News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 8/2016

27 08 2016

If all had happened to plan, the hotel would have opened this past Tuesday. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned, as it often happens with large construction projects. Marriott’s website gives an October 2016 opening. A few simulations of the room interiors are included below. If I remember right, a while back someone told me that the rooms are a little smaller than Marriott’s standard (which looks to be true – the king-sized rooms are 300 SF, and comparables that I’m finding at other Marriotts are 360 SF), so the interiors were designed to be more plush and higher-quality to compensate. Among the amenities include 49″ TVs, Wi-Fi, mini-fridges, a business center, a fitness center, an “M Club Lounge“, laundry service, complimentary coffee/tea, down comforters, and a bunch of other things that are staples of premium hotels. The in-house restaurant will be called “Monks on the Commons”, and serve American comfort food, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kinda interesting to see which local restaurants they chose to highlight on their website.

Of the 159 rooms (finally, a confirmation it’s not 160!), 8 will be suites, and the hotel’s 3 meeting rooms total just under 2,500 SF. I tried to set up a reservation to see the prices, but the website wasn’t allowing bookings. The “largest event space” can hold 198 guests, along with the ridiculously cheesy line of “Reserve our wedding venue in Ithaca, NY and say ‘I do’ in a ceremony as unique as your love. ”

So, those are to-be’s, now to the what-are’s. On the outside rear, the Nichiha fiber cement panels are being attached to the waterproofed sheathing. The brick is done, but the stone veneer on the lower floors has yet to be applied. You can get an idea of the interior work underway by peering through the suite rooms, which face the Commons and State Street; notice the work on the ceilings progressing as one works their way down from the top floors.

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409 College Avenue (Student Agencies eHub) Construction Update, 8/2016

26 08 2016

The Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue has received its new glass curtain wall. The glazing seems to have just arrived judging from the brackets. New windows have yet to be installed in the center column, and there’s still other work on the exterior to-do list, such as the etched glass railing for the second-floor balcony, the brise soleil, and minor trim work.

Note that the top (fourth) floor appears to have also been redone. This was not in any of the renders, although the Planning Board’s Design Review panel probably had to sign off on it. It’s likely that this is one of the reasons why the renovation work has gone on longer than anticipated.

STREAM Collaborative is the architect, and on their website are some interior renders of the new eHub co-working space. A couple shots are embedded below, but more can be found on STREAM’s website here. Morse Construction Management is the general contractor.

EDIT: I asked STREAM’s Noah Demarest if the fourth floor was a last minute change. “Yes. Last minute change due to the facade being in far worse condition than we thought. It is completely rebuilt. We have technical drawings we submitted to staff but never updated the renders.”

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205 Dryden (Dryden South) Construction Update, 8/2016

25 08 2016

There will probably be one last follow-up group of photos. The exterior masonry work is ongoing, but according to owner/developer Patrick Kraft, the development team (Kraft, general contractor LeChase Construction, architect Jagat Sharma, etc.) is shooting for a Labor Day weekend completion. The ruminations and before/after photos can wait until that time. Meanwhile, the apartment units are occupied and the safety systems (fire alarm/sprinkler) are online.

The Cornell Daily Sun is reporting that the suites are occupied although there’s still some last-minute finishing work like painting, trim and custom window dressings. Common spaces such as the gym also have yet to be finished, according to 14850.com.

A quick glance shows that precast panels and AC units are being installed on the front of the building, while the back side appears to be completed. The steel rails between the rows of windows serve as heavy-duty anchors for the panels. The glass entryway for the first-floor retail space is still covered with plywood for the moment. No tenant has been announced for the 2,400 SF space, although Kraft hopes to land someone that will complement the Johnson School building going up next door.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Number two on the follow-up of Collegetown mid-rises, the 22-unit, 53-bedroom Dryden Eddy Apartments should be open to tenants by this Friday. According to developer Steve Fontana, the issue was that the elevator had yet to be fully integrated with the fire alarm system, so the city couldn’t issue a certificate of occupancy until that was taken care of.

Also worth noting, Fontana has secured two tenants for the first-floor commercial space (originally it was supposed to be a gym, but those plans faded out at some point). The Papachryssanthos family, one of Collegetowns old greek families and the proprietors of the Souvlaki House two buildings down, will be splitting the 1800 SF into a liquor store (aptly named “Ithaca Wine and Spirits”) and a café called “Chatty Cathy”. The owners of the East Asian grocer Tung Fong retired, and the Pixel bar and Club Sudz laundromat have passed into memory.

While not as ground-breaking as 307 College, 327 Eddy still serves as a useful addition to Collegetown, offering density in an appropriate location and maintaining a wall-to-wall streetscape with its neighbors. The density will be an asset by providing additional foot traffic to neighborhood businesses, and (back-of-the-envelope estimate) there will be an additional $160,000/year in property tax revenues for the city, county and school district. The final product fits in with a nice design, though I personally prefer the originally-approved plan, with one more floor and a crown set back from the face in the shape of a triangular prism. The rectangular crown makes it look too similar to its neighbor down the road at 309 Eddy. Something I had not realized until now was that the rear (east) face was totally reworked as well, with bay window projections instead of the smaller “punch-out” windows, which comparing the two, seems to be an improvement. But I digress, taste is subjective.

The construction cost was at least $4.824 million, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust Company. G.M. Crisalli and Associates of Syracuse served as general contractor for the project.

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After:

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Although Greenstar had yet to open this weekend when these photos were taken (it opened Tuesday), it’s safe to say that this project is complete. The plantings and outdoor benches for the pedestrian walkway are seeking the planning board’s approval for tweaks (straight benches vs. curvy benches, large shrubs in place of trees), and assuming they’re granted, those will be installed and rooted in a few weeks.

We could look at this project as a lot of numbers. Four years of planning. Six floors. $10.5 million construction loan. 46 units. 96 bedrooms. $1,000/month rent. 3,200 SF grocery store. 14 living-wage jobs created by said store. Two bus pull-off spaces. One parking space for delivery. Zero parking spaces for residents.

We could also get qualitative with it. Collegetown Crossing really was the pioneer of the new urban movement that has become more popular in recent years, both from livability and walkability standpoints as well as the financial perspective. Students have trended away from vehicle ownership in the past 15 or so years, from 50% in 2000 to 27% in 2012. Concurrently, there’s been a bigger emphasis on denser, mixed-use neighborhoods – malls and suburban apartment complexes are less popular than they were, and street-front shops with apartments above are making a resurgence, as the Commons and downtown Ithaca are demonstrating. Collegetown Crossing really helped to catalyze the conversation already underway, and no doubt had an influence on Collegetown’s hybrid form-based zoning code that did away with parking in the valuable core of the neighborhood. So the other new apartment buildings with active-use ground floors, Cornell’s Breazzano Center, and whatever else comes forth, they owe a hat tip to Collegetown Crossing and its developer, Josh Lower.

And speaking of hat tips, for all of the problems Hayner Hoyt has had this year, they deserve a big round of applause for finishing this project within its tight deadline, even with the other construction and logistical issues currently plaguing Collegetown. Jagat Sharma also deserves recognition for a project that looks pretty nice. When I was writing about the Collegetown delays in the Voice and speaking with Lower on the phone, he asked what I thought, and I said it came out better than I expected. Cue the awkward phone pause. What I meant was that the flat-looking perspective drawing doesn’t do the building justice, the built product is much more interesting to look at.

It looks good, the grocery and pedestrian alley enhance the quality of life for neighborhood residents, it replaces an unappealing two-story building, and it helps build the tax base. This project is a big positive.

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209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 08/2016

23 08 2016

Structural steel is rising at 209-215 Dryden Road, the site of the new Breazzano Family Center for Executive Education. In the past month, the steel frame has been built out to street-level and decking is being attached to what will be the ground floor. A 90-seat tiered classroom will be in the basement below the decking, and a second 90-seat tiered classroom will be built on top of the decking. In the third-to-last photo, you can see a large open space between the steel columns, which is where the building’s four-story atrium will be. Those steel columns next to Dryden South (205 Dryden) really are as close as they look – the finished walls of the buildings will be separated by just two inches.

Like much of Collegetown, the project hasn’t been without its problems. A construction worker was injured last month when his leg was pinned against a concrete form. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like the injury was too serious.

The six-story, 76,200 SF building is expected to open in summer 2017. Given the issues surrounding and delaying 201 College Avenue, this might be the only major building opening in inner Collegetown next year. About 200 Cornell staff will occupy the fourth through sixth floors at opening, and 350-400 Executive MBA students will attend week-long instruction sessions in the building during off-season academic periods (summer intercession and winter break).

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