Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 9/2016

22 09 2016

LeChase Construction is making good progress on Conifer LLC’s 68-unit Cayuga Meadows apartment project off of West Hill Drive in the town of Ithaca. The wood frame is topped out on the north side of the L-shaped building, where they’re starting to nail plywood (the decking) to the roof trusses – later they’ll be covered over with tar paper or a similar material, followed by the shingles. It also looks like they’ve started attaching a little Tyvek housewrap to the second floor of the structure. As you go southward, framing is only up to the second floor, with rough openings in the plywood for doors and windows. At the rear of the property, a trench has been dug for a new water main, which is being routed below what will be the building’s parking lot.

The apartment units, which are intended for seniors with limited incomes, are expect to be ready for occupancy next fall. More information about the project can be found here.

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Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 8/2016

31 08 2016

Tompkins Financial Corporation’s decision to build in downtown Ithaca is seen as something of a major victory by civic groups and local leaders. For one, it’s a major economic investment, and for two, it’s taken by many as a sign that downtown Ithaca has “turned the corner”.

Tompkins Financial Corporation is the parent company of Tompkins Trust Bank, as well as some other financial units. The company can trace its roots back to Tompkins County Bank’s formation in 1836. Along with Tompkins, TFC also manages several smaller banks throughout New York and Pennsylvania, totaling 67 branches and about 1,100 employees. About 280 of those work in downtown Ithaca at the current headquarters.

Currently, the office space is decentralized, scattered throughout multiple downtown sites and one suburban site, some of which are owned and others of which are rented. The bank began studies several years ago to examine a new headquarters, and looked at an urban location downtown, and a suburban location. Throughout the last 50 years, most large private companies have opted for the latter, and not without good reason. The logistics are simpler, the land is cheaper, the parking is easier – a study commissioned by TFC showed they could have saved over three million dollars by choosing a suburban site. But, as downtowns like Ithaca’s have made a resurgence in popularity, and given the bank’s long-time presence in downtown, they decided to pursue the urban option.

The new headquarters, first proposed in March 2015, will keep 282 employees in downtown (making an average annual wage of about $81k), add 18 more from the consolidation of the Craft Road office in Lansing, and potentially add a number of new jobs as the bank continues to grow. The IDA application gives 6 new positions over 3 years, all well over living wage; paperwork submitted to the city says 77 jobs over ten years. The project applied for and received a ten-year tax abatement from the Tompkins County IDA, saving about $4.06 million in property taxes and $2.112 million in one-time sales taxes. The community hearing was generally supportive for an abatement, and even with the reduced short-term tax bill, a net positive of $3.78 million will still be paid in taxes over the next decade.

Now, a little about the site and the building. The project is really two separate projects, one much smaller than the other. The first, at 119 E. Seneca, will build a 965 SF drive-thru bank branch on what is current first floor parking underneath a 1970s office building owned by TFC. The surface lot will be reconfigured to support the drive-thru functions, and retain a small amount of parking space.

Across the street is where the real meat of the project is. Construction is currently underway on a 7-story, 110,000 SF commercial building at 118 East Seneca, with customer services and 20-25 parking spaces on the first floor and office space on floors 2-7, which will have larger floor-plates that will overhang over the first floor. The first through third floor offices will be geared towards consumer retail operations, and the top four floors will house general operations and senior leadership. The building will be 100 feet tall, just like the 10-story Marriott finishing up a few blocks away. Modern office buildings usually have 14′ floor-to-ceiling heights due to the size of heavy-duty commercial utility systems, better visibility and natural light penetration, and to provide ample accommodation for tenants’ computer equipment. A bit of a prestige factor also comes into play. Materials include a granite base, stone veneer on the front, light and dark brick veneer, and aluminum panels on the top floor’s sides and rear walls. TFC’s HQ will be built to LEED standards, but the company will not be seeking LEED certification due to the costs involved.

The new headquarters replaces a parking lot and drive-thru bank branch  built in 1990, and prior to that the site was home to the two-story Temple Theater, which despite described as “cramped”, “shabby” and “grungy”, brought to Ithaca the first showings of “The Godfather” and other big-budget films of the early 1970s. The Temple Theater operated from 1928 to 1976, when it closed not long after the mall opened in Lansing. The building was razed not long afterward.

Estimated costs have bounced around a little bit – initially reported as $26.5 million, they were up to $28 million by the time of the IDA application, and $31.3 million at the time of groundbreaking. The March sketch plan called for final approvals by June 2015, but they didn’t happen until December 2015. Not entirely the city’s fault, the timeline was very ambitious.

The site has been partially cleared and the existing drive-thru branch has been demolished. Currently, the project is undergoing foundation excavation and pile-driving. You can see the trenches being dug along the perimeter, and wood lagging and steel H beams have been laid along the outer edges to provide stability to the soil and buildings of adjacent properties. According to the report from Elwyn & Palmer, the project team will dig down about 12-13 feet for the sub-floor, thenceforth pile driving shall commence, 65-70 feet down. It’s anticipated the sandy soils will make the pile-driving move along faster, but the other buildings nearby will necessitate temporary support installations during the excavation process. Ithaca firms HOLT Architects and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects are responsible for the design of the project, and Rochester’s LeChase Construction is the general contractor.

When TFC’s new headquarters opens in March 2018, expect something of a glut in the local office market as a lot of space is emptied in a short time. TFC CEO Grag Hartz has said that 119 and 121 East Seneca would be held onto and rented out, with the bank retaking space in those buildings as it needs. However, their office and bank on the Commons (the historic 2 and 3-story buildings on Bank Alley just south of the M&T Building) would be sold. The project is indirectly spurring Bank Tower’s conversion to apartments, given the tepid office market but very hot residential market downtown. Token teaser if you’ve read this far – a second conversion project is in the early stages.

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Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 8/2016

30 08 2016

In case you missed it, I did an interview with owner/developer David Hart of Hart Hotels, which can be found on the Voice here. Here’s some of the material that didn’t make the final cut.

Q: So, let’s start with a little about you. Hart Hotels is family operation, yes?

DH: My dad was the founder of our company, my sisters and I have followed him as principals. But we have non-family members who have been with us for a long time that have been a driving force. This is our 30th year in business.

Q: This is actually the second phase, right? There was a modernization and renovation already completed in the lobby and hotel area, if my notes are right.

DH: The 61 rooms in the hotel tower, we renovated down to the studs. The main building above the lobby has another 19 rooms, original 1970s guestrooms, we renovated to the studs as well, a little over a year ago. Now we’re into phase 2, which is new construction, and some more renovations.

Q: I believe plans filed with this plan have a third phase, right? One that considers the possibility of a three-story hotel addition on the wing going up now, and a conference center?

DH: Nothing planned or approved right now.

Q: Further on that topic, some folks have expressed concerns that [the hotel boom] is not economically sustainable. A sort of fear of a hotel bust to follow the hotel boom. What would you say to address those concerns?

DH: One of the things that we’re lacking is a large format meeting space, a type of conference center. It’s unusual for a city the size of Ithaca to not have its own meeting space, so part of our overall market preference is inhibited by not having that space. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for demand to outstrip supply on many weekends in Tompkins County or downtown Ithaca, so I don’t see the problem of oversupply on most Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. So Sunday-Thursday business is where the boat needs to be lifted a little bit, especially with all the new rooms. Our meeting space will help that a little bit.

Q: As a major hotel operator, what would you say are the biggest advantages to being in Ithaca and specifically, downtown Ithaca, and what are the biggest challenges? What opportunities do you see over the next years? Where do see the Hotel Ithaca, in say, five years from now?

DH: Some of the hurdles are the seasonality, the winter vs. summer. The Finger Lakes are a popular destination, but the seasonality is harsher when the schools are out of session, we’re reliant on the interest the schools and colleges generate. Cornell and Ithaca College bring a lot of business to us. Sports, scholastic events, meetings, they drive a lot of demand from the routine list of activities in the school calendar. This is a strong region for hospitality, we’ve been in the Ithaca area for a while, the region continues to grow in popularity with the wineries, the cheesemakers, the distillers and craft beer-makers, those are all part of the things we have to sell and market and promote. And lake activity and recreation is also a part of our overall marketing and selling of the region. That translates to hotel room demand.

…In terms of expansions, sites in downtown are hard to come by and expensive, so I don’t know how much more new supply there will be downtown. If you look at 13, there have been new hotels, they’re fringe, limited-service, so we might see some growth out there, but there are a fair number of rooms and brands there so I don’t know how much more they can grow….

We want to be ready for graduation, have the building closed up by winter. The frame is being assembled offsite.

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209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 08/2016

23 08 2016

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

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

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

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Village Solars Construction Update, 8/2016

23 08 2016

Continuing to take photos during a pouring rain is not one of my wiser choices.

The Village Solars project in the town of Lansing continues its forward march. Phase II, which consisted of three buildings (D, E, G/H) and 41 units, has been completed and has welcomed its first tenants. Skipping over Phase IIA’s mixed-use building (F), construction is underway on Phase III and its two 18-unit buildings. Building “I” is the one further along, the foundation poured and the first floor framed out and sheathed in Croft Lumber housewrap. Building “J” is a little farther behind, with excavation and concrete forms still being used to hold the pours in place. Once the foundation walls are complete, the slab will be poured, left to cure, and if the cured concrete is satisfactory, then wood frame construction can begin. Construction of “I” began after “D” was completed in May, and “J” looks to have started work as “E” and “G/H” wrapped up more recently in June and July.

The Village Solars project appears to have inspired a similar project in the Albany suburb of Latham, consisting of an office building and two buildings with 21 apartment units. According to the Lucentes (the family that runs Lifestyle Properties and the developers of the Village Solars), the president of Sunrise Management is an old family friend, so the inspiration isn’t as unusual as it looks at first glance.

Expect buildings “I” and “J” to be ready late next spring or summer. Phase IIA is an unknown, and Phase IV and its 3 buildings/51 units will probably be on a 2017-18 construction timeframe. Long-term plans call for a second set of phases that would result in another 140 or so units, for a total of over 300.

According to Lifestyle Properties’ facebook page, there a few units left in the current build-out: a one-bedroom at $1105/month, some two-bedroom units starting at $1275/month, and three-bedroom units starting at $1580/month.

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News Tidbits 8/6/16: Big Ideas and Small Additions

6 08 2016

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1. Some of you might remember that Chemung Canal Trust Company was embroiled in a legal battle with Ithaca Renting (Jason Fane) over the terms of their lease of 12,000 SF on the first floor of Bank Tower on the Commons. Welp, the courts have issued their decision, and it looks like Chemung Canal lost. The Elmira-based bank had to revise their quarterly earnings report after losing the dispute with their former landlord. The terms of the payout have yet to be determined, but Fane was seeking $4 million, which is in the same ballpark as the cost of Fane’s renovation of the top floors into 32 apartments. CCTC is still looking into an appeal.

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2. It hasn’t been a secret that the price of real estate in Collegetown is getting enormously expensive. First John Novarr dropped $5.3 million on 215 College Avenue. Then Todd Fox forked over $2.65 million in June for 201 College Avenue. Now it’s Novarr’s turn again, handing over $4.75 million on the 2nd for 119, 121 and 125 College Avenue (or more specifically, an LLC filed to an address used by Novarr for his many LLCs). The three houses are collectively worth about $1.655 million, per the county assessor. Here’s a tip for readers – if you’re looking at a built property that’s recently sold, if it was purchased for more than double the existing tax assessment, the property was most likely sold based on its development potential. Less than that but still well above assessment, and it’s more likely major renovations/gentrification/Fall Creek/not being torn down.

Anyway, we already have an idea what’s planned – Novarr wants to do 50-60 units of faculty townhouses on the site, a 3-4 story, $10 million project.

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3. The other big sale this week (using that term subjectively, since someone just paid $1.25 million for a Cayuga Heights mansion) was 1015 Dryden Road out in Varna. Modern Living Rentals (Todd Fox/Charlie O’Connor) has had this 5-unit rental property on the market for a little while now, initially for $650,000, then $599,000.  The buyer “Finger Lakes Wrestling Club Inc.”, agreed to purchase the property on August 2nd for $555,000. MLR purchased the property for $425,000 in 2014. The wrestling club is listed as a non-profit serving youth training and competing in wrestling, and their plans for the property are unknown – the sale comes with plans for a pair of duplexes (4 units total), and the triplex designed by STREAM Collaborative shown above. I’ve heard of non-profits renting out real estate assets to fund their endeavors, so maybe that’s the plan.

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4. A pair of housing newsbits. Per the ILPC, the former Paleontological Research Institute  at 109 Dearborn is ready for its next phase of renovation into a rather swanky two-family residence. Background on the property from last August here. Long story short, it’s a gut renovation of a non-contributing structure of a historic district, the commission didn’t have much to say when it presented last year. This time around, the applicant wants to trade out the lower-level shingles for stucco, and the west entrance bump-out has been eliminated; anecdotal evidence says the ILPC won’t be excited, but it’s probably acceptable, since non-contributing buildings generally have an easier go with the commission.

A little further south on East Hill, local landlord Nick Lambrou wants to subdivide the large lot of 125 Eddy Street in order to build a new two-family residence. Jagat Sharma is the architect-of-record for the proposed 123 Eddy Street, which is a part of the East Hill Historic District and would have to go through ILPC approval. It will also need to pay a visit to the BZA because it’s proposed without parking (although the CPOZ was removed last year, an East Hill property still requires a parking space every 3 bedrooms) and will need a variance. Offhand, the Planning Board likely won’t be roped in on this one, since one-and-two family homes usually only need to be approved by planning department staff. Lambrou and Sharma are frequent contributors, and have faced the ILPC together before, for the reconstruction of 202 Eddy Street after it was destroyed by a fire in early 2014. The focus right now is just getting the subdivision approved, the ILPC presentation and vote will come at a later date.

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5. STREAM Collaborative sent out their bi-annual newsletter, and there are a couple of interesting pieces worth re-sharing. There were brief items about the “Urban Cottage” at 228 West Spencer, Tiny Timbers and 409 College Avenue, as well as some info about 215-221 West Spencer. STREAM writes that Ed Cope has broken ground on the STREAM-designed 12-unit, 26-bedroom condominium complex. This must have been fairly recent, as the hillside was undisturbed during a site check a couple weeks ago. Anecdotally, a condo project in Ithaca needs 50% pre-sales (i.e. 6 units) in order to secure a construction loan, but there isn’t any loan on file with the county yet, so I can’t say with any certainty what the funding arrangement looks like. On the fully revamped webpage are some nifty interior renders, including the image above. Anyone interested in the 1-3 bedroom condos can contact Ed Cope at PPM’s website here.

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Also in the newsletter was an image from the latest set of Form Ithaca charrettes. “Buttermilk Village”, a working title for the South Hill neighborhood plan. The render above is looking northeast from the intersection of 96B and East King Road, with Ithaca College’s Circle Apartments to the upper left. Among the design features are a walkable town square, 2-4 story buildings, complete streets, and mixed uses with less dense residential further from the main roads. Some of the businesses like Sam Peter and Dolce Delight are in there to give that sense of familiarity. Most of this land is owned by Evan Monkemeyer, who’s still fuming from the College Crossings debacle. But rumor has it he’s working with another developer on a plan. It would be quite a feather in Form Ithaca’s cap if it looked something like this.





Upson Hall Construction Update, 7/2016

1 08 2016

There are two different facade installations going on here – the terracotta, and the aluminum. For the terracotta, the process goes like this. First, we have the gypsum sheathing, coated with a turquoise-colored water-resistive barrier. The ends of the aluminum clips are installed onto the sheathing, and then mineral wool insulation is attached between the clip. Then, the rest of the aluminum clip is attached over the mineral wool. From there, terracotta panels are hung up and secured to the clips. The aluminum window surrounds don’t need this type of work, so the panels are just hung as-is over the sheathing.

According to Cornell’s Upson Hall webpage, Phase I is nearing completion at this point. That means that floors 3, 4 and 5 are nearly finished inside and out, and work will shift towards the basement, the first and second floor. Some work has already been done in the basement with utility and infrastructure upgrades. It’s really quite a feat that the building is continues to be occupied while all the construction is going on, the work split between the top half and bottom half. Also, kudos to the faculty, staff and students who have to put up with the noise and multiple moves while the work takes place. The fully-renovated Upson Hall should be ready by next August.

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