News Tidbits 2/28/15: The Big Chill

28 02 2015

1. We’ll start this off with a little investigative work. A large medical office building at 821 Cliff street sold for $945,000 on February 23rd. The sale also came with two other adjacent parcels of undeveloped land, totaling just under 5 acres. Primary Developers Inc. (local developer Mauro Marinelli) sold the building and lots to an LLC with the oh-so-patriotic name “American Blue Sky Holdings LLC”. A little digging reveals the LLC is registered to a Lansing address that is also used by a renting company called Red Door Rentals. This company has never been in the news previously, and its website is nothing but a title page and an email address. A little more digging shows that it’s a recently-launched local business managed by Greg Mezey, a Cornell employee (and alumnus, as his name is familiar to me from when we overlapped as students several years ago). Red Door Rentals has 3 properties and 19 bedrooms, so this purchase is surprisingly large for a small rental company. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on this, watching to see if there’s any intent to redevelop the parcels, or if the LLC is just going to stay the course. Although the healthcare industry is a growing sector with stable tenants, a possible site redevelopment isn’t out of the question – previous owner Marinelli had plans approved in 2007 for a 44-unit apartment complex on a vacant parcel just north of the sold properties, but the project, called Bella Vista, was never built.

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2. Well that was fast. It’s hardly been a week and 2 of the 5 units (the middle one and the second from right, lots 21 and 22) in the second phase of the Belle Sherman Cottages townhouses have already been reserved as of the 25th. These are not cheap, they’re going for near $300k. Taking guesses – wealthy parents of Cornellians, or permanent residents?

It may seem like these are a frequent topic of this blog, but that’s because unlike many local projects, they have a strong and regularly updated online presence, which makes my work much easier.

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3. There hasn’t been much news about the Old Library site as of late, because the four entities invited to submit detailed proposals have until March 20th to get all their paperwork in. But one thing worth noting is that the Cornerstone project, the only one which has an affordable housing component, is asking for a non-binding letter of interest from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. If selected, the IURA could offer Rochester-based Cornerstone and its partner the Ithaca Housing Authority up to $200,000 towards the development of approximately 70 affordable housing units.

In terms of community support, the Cornerstone project has garnered little interest, with the eco-friendly Franklin/O’Shae proposal and the DPI condo proposal receiving the most support. While this is the only project that offers affordable housing units, they’re apartments rather than purchasable units, and every proposal submitted in the RFEI misses the county’s (overly high) expectations in some form.

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4. It’s not uncommon to find apartments through Craigslist, but at least one stalled local project is trying to find retail tenants through the online classifieds website. The project in question is the “College Crossings” development, which comes up in news updates once in a great while – since approval in 2012, the site has been cleared, but not a whole lot else has happened. The second floor was revised from office space to 2 apartments with 9 beds total, which is arguably a better fit and easier to finance in the Ithaca real estate market, and the developer (Evan Monkemeyer of Ithaca Estates Realty) claims to have two of its six retail spaces leased (for a Subway and a Dunkin’ Donuts), with a potential lease on a third space pending – as the site has claimed for months, if not years.

Apparently, the developer is now turning to Craigslist to lease the remaining spaces. Will it be effective? Maybe. It seems the project’s not totally dead, but there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of this mixed-use shopping center ever coming to fruition.

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5. Looks like we’re about to shatter the old record for the coldest month ever recorded in Ithaca. Thanks to that -22 F Tuesday morning (the last time Ithaca was that cold was January 22, 2005; in fact, I can only find 10 days that were colder in the entire 122-year record), the monthly average stands at 10.6 F, 0.7 F less than 1979. Saturday will not be enough to warm up the average, so February 2015 will go down as the coldest month in Ithaca’s recorded history. Yay?

 





News Tidbits 2/21/15: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

21 02 2015

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1. Looks like marketing has started for the second set of townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages project. Local real estate listings have two of the yet-to-be-built townhouses listed for $275k and $310k. The base-equipped units have 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and 1,325 sq ft of living space. Unlike the first set of townhouse units, these units have the garage in the back. The first five townhouses have sold out and are ready to begin construction when the weather permits. This second set of five, lots 20-24 (aka the 200 Block of Walnut Street), will likely see construction later in the year, depending on how well the sales go. They probably don’t need to worry, the first set sold out in a matter of weeks.

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2. For those that haven’t seen it, the Ithaca Times did an excellent piece this week regarding the murky political issues with Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project. Readers may recall that the project applied for tax abatements, but was rejected by the county IDA. The argument is that there was political interference with the decision, and the interference has been masked by statements incongruous with the CIITAP application process (ex. saying that the project was rejected for not being mixed-use, which is not a stipulation in the CIITAP application). The Times builds a pretty significant case that politics are infiltrating the process, manifesting as last-minute demands, and threaten to cut off development in downtown Ithaca, where land values and more stringent community demands make projects more expensive. Nathan Lyman, Jason Fane’s lawyer in the Clinton matter, has sent a letter to the city with his criticisms of the way program and the way local officials dealt with the project; an online copy can be found here.

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3. Some minor tweaks to the 6-unit, 18-bedroom 707 E. Seneca project: basement windows to try and break up the monotony of its concrete block base. Apart from that, the color descriptions, facade details and finishes look to be unchanged from the earlier plan (first image). The project, planned for a vacant parcel that was one an abandoned school playground, is due to receive final site approval at next week’s planning board meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have the project complete in time for the 2015-2016 academic year.

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4. Taking a gander at the upcoming planning board meeting, here’s what there is to look forward to:

– A. More talk about the Marriott signage – Marriott corporate wrote in to say that they’re not going to change their rooftop corporate signage just because Ithaca wants to be unique, but they are open to shrinking it so that it’s less prominent. The hotelier also said they would be open to some degree of “interpretation” with the street-level signage.

– B. Final Site Approval for the Canopy Hilton - This might be delayed again due to a potentially huge problem on the horizon. The CSMA (Eagles Building) next door sent a letter opposing the use of its rear parking lot for a utility easement by this and the Carey Building, because it could hamper their own theoretical expansion plans. In the letter, they have said they would allow the easement if they get to take the land between them and the Carey Building, which is what the Hilton intends to use as their driveway. It would be a major rearrangement of the Canopy site plan (and potentially prohibited by the city’s transportation engineer since E. Seneca is one way), and these moves by the CSMA could impact work on the Carey Building as well. The city already granted an easement late last month to the Carey Building for the municipal parking lot between CSMA and the Carey Building, and work’s already begun, so it’s unlikely that parking lot’s ever going to be reopened. Everyone loses.

I can’t tell who at the moment, but considering the Carey and Hilton projects have been under review for nearly a year, the timing of this is awful, someone really botched up here. This could be a very nasty fight. Let me grab the popcorn.

– C. Declaration of Lead Agency/Environmental Review of the Lake Street Bridge Replacement and neighboring pocket park

– D. Final Site Plan Approval for the 5-unit, 3 building project at 128 West Falls Street

– E. Final Site Plan Approval of the Upson Hall Renovations on Cornell’s Campus

– F. Final Site Plan Approval for the 6-unit 707 E. Seneca project (item 3 up above)

– G. Sketch Plan presentation of INHS’s 210 Hancock/Neighborhood Pride Redevelopment

– H. Sketch Plan presentation for the Simeon’s/Griffin Building Reconstruction (seen above, courtesy of Jason K. Demarest Architect)

Subdivision review will also take place for the duplex proposed behind 424 Dryden Road, and paperwork has been filed for another subdivision to create a lot for a new single-family home (203 Pearl Street) by slicing off the north portion of 201 Pearl’s lot. The Pearl Street subdivision won’t be reviewed until the March meeting.

5. Another Ithaca Times piece, this one about strong opposition to a proposed expansion to a spiritual wellness/meditation center on Turkey Hill Road. the expansion calls for 10-12 beds for overnight visitors, but neighbors are fiercely against it for noise and traffic concerns.The architect for the expansion is Noah Demarest of local firm STREAM Collaborative, but there’s no renders of the proposed expansion on the website just yet (but their website is updated pretty regularly, so it’s only a matter of time).

Good heavens. This is one of those weeks where it seems everyone in Tompkins County hates everyone else that lives in Tompkins County.

 





Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 2/2015

16 02 2015

It feels a little surreal to be walking down Walnut Street (fun fact, there was originally a Walnut Street plated for Ithaca’s West Hill in the mid-1800s) and have it fulled out with homes on either side. Yet that is indeed the case. It’ll be easier at this point to count what’s not yet built in the Belle Sherman Cottages development – the townhouses (10 total, 5 due to start this Spring and 5 yet to be marketed), the new cottage design for the not-yet-marketed lot 9, and lots 10, 12 and 13, which are sold and probably awaiting the arrival of warming weather before the foundations are excavated, poured and CMU block is laid. Heck, they might already be poured, but hidden under several inches of snow. So 15 of the 19 houses are built, with a couple of those, like lot 17, undergoing interior finishing and still in need of a little porch/column paint work before being turned over to their new owners. If you’re interested in learning more about the construction process, there’s a little more info in my previous post here, and on Ithaca Builds here.

Every couple of weeks, another sale shows up in the county property records, typically in the range of the low 300s to low 400s. Formal sale isn’t happening until a house is move-in ready (I suspect that while underway, a “sold” lot is actually reserved with a down payment), so following the county’s record of transactions is a useful indicator of progress. According to the Belle Sherman Cottages facebook page, Skaneateles-based Agora Homes and Development intends on completing the 29-unit development in 2015.

Veering into editorial territory here, I’ll admit that I was pessimistic about the project early on, thinking it was too much money for what was provided. But in retrospect, I think this is the right type of single-family housing for more suburban parcels, such as other sites in Ithaca town near the city line. Much of the zoning locally is designed to favor of large lots and large price tags. I wouldn’t call these affordable by any stretch, but they’re somewhat closer to the median value than most other single-family homes going up. Being this close to Cornell also adds a premium on their price tags; perhaps on a site in South Lansing or South Hill, they’d be somewhat less expensive. They’re a good (better?) alternative to the sprawling cul-de-sacs that seem to be the norm for housing developments in suburban Tompkins County. I think that, in the same vein of this project, though with more of a “green” sheen, the Amabel site in southwest Ithaca will be the next single-family development worth watching.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 11/2014

4 12 2014

Over in Belle Sherman, work continues on its namesake housing development, the 29-unit Belle Sherman Cottages. From a glance, some site clearing might be taking place for the first set of five townhouses (lots 25-29), which are aiming for an April 2015 completion. Several homes are in various stages of construction, with some still wrapped in breathable plastic, and others undergoing final exterior and interior work. Since September, lot 18 (Craftsman Bungalow), lot 15 (Craftsman Farmhouse), lot 10 (Craftsman Farmhouse) and lot 3 (Craftsman Farmhouse) were completed or are nearly completed, while lot 17 (Victorian Farmhouse) and lot 5 (Classic Bungalow) are underway. That’s six houses in less than three months. Carina Construction and Agora Home and Development more than outdid my September estimate of 1-2 more homes before the end of the year.

For comparison’s sake, in December 2013, there were five complete houses and two more underway, and the model house was built all the way back in May 2012. Now the total number of homes built or being built is 14. The project had a great sales year and it shows. Speaking of sales, all houses except lot 9, a new design yet to be published, have been sold. All 5 units that comprise the first set of townhouses have sold as well. Marketing has not begun for the 5 units in the second set of townhouses, lots 20-24.

One of the unique features of this project is that unlike traditional on-site frame construction, these houses are assembled from modular units. The modular pieces are sourced from Simplex Homes in Scranton and trucked up to Ithaca for installation. Once the concrete block foundation has been assembled, the four modular pieces for each home are craned into place, and once the pieces are leveled with the rest of the structure, the adjoining walls and ceiling are secured with steel plates. Interior work goes on while siding, porches and other features are built onto the assembled house. This allows for a faster construction process and cuts down on finishing costs.

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News Tidbits 11/1/2014: Houses Going Up Like Weeds

1 11 2014

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We’ll start off this week in suburbia. In Lansing, discussion continues for the 102-unit “Cayuga Farms” townhome development, and now we have some more numbers to throw around. According to the Limited Environmental Assessment Form (LEAF), we’re looking at about 25.2 disturbed acres built out over 4 phases – the first starting as soon as approvals are in hand, and the last due for a completion all the way out in October 2021, partially because the last phase on the south side of the property will be accessed by a proposed public road. The north end gets developed in phase I, with 44 units. Apart from that sizable project, the Lansing town planning board isn’t too busy, with the other discussion item being two duplexes (4 units) on a former mobile home lot.

Amabel site PRESENTATION Model (1)

2. More in housing, this one from the town of Ithaca. According to its developer (Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living), the 31-unit eco-friendly housing development just southwest of the city-town line will begin formal marketing in summer 2015 at the earliest. It’s also going under a redesign of the site plan, so the above plan won’t be current for long. Just have to wait and see what the revised product looks like.

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3. Sales have been robust with the Belle Sherman Cottages townhomes – two more sold between the 17th and 27th. That’s pretty darn impressive for a housing development in upstate. One of the last houses sold as well, leaving just one home lot, the yet-to-be-released new cottage design. If sales for the first set of 5 townhomes went that fast, I imagine that when marketing for the other 5 begin, they’ll be sold out within weeks.

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4. New renders for INHS’s at 402 South Cayuga Street. Still 4 townhomes, but the design from local firm TWLA (Trowbridge Wolf) is completely new. Affordable housing is always welcome on a vacant lot near downtown. But I like the previous design better. If I remember right, they are 2 bedroom units, and set for a fall 2015 completion.

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5. Last but certainly not least – a few more details about the two-part 304 College Avenue project, first shown yesterday. The Sun was kind enough to do some legwork and reach out to the real estate company, and for that effort we now know that the Avramises are shooting for a June 2016-August 2017 construction period for the 6-story building at 304 College. The Catherine Street structure may be built concurrently, but that is yet undecided. Like many of the new buildings, it’s intended to be focusing on the high end of the rental market, although it’s too early to specify actual rent prices. It includes a small amount of parking, which I’m sure will cost a mint. Declaration of lead agency is expected in early 2015 with approval some time in the spring, if past experience is any indicator.

It may seem unusual to propose such a far-flung construction date, but I suspect it has everything to do with costs and logistics. 114 Catherine and its 17 beds will be underway in the first half of 2015, and by summer 2015, 205 Dryden (Dryden South, 40 bedrooms), 307 College (Collegetown Crossing, 96 bedrooms), and 327 Eddy (64 bedrooms) will be underway. Labor will be at a premium, and since they’re within a couple of blocks of either, materials movement is going to be complicated. The Avramises may be hoping to start as other projects finish up, logistics improve and labor frees itself up. Problem is, Collegetown Terrace phase III starts in late 2015 and will run through 2017, so the construction labor market is going to be well-tapped regardless of whether they start in 2015 or 2016.





News Tidbits 10/25/14: It Seems Expensive Because It Is

25 10 2014

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1. I always appreciate it when people respond to my emails. On a whim, I emailed the realtor in charge of the Belle Sherman Cottages to see which ones were underway with sales, and what the time frame was. She forwarded the request to the developer, Toby Millman of Agora Homes and Development LLC, who wrote back to say that as of the 17th, the front-loading garages on lots 25-29 (render above) were being marketed, and three of the five have been sold. They are planning for an April 2015 completion for those five, with the modules being set into place next year (some site prep work may occur this fall). The five townhomes with the back-loading garages are not being marketed just yet. Who knows, with most of the homes being sold and several under construction, the entire project could be complete by the end of 2015.

2. Oh geez. An Irish-themed Hooters is coming to Ithaca. According to the Post-Standard, Tilted Kilt, a “Celtic-themed sports pub”, is looking at a restaurant for Ithaca. The Syracuse location due to open next month will be 7,000 sq ft, I expect an Ithaca location would be similarly-sized. The chain already has a location in Watertown, and has plans for a Utica restaurant as well. Basically, any city over 30,000 roughly within an hour’s radius of Syracuse. Here’s the chain’s website, featuring a woman preparing to make out with a hamburger. I’m sure the fratty frat boys at Cornell are getting excited. Placing bets on whether they go for Lansing or southwest Ithaca.

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3. Per the IJ, The developers of the Carey Building expansion are asking for a tax abatement from the city via the CIITAP application. A primer on CIITAP applications can be found here at the Ithaca Voice; a number of projects in the city’s “density district” have used them in recent years as a way to offset high development costs in downtown and West End. Recently, Jason Fane made news for pursuing a tax abatement via CIITAP for his project on East Clinton Street. The standard abatement is 7 years, with 90% of the increased value being offset in the first year. In this case,the building was assessed in 2014 at $475,000. The new construction will cost $4.7 million according to the IJ, but it says $1.6 million in the city’s site plan application; that gives us assessed values in year one of $945,000 if the IJ is right, or $635,000 if the SPR is still accurate. The abatement tapers off through the latter six years. As with Fane, I suspect Travis Hyde Companies is pursuing an abatement simply because they can, they meet the qualifications so carpe diem. The wide difference in the IJ and SPR numbers could be an indication of rapidly rising project costs. Regardless of reasoning, this definitely isn’t going to do the developers any favors when it comes to community relations.

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4. Maybe the Novarr interview in the Voice will have run by the time this runs; maybe it won’t. Just in case, straight from the developer himself, Phase III/Building 7, with its 247 units, is planned for a late 2015 construction start, with completion in the summer of 2017. It’s a long construction period; it’s also a very big building.

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5. From the Cornell Daily Sun, it’s expected that rents at Collegetown Crossing will be around $1,000, per month, per tenant. Students in Cornell’s Student Assembly aren’t exactly pleased, since that number far exceeds even what most Cornellians can afford (but don’t worry; with student population growth far outstripping supply, there’s enough demand for student rentals, even in the luxury segment, that this place will fill up to capacity as soon as it opens). Welcome to Ithaca’s severely under-supplied rental market; open your wallets wide, boys and girls.

It just occurred to me that since I wrote the enrollment column last year with 2012 numbers, I glanced at the 2014 numbers on the University Factbook. Now it’s 21,850, an increase of 426 students in 2 years, and in pace with the 2002-2012 period. 234 of that 426, 55%, were grad and professional students.

There are a number of factors for why it’s so expensive – land values in Collegetown are high, construction labor is expensive because Ithaca is off the beaten path, taxes are high, and the new Collegetown zoning doesn’t allow Lower to build out the rear portion as he initially intended, forcing him to keep the building’s rear flank at 4 floors instead of 6 (the zoning is also what allows him to build in the first place, since it removed the parking requirement).

Let me be clear. Unless something is done to reduce demand or increase supply, this will become the norm, and Cornell students of modest means will be placed in an increasingly precarious situation with the cost of housing. Just like the rest of Ithaca.

6. To wrap things up, here’s looking into the agenda of next week’s Planning Board meeting (and what will probably comprise my mid-week posts). Purity, The Canopy by Hilton, Chain Works, 114 Catherine, and the 15,700 sq ft retail building on the Wegmans pad site. Only the Wegmans parcel is up for final approval.

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114 Catherine comes to the board with one major change – the front entrance was moved from the corner to the middle of the front facade. Still 17 bedrooms in 3 units.

As for new projects coming up for sketch plan, we technically have three. As much as I was looking forward to it, Ithaca Gun is not one of them, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next month.

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The first is 402 S. Cayuga Street. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize this as INHS’s 4-unit townhome project.

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The second is Cornell – Upson Hall renovations. Cornell stuff is easy enough to find, they publish veritable novels about projects once they’re cleared by the Board of Trustees. Upson renovations sound like they’re mostly internal work with a facade update. I’m more interested in the proposed biomedical building they have yet to roll out designs for. The Upson renovation is supposed to cost $63 million, so maybe there are additions involved; the new biomedical building, $55 million. The firms involved look to be LTL Architects, Perkins+Will, and Thornton-Tomasetti. In other words, modern glass and steel box, looking for LEED Gold. No renders yet, but I’ll post ‘em when I see ‘em.

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The last of the trio is yet another Collegetown project – 302-306 College Avenue, an address which consists of the three architectural stunners above. I’ve been patiently waiting for a proposal here (though to be honest, I’m kinda partial to 302, second from the left). John Schroeder from the Planning Board has wanted a proposal here for years. They sit in an MU-2 zone – 6 floors, 80′, no parking required. All three are owned by the Avramis family, Collegetown’s third-largest property owners. More interestingly, rumor has it that the buildings they own contingent to 302 College on Catherine Street, which are CR-4 zoning (no parking, 4 floors), are involved as well. So this could be a fairly substantial project. My money is on Sharma Arch being involved, since they are Avramis Real Estate’s usual architect-of-choice. I figured that the M&T Bank on the 400 block would get torn down first, but this is no big surprise, the Avramises have been fairly active in redeveloping their properties.





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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