0.6%). This is a positive sign and it’s important, because whether pro-development or anti-development, if the local job market tanks, everyone’s in trouble. Manufacturing and Other Services saw slight gains (100 each), while Hospitality/Leisure and Professional/Business Services saw slight losses (100 each). The big factor is that education and healthcare is up 1.2% year-to-year, about 400 jobs. As covered on the Voice, the statistics have had issues before; I wouldn’t be surprised if the same problem is occurring with Syracuse’s massive 3,300 job loss over the same time period.








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