Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 4/2016

27 04 2016

Demolition and site preparation are the task du jour at the Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street. The north wing of hotel rooms is being demolished now, and the west wing of hotel rooms will be demolished once the new building is complete.

The new 30,000 SF, 5-story wing will contain 90 rooms, 2,900 SF of additional meeting space, breakout rooms, and a new fitness center. 100 hotel rooms are being taken offline and demolished, reducing the number available at the hotel from 180 to 170. But, the primary goal of the project is to modernize the Hotel’s offerings, and stay competitive with newer hotels downtown, including the Marriott currently underway, and the Canopy Hilton due to start later this year.  The project applied for, an received a 7-year tax abatement under the CIITAP program, making it the only project that has pursued the 7-year option over the more common 10-year enhanced option. CIITAP may not be popular from a P.R. standpoint, but as shown on Ithaca Builds, the high property tax rate downtown plays a large role in the program’s necessity.

 

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

The Hotel Ithaca originally opened in 1972 as part of the city’s urban renewal plans, initially operating as a Ramada. At the time, it only consisted of the two-story wings, as seen in the 1973 photo above; the 10-story “Executive Tower” was added in 1984/85. The hotel was rebranded as a Holiday Inn until the start of 2014, when it switched to an independent operation as the “Hotel Ithaca”. The Hotel Ithaca was also the working name of the Marriott project early on, so the two projects are easy to mix up. As part of the change, the hotel carried out $2.4 million in renovations (phase one) to the tower rooms and utlities.

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Early plans called for a $17.8 million, 140,000 SF addition with a 9-story, 115-room hotel, restaurant and conference center designed by Buffalo-based Roberts, Shackleton and Boy Architects. The conference center was very well received by local officials and business leaders, and is seen as really crucial to Ithaca’s business interests – the city lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest. The plan was later revised to 8 stories and 97 hotel rooms, and then that didn’t move forward due to financial difficulties.

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The current project was proposed last September, and as the project had evolved, the tax abatement had to be re-voted (and passed 6-1). A potential third phase calls for a 3-story addition to the 5-story wing, and the coveted conference center, on the corner of W. Clinton and S. Cayuga Streets.

The $15 million second phase is aiming for a completion in May 2017. About 21 new jobs are expected to be created, most of those service positions near or a little above minimum wage.

Hart Hotels of Buffalo, founded by David Hart in 1985 and operating locally under the name Lenroc L.P., is the project developer. Krog Corporation, also of Buffalo and a favorite of Hart Hotels, is the general contractor. NH Architecture of Rochester, another frequent partner of Hart Hotels, is the project architect.

 

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210 Hancock Construction Update, 4/2016

21 04 2016

So far, not so good. When it first came out that INHS was dropping its contractor, Hayner-Hoyt of Syracuse, due to Hayner-Hoyt’s settlement in a government fraud of disabled veterans’ funds, my assumption was that alternatives had already been arranged and it would be just a token piece to fill out my writing quota.

Then came the interview with INHS’ Paul Mazzarella. And the words “in limbo”. That set a grim mood for the rest of our conversation.

At that point, there was some mental debate about passing the piece to someone else on the Voice staff, but given the complexity of the situation, there was a good chance it wouldn’t be done properly, or another news outlet would pick it up and miss some of the nuances. INHS didn’t know what was going on, since the investigation and negotiation were under seal. A check with the North New York District Court verified it. A bad situation that was in many ways beyond INHS’s control.

Dropping Hayner-Hoyt saved face, but also put the non-profit developer in a bind, since they were not just the general contractor, they were the construction manager, meaning that this was a design-build and everything had been priced out with Hayner-Hoyt’s help. Another contractor could have different, higher prices, which would put the project in jeopardy.

On the bright side, it looks like the project will move forward. Speaking face-to-face with Scott Reynolds last week, he described it as “more of a hiccup” at this point. Hayner Hoyt helped them locate new potential contractors, and there is likely a new firm who will take on construction manager duties. Hopefully, the Voice will have an article on that when INHS is ready to make the formal announcement.

Turning to the project itself, the ca. 1957 grocery store, and one-story 1970s office building, are gone. Demolition is complete, and there’s a pause in work “while the contractors get organized”. Further site work is expected to commence no later than late May, with pile installation occurring over a one-month period at a rate of about six per day, between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM. The before photo was taken in late February, the weekend before they started tearing down Neighborhood Pride, and the latest photos are from this past weekend.

The store was previously a P&C Foods, before P&C went bankrupt and the Ithaca stores were bought by Tops in 2010. The original builder of the grocery store, Tony Petito, launched a new independent grocery store called “Neighborhood Pride” in February 2013, which came with a $100,000 loan from the IURA. However, the store was unable to compete with other nearby grocers (Aldi’s, Wegman’s), and shut down at the end of the year. INHS acquired the property for $1.7 million in June 2014. Community meetings to develop a housing plan were held during the fall and winter of 2014/15, and the 210 Hancock proposal received planning board approval last year, after an unexpectedly heated debate. Originally, build-out was expected to start in September of this year, but the project was one of the very rare few that managed to get affordable housing funding from the state on the very first funding try (meaning that Ithaca has a well-documented need, and that it was a very good application).

If built on schedule, 210 Hancock will bring 54 apartments and 12 moderate-income townhouses to market in July 2017. 7 of the townhouses will be for-sale units. Total construction cost is anticipated to be about $13.8 million.

The 54 apartment units (42 1-bedroom, 12 2-bedroom) are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI), defined by the HUD as $54,000 for a one-bedroom and $61,750 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $25,950-$43,250, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $29,640-$49,400. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted. The project also includes two commercial spaces, one of which will host a daycare program run by TCAction for lower income families. The building would seek LEED Certification.

The two-story wood frame townhouses would also be LEED Certified. Of the seven for-sale units, five two bedroom units (1,147 SF) would be sold for about $114,000, and the two three-bedroom units (1,364 SF) for $136,000, available to those making 60-80% of local AMI, or $37,050-$49,400/year per the March 2016 IURA document. The townhouses would be a part of the Community Housing Trust (CHT), keeping them affordable even as they are sold to others in later years. The anticipated construction period is November 2016 – June 2017. The five rental units (4 2-bedroom, 1 3-bedroom) would be built at the same time as the apartment building.

To get on the waitlist for the affordable units, contact INHS here.

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The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part One: Introduction

20 04 2016

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Chain Works is, without a doubt, the single largest project currently being considered in the Ithaca area. It’s a very large project in terms of square footage, in terms of cost, in terms of length of build-out. Being such a large and important, it needs to be examined carefully – it could help propel Ithaca’s economy and ambitions to a higher quality of life, or it could serve as 95 acres of dead weight.

Between March 29th and May 10th, the city is receiving public comments on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the DGEIS. The city’s website appears to be outdated, but the Chain Works District website is up to date – any comments readers might have, any questions or concerns, are submitted to the City of Ithaca Planning Board as lead agency for environmental review. UnChained Properties LLC, the developer, offers a blank form here, or if one prefers, comments can be sent directly to Ithaca senior planner Lisa Nicholas at lnicholas@cityofithaca.org.

What a DGEIS does is evaluate the potential impacts of growth on local resources and facilities, such as traffic, water supply systems, utilities infrastructure, social and aesthetic impacts. The DGEIS, which will need to be finalized, is part of New York State’s Enviromental Quality Review (SEQR, pronounced “seeker”) and a necessary precursor to any planned/contemplated construction and development of the site.

So, the DGEIS main body is 422 pages, with about 3 GB’s worth of appendices. Although 45 days is allotted for public comment, not a whole lot of people want to read through 422 pages, but the table of contents allows people to jump around if there’s one or two thing they’re more keen to read about. A link to the DGEIS is offered by project partner Fagan Engineers here, but you might need to submit an email and name before being able to see it.

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So, basic details, per the “Description of Action”:

Chain Works District Project is a proposed mixed-use development consisting of residential, office, commercial, retail, restaurant/café, warehousing/distribution, manufacturing, and open space within the existing 95-acre Site which traverses the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary . Completion of the Project is estimated to be over a seven-to-ten year period. The first phase, referred to henceforth as Phase I, will consist of redeveloping four buildings generally located at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the complex of existing buildings. These first four buildings are approximately 331,450 square-feet (SF), and will house office, a mix of office and residential, and industrial uses. Subsequent phases of development will be determined as the Project proceeds and will include new structures to complete a full build-out of 1,706,150 SF.

So, just based off that, anything that gets developed, is as the market and NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allows. If the market isn’t amenable or the cleanup plan isn’t approved, don’t expect the plans to move forward all that fast, if at all. If the market is good and the DEC signs off on plans, expect the build-out to be on the shorter end of the 7-to-10 year time-scale.

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Related infrastructure work for the Project will include: (1) removing select buildings to create courtyards and a network of open spaces and roads; (2) creating pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular connections through the Site from South Hill to Downtown Ithaca; (3) improving the existing roads within the Site while creating new access points into the Site; (4) mitigating existing environmental impacts from historic uses; (5) fostering the development of a link, the Gateway Trail, to the Black Diamond Trail network; and (6) installing stormwater management facilities, lighting, utilities, and plantings.

No big surprises – some buildings in the interconnected complex will come down, shared road concepts will dominate the internal transportation system of the neighborhood, the site will be more fully integrated into South Hill and trails, and usual site details like stormwater plans and landscaping are going to be incorporated into the project.

Given its complexity, the project team is pretty broad – eleven organizations, from the Ithaca, Elmira, Corning and Rochester areas. Local firms include STREAM Collaborative, which helped draw up the design standards and rezoning, Randall + West for more rezoning work, and Brous Consulting, which is handling public outreach. UnChained Properties is headed by David Lubin of Horseheads (suburban Elmira). From what I’ve been told, project development to-date has cost somewhere around $2 million dollars.

Likewise on the approvals – the project will need something like fifteen approvals from a dozen different government groups and agencies.

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Let me share an introduction and summary comparable but maybe more approachable than theirs – a background primer on why this is happening can be found on the Voice in my introduction article here, and Mike Smith’s summary article here.

Much of Chain Works reuses what was once the Morse Chain / Emerson Power Transmission (EPT) factory, which employed thousands from the 1900s, up until the last workers were let go and the facility shut its doors in 2011. During the mid 20th century, industrial processes used chemicals and compounds that are known to be toxic – Trichloroethylene (TCE) being the best known, but also heavy metals and oils. These not only affect the site and its building, they’re also in the soil and groundwater of South Hill.

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The site is classified as Class 2 Superfund site, which the DEC describes as “a significant threat to public health and/or the environment and requiring action”. While EPT is responsible for clean-up, they’re only responsible for the bare minimum (the industrial standard, what can be safely exposed to for 8 hours) unless otherwise specified by a proposed reuse, in which case they have to clean to a higher standard like residential use.

So that leaves us at present – a vacant 95.93 acre, 800,000 SF industrial site split between municipalities and with varied terrain and conditions. One of the most basic goals of CWD is to get the city and town to rezone the land to allow a mix of uses – PUD/PDZ, which give flexibility in site development based off of standards the developer, the city/town, and in this case NYSDEC mutually agree to.

 

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So, in the PUD/PDZ, one of the broad takeaways is that each of the four form code has its own design standards – height, width, window-spacing, setbacks and most physical details, even signage. Unlike typical zoning, it’s the appearance that is more thoroughly managed, not the use. Those can be found in detail here. The design standards utilize what’s called LEED ND (Neighborhood Development), design standards created for large-scale green, well-integrated and sustainable development. A gated community it ain’t.

The goal of these design standards is to mitigate some of the adverse impact the new and renovated buildings will have on the community – promoting alternate transit reduces traffic, limiting floors and floor heights reduces visual impacts, and so on.

Build-out falls under four general form zones: (1) CW1- Natural Sub-Area, 23.9 acres of old woodland to be limited to passive recreation. (2) CW2- Neighborhood General Sub-Area, 21.2 acres of townhouses, stacked flats and similar moderately-dense development, mostly in Ithaca town; (3) CW3- Neighborhood Center Sub-Area, 39.7 acres of mixed-use, in a combination of renovated and new buildings towards the northern end of the property in the city, and (4) CW4, Industrial Sub-Area, a 10.3 acre zone for industrial uses in existing buildings at the Emerson site. The site borders Route 96B, single-family and multi-family homes, natural areas and steep terrain.

About 0.91 acres will be subdivided off and maintained by Emerson for active groundwater treatment. The other 95.02 acres would be sold to UnChained Properties.

chain_works_form_districts_2

The re-development is fairly multifaceted. Some buildings will be renovated, a few will come down, a couple will receive additions, an quite a few others, like those in the all-residential CW2 zone, will be brand-new. Specifically in Phase One, four buildings – 21, 24, 33 and 34, will be renovated.

In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the neighborhood design standards and detailed plans for Phase One.

 

 

 





Village Solars Construction Update, 4/2016

19 04 2016

Heading into the spring, it looks like the Village Solars project off of Warren Road in Lansing has made some pretty substantial progress with its second phase.

Building “D”, which contains 12 apartments, is essentially complete inside and out, though not yet occupied.

Building “G/H”, which holds 18 units, is fairly far along from the outside – cement boards have been attached to most of the east face, and some more wood siding has been applied to the west face. Exterior details like balcony railings and trim boards have yet to be installed.

Building “E” is topped out, and the roof rafters are being sheathed with Huber ZIP panels. The stairwells are still being framed out. Windows have been fitted in most of the rough openings on the first and second floors, but have yet to reach the third floor. Housewrap covers most of the plywood walls, with the exception of the stairwells. “E” will have 11 apartments.

From observation, it looks like Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) could start renting out Building “D” tomorrow if they wanted, Building “G/H” towards the end of the Spring (possibly Mid-July from the Craigslist posting), and have Building “E” ready for occupancy before the semester starts. Phase two of the 174-unit apartment project is being built with a $6 million loan from Tompkins Trust. Phase one’s 36 units opened last year.

EDIT: From Rocco Lucente the younger – “We will have our first move ins for 1067 Warren Road (Building D) on May 1st. The other two buildings are currently scheduled for June 15th and July 15th completion. We did get our Certificate of Occupancy for Building D around two weeks ago, but with the various cleaning and landscaping work we set our target for May 1st.”

No loans have been secured yet for the three later phases, and plans are still in the works for an addition across Village Place that would bring the total number of new apartments to over 300.

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Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 3/2016

30 03 2016

A generalized summary can be found on the Voice here. The concrete frame for the Veterinary School expansion is up to the third and final floor of what will be the new Flower-Sprecher library. As build-out continues, the existing building behind (east) of the new construction will come down and be replaced with new program space; the second floor will sit above an entry court and pedestrian walkway that leads to an indoor gallery space and central courtyard. The open space on the right (south) side of the structure will be a two-story atrium space. The addition will have a glass curtain wall, and the academic spaces that face the gallery will be faced with wood panels.

Cornell and general contractor Welliver will be looking to bring the project to completion by June 2017. Weiss/Manfredi is the project architect.

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Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 3/2016

21 03 2016

Some good progress has been made with the new cottages over at the Boiceville Cottages site. the cottages with the red-orange trim appear to be fully finished and occupied, while those with the blue trim have some interior finish work left before they can be rented out to tenants.

Newly risen since the last visit in January are a set of fuchsia-trimmed cottages that have been framed, sheathed, and partially stucco’d, and a fourth set of cottages that are still at the sheathing stage. Peering inside, you can see the interior stud walls and windows yet to be fitted into their openings.

That leaves a fifth and final batch of cottages that remain foundation slabs for the time being, but will likely start construction as we head through spring. Rents for the houses range from $1,095-$1,725/month, depending on the unit.

Bruno Schickel hosted congressman Tom Reed on a visit to the construction site a couple of weeks ago (more about that here and here). The $2.2 million last phase, which consists of 17 cottages, is expected to be completed this summer, bringing the total number of units on the site to 140. The cottages have been built in phases – 36 in 1996/97, 24 in 2006/07, and about 80 in multiple sub-phases since 2012.

Once the project wraps up, Schickel Construction plans to turn their attention to finishing their newly-acquired Farm Pond Circle project in Lansing.

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Affordable Housing Week 2016

8 03 2016

Expanding on last year’s theme, it’s affordable housing week. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 24th and 28th as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants (up from 21 last year) range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.85 million requested, and $1.56 million available, so that means an 84% chance of funding, all parameters being equal. For comparison, in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. The chances for funding have gone up this year.

Part of the reason for the better chances this year is unfortunate – the return of $273,869 in 2014 HOME funding meant for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project that has not come to fruition. Although HOME funds can be awarded for rental projects, the funding was awarded by the city specifically for owner-occupied housing, so the money comes back into play. There’s also about $26,300 left over from last year that went unallocated.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

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1. Last year, INHS applied for and received almost $458k for 210 Hancock, for which site prep is currently underway. This year, they’re applying for funding for two projects – seven owner-occupied units at 202 Hancock (new tax parcel), and the single-family home planned for 304 Hector Street.

The 202 Hancock townhouses are requesting $567,000 towards a total project cost of $2,359,013. This is a high figure, but it also seems like it would address the recent, very major issue of rapidly rising construction costs derailing multiple affordable housing projects. INHS will be putting up $550,000 of its own money, and already has received a $280,000 city/county/Cornell grant (Community Housing Development Fund) towards the project. The rest comes from bonds, the state, land equity and the buyers themselves.

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Doing the math ($1,438,640 construction cost, 8,463 SF total), the construction cost budgeted is $170/SF, a little less than the $190/SF they paid for 203 Third Street, but not impossible. Perhaps a larger project of townhouses can utilize cost efficiencies to keep the price down a bit.

The two-story wood frame townhouses would be LEED Certified. Five two bedroom units (1,147 SF) would be sold for about $114,000, and the two three-bedroom units (1,364 SF) for $136,000, available to those making 60-80% of local AMI, or $37,000-$49,000/year. The townhouses would be a part of the Community Housing Trust (CHT), keeping them affordable even as they are sold to others in later years. the anticipated construction period is November 2016 – June 2017. HOLT Architects of Ithaca is designing the townhomes.

Design wise, they look halfway between the first iteration of the rental townhouses, and the approved version.

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2. Also from INHS, the 304 Hector application. The amount requested is $100,000 towards a $369,294 project. This seems remarkably high. In the application, INHS notes the construction costs of $262,000 are from actual bids received from Rick May Construction (who is also doing 203 Third Street) and subcontractors. The math comes out to about $191.50/SF. One of the reasons for the very high cost is that INHS is required to hire contractors with enough liability insurance to cover any major accidents, and a lot of smaller builders don’t have enough insurance. $40,000 has already been granted towards the project from the CHDF.

The house would sell for $142,000 to a family making $37,000-$49,000/year (60-80% AMI), the same parameters as the 202 Hancock townhouses. The house would also be a part of the CHT. An April 2017 – January 2018 construction is planned. Local company STREAM Collaborative is the house’s architect.

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3. Meanwhile, at the 402 South Cayuga Street site, developer/architect Zac Boggs and Isabel Fernandez are requesting $105,000 towards their 4-unit townhouse project, priced out at $1,020,000, of which $820,000 is for construction. Of the 4 units, one two-bedroom unit will be available to a family making 80% AMI or less (i.e. $49,000/year or less), selling at $150,000. The other three units, 2 2-bedroom and 1 3-bedroom, would be rented out for 2-5 years, and then sold on the “lower-end of market-rate”, which is estimated in the mid to upper $200s. The units would follow LEED standards, and the affordable unit would be put into the CHT.

Precision Builders of Ithaca would construct the project. A May 2016 – June 2017 build-out is planned, though it doesn’t appear to factor in the planning board approval process.

Aside from the grant, most of the funds for the project will come from a bank loan, with $120,000 of their own money and $40,000 in county bond funds. Assuming these are the same size as the 2 and 3-bedroom INHS townhouses, the construction cost comes out to about $170/SF.

One thing that comes to mind in the context of the inclusionary zoning debate is that this might be the only way to really go in the long-term. If INHS gets priced out of feasibility in the city, trying to cover the cost of affordable units with substantially more expensive market units might be the only option, which is a rather uncomfortable thought. One of the issues with inclusionary zoning is that it prices out the middle; developers have to make up the cost somewhere, and the market-rate units are the scapegoats. Communities end up with a small portion of affordable housing, but mostly expensive housing. With this project, part of the money is being recuperated by renting the other units for at least a few years, which some may scoff at, but costs are, what they are.

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4. Habitat for Humanity is requesting $75,000 towards their $305,500 duplex project at 101-107 Morris Street (to be redesignated 202-204 Third Street) on the Northside. Each unit will sell to a familiar making less than 60% AMI ($36,750/year), and the families will have to put in “sweat equity”, helping to build the houses (350 hours of labor). To keep costs down, labor is volunteer-based and materials are donated – as a result, the project only has a $180,000 construction cost, a little over $60/SF.

The units will be two-story, have porches and designed to fit into the neighborhood. The state has given the project a $70,000 grant already, and the city/county/Cornell CHDF has given $80,000. the rest is covered by corporate grants (Cargill, Lowe’s, M&T Bank) and individual donations. A timeline of April 2017 – April 2018 is anticipated.

No renders, but the above site plan was included in the application.

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5. Last, the only truly new project for this post. 622 West Clinton Street in the South Side neighborhood. The applicant, Jerame Hawkins, proposes deconstructing a decaying barn at the rear of the property and replacing it with an affordable owner-occupied duplex. Hawkins, who runs the county’s Youth Advocate Program, would make each unit available to a family making 60% AMI or less ($36,750/year or less), in particular Section 8. The duplex would be modular, 3-beds and 1,561 SF each, with Carina Construction and Finger Lakes ReUse working with Hawkins on the project. The construction cost of $292k works out to about $93/SF.

The house at the front of the property, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated and retained as affordable housing. Hawkins is requesting a grant of $135,000 towards the $364,634 project. A project timeline of October 2016 – January 2017 is given in the application.

The one potential red flag I’m seeing is a line in the app that says “retaining for a minimal [sic] of 1 year”. Either that gets clarified and extended, or the IURA won’t be interested this proposal on account of it not being affordable for long enough a period of time.








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