Finally, finally, some real news. Cornell, through its Chronicle news outlet, has issued a statement regarding plans for the Maplewood Park Apartments replacement. Let’s look at the most important details.
– Cornell will be partnering with collegiate housing developer EdR. Cornell will own the land, but EdR will finance, construct and manage the development.
– Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with a summer (August) 2018 opening.
– Approximately 850 bedrooms are anticipated in the first phase, which is only for graduate and professional students. No undergrads here.
– Designs and unit mix are not yet finalized
– To quote Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate: ““Our goals for this site are to foster a close-knit neighborhood feel, while connecting this community through walkways and outdoor spaces to the university and surrounding neighborhoods, including the East Hill Plaza area where we are planning future mixed-use development.”
– EdR and Cornell will be meeting with neighborhood groups, the local landlords’ association, and since the project will contain a sizable portion of family housing, the ICSD.
Now, with all that acknowledged, let’s do a little more research. First, the developer. EdR (formerly Education Realty Trust) is a Memphis-based student housing developer following in the steps of Campus Advantage, CA-Ventures, and others who have tried and failed to make their way into the Ithaca market. The difference is, apart from EdR also being a Real Estate Investment Trust that finances its own projects (REIT — Campus Advantage was not, nor was Campus Acquisitions before it was bought), the company has Cornell’s blessing and the proposal is on Cornell land, which are very, very important cards in their hand. It would take a huge flaw to make local officials come out against this project, which will address a critical student housing shortage at the university.
EdR has been through upstate a few times before, though not in Ithaca. They developed and manage student housing for SUNY ESF in Syracuse (454-bed Centennial Hall), and developed two private apartment complexes adjacent to Syracuse University, the mixed-use 312-bed Campus West project, and the 423-bed University Village Apartments. They have a mix of arrangements with different schools – the SU projects are totally private, but Centennial Hall is owned by ESF and managed by EdR, an arrangement that sounds pretty similar to what Cornell will be doing.
Looking at the profile, I can’t find too much of a pattern in the choice of architects. In many cases, they’re local (the Univ. of Kentucky projects used Sherman Carter Barnhart, a Lexington firm, while University Village and Campus West used Holmes King Kallquist, a Syracuse firm), but there’s a few wild cards from outside a region – Centennial Hall used WTW Architects of Pittsburgh. In sum, it looks there might be a slight preference towards firms local to a project site, but apart from that, the chosen designers are literally and figuratively all over the map. EdR looks to have focused on mixed-use, compact and urban-friendly projects with their more recent partnerships.
As for price range, we’re talking some serious coin being tossed around. The Syracuse projects, which are half the size of Cornell’s project, cost $28-$30 million. EDR, in its own press release yesterday, estimates the project will cost about $80 million. Or course, it will be tax-exempt, but that much money translates to a lot of construction jobs, and Cornell is a strong supporter of trade unions. Local companies might get in as subcontractors, but with a project this large, one of Cornell’s preferred circle of general contractors (Welliver, Pike, LeChase) will most likely tackle the overall buildout.
Now, thinking about the project itself, if it’s 850 beds (rough assumption of one bedroom per person), that’s almost twice the capacity of Maplewood and its 394 units/480 beds. Maplewood is 109,000 SF of usable space (122,000 SF gross) and sits on 16.02 acres. So the current density is about 24.6 units/acre, or 30 beds/acre, in one-story buildings that cover the vast majority of the site.
The 2008 Master plan, if it’s any indication, calls for 15-30 units per acre (the number of beds is left up to interpretation) and up to 400,000 SF of space in 2-4 story buildings, creating a more campus-like appearance by going vertical instead of spreading out as the current Maplewood does. While the layout in the plan was totally conjecture, the specs are not. The town of Ithaca zoning (High Density Residential) caps it at 36 feet, but Cornell could probably get a floor or two of variance without much difficulty – the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan recognizes Maplewood as one of the appropriate sites for “Traditional Neighborhood Development High Density“, dense mixed-use thoroughly integrated into the surrounding street fabric, 6-30 units/acre but averaging 8-16 units/acre with 10-20% open space.
There’s one last detail to mull over in all of this. According to the city, Cornell will be exercising its right to take back the Ithaca East apartments to the east and northeast of Maplewood (I spoke/emailed with Abbott about this a few days ago when the city docs were released, so…convenient timing). According to property manager Bruce Abbott, Cornell renews every June and he has two years to finish out his management of the property, so Cornell won’t take over Ithaca East until June 2018 at the earliest – which would be just in time for a second phase if Cornell desires, right as phase one is finishing up. Cornell also purchased the homes between Maplewood and Ithaca East, in 1998 and 2013. So looking further ahead, here’s an adjacent 8.2 acres that seems likely to fall under the Big Red development radar in the next couple years, not to mention future plans for East Hill Plaza. EdR is going to be very busy over these next few years.