Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 5/2016

29 05 2016

Work on the exterior of the new wing of the Gannett Health Center is in the final stretch. The bluestone veneer is being attached, and the rails (also called “continuous anchors“) are on for the limestone veneer. It looks like insulation panels are still being installed on the upper levels of the west stairwell. When the insulation is attached, the rails are screwed on, the limestone panels are slid into place, and then they’re mortared or caulked into place with silicone.

Most of the work has shifted towards the completion of rough-ins and interior finishing, and the new wing should open for occupancy sometime later this summer (July/August). All operations will shift over into the new wing so that the next phase, renovation of the existing wings, can begin in earnest. The whole $55 million project will wrap up by October 2017.
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News Tidbits 5/28/16: A Battle Between Neighbors

28 05 2016

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1. It seems the Planning Board had something of a philosophical crisis at their meeting, per the Times’ Josh Brokaw. The cause of the crisis is Neil Golder, Todd Fox and 201 College Avenue. Here’s the backstory.

201 College is a 2.5 story, 12-bedroom house on the corner of College and Bool. Local developer Todd Fox has a proposal on the boards for a 5-story apartment building (shown above). Neil Golder lives next door at 203. He moved into 203 in 1972 when he was a grad student at Cornell, bought the place in the early ’90s, lived there with his partner Kathy until she passed a couple of years ago. He still lives there, and rents out spare bedrooms.

201 and 203 were rezoned as part of the 2014 Collegetown rezoning to MU-1. This came only after years of debate, and Neil was one of the residents who pushed to have the properties rezoned in 2009 with a payment in lieu of parking scheme that upset a lot of the landlords, who mounted a significant legal challenge that prevented the rezoning from happening – more about that can be found in this Voice explainer.

For the record, Golder has never been much of a fan of development in Collegetown. His two big things have been that density is bad (but he seems to have mellowed on this issue since the parking push in 2009), and that Collegetown needed a grocery store. He was supportive of Collegetown Crossing because the developer (the Lowers) live next door at 205 and Greenstar will be opening a grocery store on the ground floor.

So, back to the zoning. There are nine MU-1 properties. The four between Catherine and Cook belong to Novarr – he has not expressed any intent to redevelop them. The other five are 215, 209, 205, 203 and 201 College Avenue. Novarr has expressed intent to redevelop 215 starting in late 2017. 209 is Grandview House, a historic landmark, and pretty much untouchable. 205 is Lower’s house, 203 is Golder, and then you have 201.

201 is the southernmost of the nine, and therefore most likely to stand out. The thing is, zoning consistent, when development happens organically, it means the parcel most likely to stand out isn’t necessarily the last one to get developed, nor will it necessarily be the smallest. In this case, the physical transition is from 2.5-3.5 story houses, to 5-story apartment, to 2.5 story house, and then a 3.5 story house and 5-story boarding house.

As of right, Todd Fox can build up to 5 floors and 70 feet tall as an average height. The site slopes slightly, so the building is shorter on the north side than the south side. The design fits the zoning – but it has to go to the BZA for a couple of minor area variances, one for entrances off of Bool, and the other, the board requested the project incorporate – the building was moved northward slightly to allow for street trees and a wider sidewalk on College Avenue. The May agenda noted that the Board had no concerns with either variance.

Golder has sent letters to the Times and the Voice (directly to my colleagues Mike and Jolene but not to me, interestingly), he has been stopping people on the street to sign his petition, he’s tried the ILPC, Planning Board, Historic Ithaca, friends in city government, even the city forester, everything and everyone he can to try and halt the current plans, but there has yet to be a compelling, objective counter-argument.

Countering some of the claims in his many letters, the individual pine trees at the front are not historic landmarks or city-owned, the city has to review and approve of construction plans anyway, and the traffic issue had already been discussed back during the rezoning. The developer has agreed to push the building back, which will give more visibility to Golder’s driveway, and a curb bump-out at the corner is proposed as part of the project. So that leaves the aesthetic argument of “I don’t like it”, which puts the Planning Board in a really difficult spot because as long as the form districts say the design is fine, that argument won’t stand up to a legal challenge.

There is a strong argument with his solar panels, which have been a part of broader discussion within the city. 201’s height would marginalize Golder’s solar panels, so in that case the project causes non-subjective hardship; this could be mitigated if 201 has solar panels (they are being considered) and shares electric, or by other compensation. Although, it might depend on when the panels went in, before or after rezoning. If people start rushing to put up solar panels as a back-door method to thwart development, the city’s going to step in.

So here’s the essence of the issue – after years of fighting over zoning, and finally settling on a compromise in 2014, the city is faced with a development that is legal, but it’s vehemently opposed by a venerable and high-profile neighbor, where the objections can be effectively mitigated, but not necessarily the way he wants them to be. A planning board member has to find the balance between allowing everyone to have their say, and acknowledging valid issues that should be addressed, without letting individuals exert too much control over their neighbors and infringing on property rights.

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2. Okay, onto other things. The city might be acquiring a couple of sizable West End/Waterfront parcels from the county. The properties, which consist of a pier/boardwalk, informal parking and vacant land, are located at the end of West Court and Cascadilla Streets, and are being seized as a tax foreclosure. The county is looking at selling them to the city in exchange for the $42,844 in back taxes. The larger one is 2 acres, the smaller 0.6 acres, and in total they’re valued at $630,000. The owner, an LLC, picked them up for $156,625 in 1999.

If the city picks them up, they’ll be filed into the IURA’s holdings for potential sale down the line. As it is, the parcels have issues – the railway, accessibility, and soils down here are known for being difficult to build on. But in the long term, there’s potential for water-focused amenities, private development, or a combo of the two. It looks like a good investment given the city’s still-in-the-works plan to encourage redevelopment of the West End and Waterfront, so this is worth keeping an eye on as things move forward.

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3. The IURA reviewed funding proposals for affordable housing earlier this Spring, and the minutes are now online. the duplex at 622 West Clinton, and the affordable unit with the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga project were not funded. The IURA is encouraging 622’s applicant to re-submit for next year, and the minutes note that 402 is likely to still go forward, but without the affordable unit.

It’s also been noted that there is some discontent with INHS because the cost of their projects are coming in high, and that they would like more diversity in applying entities. However, the seven townhomes at 202 Hector and the single-family house at 304 Gector (all for-sale housing) are fully funded. The Habitat for Humanity duplex on the 200 Block of Third Street is also fully funded.

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4. Another piece of news from the IURA – the new occupant for the Rumble Seat Music building. It appears to be a drink bar called “Watershed Union“, serving coffee and juice by day and adult beverages by night. Five or six living wage jobs would be created. There might be some grumbling over the moral evils of alcohol, but the business plan has the support of neighboring businesses and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Also, the Canopy Hilton is still moving forward. But are doing a minor LLC ownership change to allow another Patel family member to be a part of the ownership team.

5. Hitting the market this week, for all those big-potato investors out there – the Belmont Townhouses at 324 Spencer Road. The listing from local realtor Brent Katzmann has the price set at $2,595,000, for a 14-unit complex that opened in 1995. The posting mentions the possibility of a 1031 Exchange, which allows an individual to sell a currently-owned investment property, and buy a new investment property of equal or greater value while avoiding capital gains taxes – continuity of investment locks up the profit gained from sale.

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6. House of the week. This house is on the 100 Block of Campbell Avenue on Ithaca city’s portion of West Hill. This home is being built by Carina Construction, an Ithaca-based modular home specialist. The foundation and garage were poured and the pieces were probably craned on and locked together sometime in the past few weeks – a little bit of siding has started to show up on the front. The process is a lot like the one Carina used to assemble the Belle Sherman Cottages across town.

Color me impressed, the design is unique, and once exterior details like the porch and second-level deck go on, I imagine it’ll look really nice. Tompkins Trust lent $280,000 back in April, and the construction permits were issued not long thereafter (the total project cost is in the $320k range, per the permit filing). The land was created in a lot subdivision last year, and sold for $35,000 last August.





Upson Hall Construction Update, 5/2016

26 05 2016

Taking a gander at Upson Hall, it looks like the renovation project is coming along nicely. The bump-outs are built out, sheathed and covered with the turquoise water resistant barrier. It looks like an insulation layer is going on top of the barrier, and then clips for the grey terra cotta panels. Many of the windows have been fitted, and the south windows of the west wing have had white aluminum surrounds installed, but the west face of the west wing is still metal stud walls, and neither of the bump-outs have received glazing.

Note that the building renovation is in two phases – the work set to wrap up this August focuses on floors 3, 4, and 5. Floors 1, 2 and what’s left in the basement will be finished over the following 12 months. There’s a third phase after those two, mostly dealing with enhanced landscaping.

According to Cornell’s project update page, mechanical rough-ins are underway for the rooftop equipment, and then the interior work (rough-ins, drywall, painting, ceiling installation) which is generally further along the farther up in the building one goes.

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Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 5/2016

25 05 2016

From Tower Road, it doesn’t appear a whole lot has changed since the last construction update in March. Work has shifted away from new construction somewhat, and towards the demolition of underused academic space to make way for the rest of the Vet School reconfiguration and expansion. The reinforced concrete frame of the new library and dean’s wing has advanced a bit, and new curtain wall glazing appears to be going in on the Vert Research Tower. The project is a bit disjointed because of the needs of academic space and surging at various times of the year.

Thanks to the kindness of a woman in blue scrubs, I was able to enter the building. While trying to find a good angle of the new demolition (couldn’t, but there’s a photo on the Vet School website here), I stumbled upon a model and timeline of the project, pictures below. According to the timeline here, the project completion is January 2018, not June 2017 as reported on the website. Dunno which one is more accurate. The model does a great job illustrating the full breadth of the project in relation to the rest of the vet school complex.

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Looking east from Tower Avenue. Rendering property of Cornell.

Looking east from Tower Avenue. Rendering property of Cornell.

Looking west from new courtyard. Rendering property of Cornell.

Looking west from new courtyard. Rendering property of Cornell.





DiBella’s Construction Update, 5/2016

24 05 2016

One restaurant opens, another is just getting underway. NYC-based Marx Realty, operating as Ithaca Joint Ventures LLC, is finally starting work on the DiBella’s pad building long-planned for the Ithaca Shopping Plaza off Old Elmira Road.

DiBella’s first started planning for an Ithaca location back in November 2014. After a few design iterations, the project was approved by the Planning Board and BZA late last summer. The restaurant replaces what was previously part of the shopping center’s parking lot.

The exterior will be similar to DiBella’s other recent stand-alone restaurant locations – CMU faced with brick and stone veneer, decorative sconces (light fixtures), and a “patina green” patio roof. The size of the building will be about 3,400 square feet, which is typical for the Rochester-based sandwich chain. The interior will be designed with a 1930s/1940s era theme, also standard for the DiBella’s chain. Along with the building comes a revised parking arrangement for 35 cars, bike racks, signage, landscaping and a modest patio area. Early Site Plan Review documents estimate the project cost at $600,000.

As for the construction images, it looks like the foundation’s sub-base is being prepared for the foundation slab. This is going to be concrete slab-on-grade, no basement. The sub-base will give a uniform base from which to build upon, and helps to compact the soil, making it less likely to undergo excessive settling. The soils down in the flats are notoriously difficult to build on, because they are very soft and compressible – the shopping plaza, which was originally built in the 1950s, has had some mild settling issues. I don’t see anything to confirm it, and someone knowledgeable feel free to chime in, but it would seem removal and replacement of existing fill is likely to approach used here, similar to the Texas Roadhouse project. The drum roller in the last photo supports that idea. The turquoise pipes are water-sewer pipes.

The FEAF estimates a seven month construction period, so a late fall opening isn’t out of the question. DiBella’s expect to employ about 25.

A&E Construction of suburban Philadelphia is the project contractor, and the building was designed by Ithaca architect Jason K. Demarest.

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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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