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 former, 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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News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 8/2016

27 08 2016

If all had happened to plan, the hotel would have opened this past Tuesday. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned, as it often happens with large construction projects. Marriott’s website gives an October 2016 opening. A few simulations of the room interiors are included below. If I remember right, a while back someone told me that the rooms are a little smaller than Marriott’s standard (which looks to be true – the king-sized rooms are 300 SF, and comparables that I’m finding at other Marriotts are 360 SF), so the interiors were designed to be more plush and higher-quality to compensate. Among the amenities include 49″ TVs, Wi-Fi, mini-fridges, a business center, a fitness center, an “M Club Lounge“, laundry service, complimentary coffee/tea, down comforters, and a bunch of other things that are staples of premium hotels. The in-house restaurant will be called “Monks on the Commons”, and serve American comfort food, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kinda interesting to see which local restaurants they chose to highlight on their website.

Of the 159 rooms (finally, a confirmation it’s not 160!), 8 will be suites, and the hotel’s 3 meeting rooms total just under 2,500 SF. I tried to set up a reservation to see the prices, but the website wasn’t allowing bookings. The “largest event space” can hold 198 guests, along with the ridiculously cheesy line of “Reserve our wedding venue in Ithaca, NY and say ‘I do’ in a ceremony as unique as your love. ”

So, those are to-be’s, now to the what-are’s. On the outside rear, the Nichiha fiber cement panels are being attached to the waterproofed sheathing. The brick is done, but the stone veneer on the lower floors has yet to be applied. You can get an idea of the interior work underway by peering through the suite rooms, which face the Commons and State Street; notice the work on the ceilings progressing as one works their way down from the top floors.

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409 College Avenue (Student Agencies eHub) Construction Update, 8/2016

26 08 2016

The Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue has received its new glass curtain wall. The glazing seems to have just arrived judging from the brackets. New windows have yet to be installed in the center column, and there’s still other work on the exterior to-do list, such as the etched glass railing for the second-floor balcony, the brise soleil, and minor trim work.

Note that the top (fourth) floor appears to have also been redone. This was not in any of the renders, although the Planning Board’s Design Review panel probably had to sign off on it. It’s likely that this is one of the reasons why the renovation work has gone on longer than anticipated.

STREAM Collaborative is the architect, and on their website are some interior renders of the new eHub co-working space. A couple shots are embedded below, but more can be found on STREAM’s website here. Morse Construction Management is the general contractor.

EDIT: I asked STREAM’s Noah Demarest if the fourth floor was a last minute change. “Yes. Last minute change due to the facade being in far worse condition than we thought. It is completely rebuilt. We have technical drawings we submitted to staff but never updated the renders.”

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205 Dryden (Dryden South) Construction Update, 8/2016

25 08 2016

There will probably be one last follow-up group of photos. The exterior masonry work is ongoing, but according to owner/developer Patrick Kraft, the development team (Kraft, general contractor LeChase Construction, architect Jagat Sharma, etc.) is shooting for a Labor Day weekend completion. The ruminations and before/after photos can wait until that time. Meanwhile, the apartment units are occupied and the safety systems (fire alarm/sprinkler) are online.

The Cornell Daily Sun is reporting that the suites are occupied although there’s still some last-minute finishing work like painting, trim and custom window dressings. Common spaces such as the gym also have yet to be finished, according to 14850.com.

A quick glance shows that precast panels and AC units are being installed on the front of the building, while the back side appears to be completed. The steel rails between the rows of windows serve as heavy-duty anchors for the panels. The glass entryway for the first-floor retail space is still covered with plywood for the moment. No tenant has been announced for the 2,400 SF space, although Kraft hopes to land someone that will complement the Johnson School building going up next door.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Number two on the follow-up of Collegetown mid-rises, the 22-unit, 53-bedroom Dryden Eddy Apartments should be open to tenants by this Friday. According to developer Steve Fontana, the issue was that the elevator had yet to be fully integrated with the fire alarm system, so the city couldn’t issue a certificate of occupancy until that was taken care of.

Also worth noting, Fontana has secured two tenants for the first-floor commercial space (originally it was supposed to be a gym, but those plans faded out at some point). The Papachryssanthos family, one of Collegetowns old greek families and the proprietors of the Souvlaki House two buildings down, will be splitting the 1800 SF into a liquor store (aptly named “Ithaca Wine and Spirits”) and a café called “Chatty Cathy”. The owners of the East Asian grocer Tung Fong retired, and the Pixel bar and Club Sudz laundromat have passed into memory.

While not as ground-breaking as 307 College, 327 Eddy still serves as a useful addition to Collegetown, offering density in an appropriate location and maintaining a wall-to-wall streetscape with its neighbors. The density will be an asset by providing additional foot traffic to neighborhood businesses, and (back-of-the-envelope estimate) there will be an additional $160,000/year in property tax revenues for the city, county and school district. The final product fits in with a nice design, though I personally prefer the originally-approved plan, with one more floor and a crown set back from the face in the shape of a triangular prism. The rectangular crown makes it look too similar to its neighbor down the road at 309 Eddy. Something I had not realized until now was that the rear (east) face was totally reworked as well, with bay window projections instead of the smaller “punch-out” windows, which comparing the two, seems to be an improvement. But I digress, taste is subjective.

The construction cost was at least $4.824 million, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust Company. G.M. Crisalli and Associates of Syracuse served as general contractor for the project.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Although Greenstar had yet to open this weekend when these photos were taken (it opened Tuesday), it’s safe to say that this project is complete. The plantings and outdoor benches for the pedestrian walkway are seeking the planning board’s approval for tweaks (straight benches vs. curvy benches, large shrubs in place of trees), and assuming they’re granted, those will be installed and rooted in a few weeks.

We could look at this project as a lot of numbers. Four years of planning. Six floors. $10.5 million construction loan. 46 units. 96 bedrooms. $1,000/month rent. 3,200 SF grocery store. 14 living-wage jobs created by said store. Two bus pull-off spaces. One parking space for delivery. Zero parking spaces for residents.

We could also get qualitative with it. Collegetown Crossing really was the pioneer of the new urban movement that has become more popular in recent years, both from livability and walkability standpoints as well as the financial perspective. Students have trended away from vehicle ownership in the past 15 or so years, from 50% in 2000 to 27% in 2012. Concurrently, there’s been a bigger emphasis on denser, mixed-use neighborhoods – malls and suburban apartment complexes are less popular than they were, and street-front shops with apartments above are making a resurgence, as the Commons and downtown Ithaca are demonstrating. Collegetown Crossing really helped to catalyze the conversation already underway, and no doubt had an influence on Collegetown’s hybrid form-based zoning code that did away with parking in the valuable core of the neighborhood. So the other new apartment buildings with active-use ground floors, Cornell’s Breazzano Center, and whatever else comes forth, they owe a hat tip to Collegetown Crossing and its developer, Josh Lower.

And speaking of hat tips, for all of the problems Hayner Hoyt has had this year, they deserve a big round of applause for finishing this project within its tight deadline, even with the other construction and logistical issues currently plaguing Collegetown. Jagat Sharma also deserves recognition for a project that looks pretty nice. When I was writing about the Collegetown delays in the Voice and speaking with Lower on the phone, he asked what I thought, and I said it came out better than I expected. Cue the awkward phone pause. What I meant was that the flat-looking perspective drawing doesn’t do the building justice, the built product is much more interesting to look at.

It looks good, the grocery and pedestrian alley enhance the quality of life for neighborhood residents, it replaces an unappealing two-story building, and it helps build the tax base. This project is a big positive.

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