Brookdale Ithaca Crossings Construction Update, 9/2016

25 09 2016

There’s only a few months left in Brookdale Ithaca’s construction timeline, and the new Crossings facility is starting to look a lot like the anticipated final product. In the past few months, the rough openings have been mostly fitted out with windows, and the exterior walls have been sheathed in housewrap and are in the process of being sided. The installation of A/C units is also underway. Most of the roof appears to be done, although in some sections the tar paper has yet to be shingled. Exterior trim panels and details like the decorative shutters will be attached after the roof and primary walls are finished.

Note that these photos are the living spaces and the bulk of the new 23,200 SF, 32-bed facility, but the front entrance is actually a diagonal (northeastward) extension between the two existing facilities and out towards the front circle. You can see a little bit of  the front entrance gable in the second-to-last photo. More details on the project can be found on the blog here and on the Voice here.

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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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Holiday Inn Express Construction Update, 9/2016

21 09 2016

When I paid a visit to the Holiday Inn Express site at 371 Elmira Road, I had figured the hotel would be complete and open by now. Unfortunately for them, it is not, which means not only did they miss the cash cow of student move-ins, they’re also missing the early fall, when the tourism trade is still strong and there’s plenty of business activity spurred on by the new academic session. Winters tend to be rough for Ithaca’s hospitality industry due to the seasonal drop in occupancy, and it looks like this hotel will have to suffer through that during its first few months of service.

That noted, it does look like the 79-room hotel will open by late fall. The porte cochere has been assembled and the HIE brand signage has been attached to the facade. The only remaining exterior work on the building seems to be applying the EPDM synthetic rubber coating to the roof, and the rear stairwell. They might be waiting until the interiors are far enough along (i.e. most of the materials have been moved in) before closing up the building, installing the rest of the insulation boards and applying the moisture barrier coats before finishing out the EIFS with the rest of the south face.

Outside the building, curbing has been laid (if you’ve never watched a curbing machine in action, it’s actually really cool – video here) and the lighting has been installed, but landscaping and paving have yet to be completed.

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Maguire Fiat/Chrysler Addition Construction Update, 9/2016

20 09 2016

The small addition the Maguire Family of Dealerships is putting on their Fiat/Chrysler location looks to be nearly complete from the outside. The aluminum panels are up, the new east wing is fully glazed and new signage has been posted, both on the building and the stand alone podium signage near Route 13. The parking lot and display have been reconfigured, and the entry drive has been modified. It looks like the only thing left is landscaping and paving by the front of the building. Welliver will be wrapped up within a few weeks, and Maguire’s 2-story, 1,836 SF addition will be done. More info on the project can be found here.

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DiBella’s Construction Update, 9/2016

19 09 2016

From the outside, the Dibella’s pad building is just about done. All that’s left is signage and accessory installations such as bike racks. The open paved space south of the building will be a patio for outdoor dining, which would be a nice spot on a day like this.

The inside is still being finished out – looks like the some interior walls are still waiting for their drywall to be hung, and in other spots, the drywall has been primed but trim and paint have yet to be applied. Allowing a few weeks for trimming and painting and equipment installation, it looks like the sub shop could open by Halloween.

Marx Realty might have switched contractors when work shifted from the building itself to the outfitting of the interior. A&E Construction handled the construction of the building (the “shell space”), but Marco Contractors Inc. of suburban Pittsburgh is handling the interior fit-out. More infp about the DiBella’s project can be found here.

Perhaps because of its high visibility, by a wide margin more emails come in asking about what’s being built here than any other project in the county.

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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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