News Tidbits 10/4/14: Risky Business

4 10 2014

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1. According to the IJ, Urgo Hotels finally has a construction company lined up for the long-awaited downtown Marriott hotel. The firm, William H. Lane Inc. out of Binghamton, is no stranger to the area, with previous work on Cornell and IC’s campuses. Construction would hopefully start in October and take place over a year or so; late 2015 would be great, but early 2016 seems more plausible. The journal article makes reference to the firm also being involved with a dorm expansion planned at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) starting construction this fall; this is the first time I’ve heard anything about there being more dorms out in Dryden. I checked TC3’s news archives and found nothing, and I contacted their residential life but received no response. The main classroom building is undergoing renovation, so it could just be a typo on the Journal’s part.

With as many delays as the Marriott project has had, I won’t believe the hotel’s under construction until I see foundation work underway.

2. In economic news, a quickly-growing local company is applying for tax abatements to help fund its expansion. BinOptics of Lansing is based out of the Cornell Business Park over near the airport, at 9 Brown and 20 Thornwood Drive. According to their TCIDA tax abatement application, the abatement is to underwrite some of the cost for expanding in those two buildings, and adding a 2,800 sq ft clean room onto 9 Brown (BinOptics works in the manufacture and sale of optical and laser devices). The project is expected to cost $7.7 million, mostly on new equipment. On paper, it sounds promising; the 14 year-old company claims to have grown from about 50 to 143 employees in the past 3 years, 35 in the past year alone. They expect to add 91 more jobs over the next 3 years, of which the vast majority pay living wage. The abatement is for about $200k in mortgage and sales taxes, and a multi-million dollar abatement on property taxes (I’m not sure of the exact figure because it deviates from the TCIDA standard plan, but it is greater than the standard plan).

I’m not about to support or oppose this until I know how much the tax abatement is for, but the glassdoor reviews don’t bode well.

3. And now there are four – Integrated Acquisition and Development has pulled out of the Old Library competition. Its “Library Square” project had the most units, but was generally unloved by constituents. INHS dropped out of the running when it acquired the Neighborhood Pride grocery site a few months ago and decided to focus on thatThat leaves Travis Hyde’s proposal, Cornerstone Group, and the two favorites, DPI’s condo proposal, and Franklin/O’Shae’s reuse proposal. Both have ardent groups of supporters; as an observation, what DPI has in big name supporters, Franklin/O’Shae is counteracting with grassroots outreach. Both have their own merits, one promoting home ownership, the other ecological sensitivity.

Now comes the actual RFP (Request for Proposals). According to the county press release, it will include

“…detailed site plan, building design and floor plans; detailed cost and financial information, including the proposed financing for the project; certification of ability to close on acquisition (or lease) by a given date; verification of any agreement or memorandum of understanding with Lifelong (if a part of the project), and with any other parties committing to lease or own space in the building.  Among other recommended elements are any anticipated request for tax abatements or tax credits; strategies to manage parking demand; specific measures to reduce carbon footprint; and evidence of meeting with the City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and with City staff to assure that the project meets zoning and code requirements.”

The draft RFP is due to be reviewed at the November 7th meeting.

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4. The Ithaca Times is running a piece where shop owners on the 300 Block of East State are fretting about the loss of the municipal parking lot for the Hampton Inn project. Will the loss of adjacent parking be inconvenient? Sure, a little bit. This was also a block that historically (The Strand, 1916-1993) had a large theater occupying much of the site. Some of the shopkeeps and property owners are cautious and neutral about the parking changes and coming hotel, which is fair; one seems to think it will ruin their business. The same one who, although quoted that she’d support downtown residential projects, has also gone on the record for opposing the Carey Building addition, saying the addition was out of character. Hmm. Regardless, it will be logistically complex, but I think the end results will justify the nuisances.

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5. On the other hand, the ever-increasing Commons delays are a serious, serious problem. I can’t claim to know much about the bidding process, but Vacri was the only one who bid for the third phase, came in well over budget. What Ithaca is getting is a watered-down, overpriced, much-delayed project that threatens downtown’s commercial vitality, which is really unfortunate. Michael Kuo, the Commons project manager, probably wants to crawl under a rock. I wouldn’t blame him for that.

6. The Belle Sherman Cottages project on the east side of Ithaca says that sales and prep work are underway for their townhomes. The townhomes will be built in 2 sets of 5 units, one set will have garages facing the front side (thumbs down) and the other will have garage doors in the back (thumbs up). All of the units are 2-bedrooms, 2.5 bath, and start at about $250k. That makes them a bit of a premium price in the Ithaca market, but they are new, and I have no doubt at least a couple of the units will be bought by deep-pocketed Cornellian parents who don’t want to worry about their little ivy leaguer paying rent. I know at least one townhouse unit has already sold.

Spring seems to be intended completion period, whether that’s for one set of 5 or both, I’m not sure. I’m going to guess that it depends on sales this fall.

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7. In other town news, the planning board will be looking at plans to make Ithaca a little boozier. Local brewery Ithaca Beer plans to more than double the size of their current 16,000 sq ft brewery and restaurant with a 23,800 sq ft addition. The addition will house increased production and storage space, something that in the documents filed, the brewery claims in necessary to keep up with its “tremendous growth”. Its unknown how many jobs would be created by the expansion, although the paperwork implies there will be a sizable increase.

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8. Over at the city’s design review board, the owners of the Rothschild’s Building (215 E. State) want to add another multi-pane window to the 1970s structure. I can comfortably say it’s an improvement.

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9. Lastly, from the city’s planning committee comes intended start dates of several local projects. The Hotel Ithaca addition and convention center? Shooting for a November start. Also, Ithaca Gun will be an apartment complex.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Update, 9/2014

9 09 2014

Agora Development‘s Belle Sherman Cottages project continues to build out. Some observant readers might have caught the piece from Buffalo development blog Buffalo Rising, which featured the project as an example of smart infill development (Buffalo Rising is rather fond of Ithaca). Since the early August update from Jason at Ithaca Builds, lots 4 and 6 have been completed and lot 18, a craftsman bungalow, is substantially complete. Meanwhile, work has begun at lot 3, a craftsman farmhouse. Given the previous rate of progress, I expect 18 will be complete by the end of the month, and lot 3 by early November. I don’t think it would be remiss to think another home will start before winter sets in. Of the 19 lots for single-family homes, only two lots are left, lot 12 (another craftsman bungalow) and lot 9, a new design that has yet to be published.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Update, June 2014

1 07 2014

Work continues on the Belle Sherman Cottages on the east end of the city (technically, just over the city line in the town of Ithaca). Homes have sold at a rapid pace this year, going from just six lots/homes in the first two years, to at least eleven more lots/homes sold in the past six months (this count includes at least one townhome that was sold). Only 3 of the 19 single-family home lots are still for sale – lots 9, 11 and 12, on the southwest side of the parcel. Lot 9 will be used to showcase a new “cottage” design that has not yet been built. I don’t know why there’s been a sudden uptick, but at this point, I would not be surprised if the last lots sell before the end of the year (along with several more homes completed before winter arrives).

Since I last came through in late April, lot 13 was completed, and two more are under construction – lot 6, a “craftsman farmhouse”, is the first home built in that style. Lot 4, also underway, is a “classic farmhouse”, recently assembled from its modular pieces. There was no indication of site prep or construction for the townhomes.

 

 

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Belle Sherman Cottages Update, 4/2014

16 04 2014

My last stop, on my out of town. In short order, I mentally debated stopping for photos, missed the turn due to the debating, circled back around, ended up ditching my car in a reserved parking spot at the Coal Yard Apartments complex. Then I ran down the hill, to the development, back up to the hill, and back into my car in the span of five minutes. I’m sure some of the neighbors that were outside Sunday afternoon were a little confused by my behavior.

Since my last time through, work was completed on the bungalow on lot 19 (someone gave it red porch trim; I’m guessing the owner), and the “Victorian farmhouse” on lot 13 is well underway, the modular pieces are assembled and it looks like siding swatches are being tested and installed. I expect this house will be done in just a few weeks. According to their facebook page, Q1 2013 was a stellar three months; five lots were sold: lots 4, 6 and 18 (elevations here), the spec house on lot 1, and one of the planned townhouses. That means 10 of the 19 houses planned have been sold. Considering they sold only six houses in the past two years, this is quite an uptick. Looks like Carina Construction will be busy this spring and summer.

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Belle Sherman Cottages, 7/2013

30 07 2013

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Next on my tour was a stop at the Belle Sherman Cottages to make a progress report.

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With four homes complete (Lots 1, 7, 8, and 14), one under construction (Lot 2), and one in site prep (Lot 19), the 29-unit development (19 homes, 10 townhouses) is beginning to resemble a settled neighborhood from a few very select angles.

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103 Walnut Street (Lot 2) is currently underway, and will be completed in the next couple weeks. Only three of the five styles are represented so far, the Victorian and Craftsman-style farmhouses have yet to be built.

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Lot 19 is tucked in the sharply-angled northern corner of the parcel, necessitating Agora LLC to insert the road extension. This extension is also where the townhouses will be built, although I’m not sure when they will start construction on those (i.e. what the sales thresholds are). Several lots are listed for sale with local RE agencies.

As noted at Ithaca Builds, these homes are built using modular pieces, which when done right can result in a quick turnaround from prep to construction to completion. It is likely the bungalow slated for Lot 19 will be completed by early fall, just as construction season starts to slow down in Ithaca.








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