ITHACA, N.Y.—Construction on several projects continues in Ithaca’s two densest neighborhoods, Collegetown and Downtown. Part two of this month’s three-part construction update gallery series will have a look at those developments, and briefly touch on what’s in the pipeline. For those of who you missed part one, which reviewed Cornell’s plans, you can read through it here.
325 Dryden Road
For a relatively small project, Red Door Rentals and AdBro Development (Greg Mezey and Chris Petrillose) sure knew how to create their share of controversy. This project managed to catch the ire of Belle Sherman residents and of the Board of Zoning Appeals; it took a lot of work by architect Jason Demarest, and some concessions from the developers, to get a new infill project approved for the site in May 2022.
All things considered, it’s not a lot gained, given the heated debate engendered. A 10-bedroom apartment house and a duplex with two three-bedroom units came down to make way for a new seven-unit apartment building at 325 Dryden Road, and a new duplex at 320 Elmwood Avenue. Combined, the redeveloped site will have nine dwelling units with 26 bedrooms.
Now, to his credit, Jason Demarest is known for historically sympathetic designs, and that carried through here, with Victorian and Craftsman elements (roof pitches, dormers, etc.) in the two buildings under construction. Lansing contractor Plumb, Level & Square (Joe Lovejoy) has the duplex fully framed, wrapped in TYPAR housewrap, roofed, and windows fitted but rough openings for the doors yet to be carved through the wrap. The concrete foundation is insulated and will be finished with a stone veneer at a later stage of construction. The larger apartment building is still in the process of being framed, with the ridge beam for the roof gable in place, and interior wood stud walls in the process of being erected.
It’s a pretty safe bet that this project will be ready for student renters in time for the Fall 2023 semester. Advertisements for the project tout a gym, wi-fi, washer and dryer, fully furnished units, in-unit Smart TVs, and an on-site electric vehicle charging station, which will be behind 320 Elmwood. A 3-bedroom, 2-bath is going for $4,500/month online, electric and heat not included, and on-site parking for an additional fee. That marginal increase in total beds, plus the fact that it’s brand new housing, equates to some serious coin in a captive market like Collegetown’s.
According to a filing with the county clerk this week, Chemung Canal Trust Company is providing a $3,072,532 construction loan to build out the project.
The Gem (202 Linden Avenue)
Visum may be expressing some reservations about the development market in general, but Ithaca’s most prolific developer knows the inner Collegetown market is about as safe as Fort Knox as real estate goes. Hence, construction is underway on “The Gem” at 202 Linden Avenue.
Now, the photos above are taken from a distance because the crew from Schuyler County’s Cooley Construction Corporation were actively moving material into the site. You can still see the site is excavated and the foundation walls for the new building are being formed. That section draped in black tarp is likely still curing. Being a three-story, wood-framed structure, it’s plausible that the building will be ready for student renters by August, in time for the fall semester. The request for construction bids on this project gave its cost at $1.55 million.
The Gem, designed by Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, replaces an older three-bedroom house with a 10-unit apartment building hosting 22 bedrooms. Rents range from $1,900/month for a studio to $5,500/month for a four-bedroom unit. Workforce housing it ain’t, and you know Visum will have little trouble filling these units because they’re at Cornell’s doorstep. Units can come fully furnished, provide in-unit washer/dryer, and are dog and cat friendly. Tenants will also enjoy the use of gyms and community spaces provided at Visum’s other properties nearby.
Catherine Commons (210 College Avenue)
Certainly the largest project underway right now is Catherine Commons, stretching along two blocks on the west side of College Avenue. The project is the brainchild of developers John Novarr and Phil Proujansky, who proposed a multi-site “Collegetown Innovation District,” but after facing a lukewarm reception, decided to work on projects one at a time, with Catherine Commons being the “easiest” two of the five sites in terms of programming and scale.
The mostly residential development includes three multi-story buildings on the “Catherine North” Site and three multi-story buildings on the “Catherine South” Site, a total of six buildings with a combined total gross floor area of 265,000 square feet. The buildings will contain approximately 360 residential units (with a net gain of 339 bedrooms vs. the previous 11 apartment houses on-site), a 2,600 square-foot commercial space along College Avenue, a 1,600 square-foot private fitness center, and a small parking lot for ADA compliance and service vehicles. The project also includes streetscape improvements, several ADA-compliant plaza spaces, pedestrian amenities, and public bus stop infrastructure. The city granted approvals to the project in March 2022.
As with many Novarr/Proujansky developments, New Jersey-based ikon.5 is the project architect and Montour Falls-based Welliver is in charge of build-out. Local firm TWMLA is the landscape architect, and is working to blend the building’s enhanced pedestrian features with the College Avenue reconstruction project. Admittedly, that night-time render above isn’t the best for showing color palettes in this multi-building project, but to be honest, it’s the first render of the final product that I’ve seen since approval was granted. I would half-joke it’s because they’re still deciding color combos (and that really was a big debate for the architects during review).
Usually, when we see elevator cores, they’re concrete masonry units, but here they’re steel boxes, which are more typical to commercial high-rises. Remember, most of these buildings will be fairly tall for Ithaca; the buildings facing College Avenue will be 6-8 floors, plus partially exposed basements. The salmon-colored panels are DuPont ArmorWall, an all-in-one panelized, fire-rated sheathing and water-proofing system, made of rigid foam sandwiched between layers of magnesium oxide. It allows for quicker construction and the fire-rating is a big plus, though ArmorWall has a higher material cost compared to the more typical plywood ZIP panels.
Note that big open area at the corner of College Avenue and Cook Street is going to be a large outdoor plaza with soft lighting and outdoor seating (which will look into the fitness center, and while I personally am not a fan of people watching me exercise, but to each their own). At least one of the smaller apartment buildings, Building “4” along Cook Street, is still undergoing foundation work, and the northern half of the project is only just starting to go skyward.
At least some of the buildings are aiming for completion in August, which is going to be a race, though perhaps with the ArmorWall they can pull it off. The project website is touting stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, air conditioning, on-site manager, in-unit laundry, high-speed internet, and on-site two-story fitness center and lounge space. No pets allowed here though. Units will range from $1,850 to $2,800 per bedroom.
Before my email blows up with indignant emails, we have to note the situation for what it is. With North campus complete, Cornell is reluctant to build more units on campus (unless they finally get moving on “Maplewood II”). The student population is still growing. These developments help limit the flow of students into the rest of the city where they would compete with the general population for scarce housing. Experiences may vary, but there aren’t many non-students who can compete with students willing to pay this much for a bedroom.
In addition, these Collegetown apartments aren’t eligible for tax abatements — they will pay the tens of millions they’re assessed at from day one. The construction cost here is over $39 million, and the assessment will certainly be higher. I would comfortably estimate Catherine Commons alone will generate an additional $1 million in property taxes for city, county and the school district (and it’s not like there will be many school kids living there).
You can spin a yarn about how we don’t need these projects and you can make Cornell build more tax-exempt housing and make them pay more in lieu of taxes at the same time, but frankly, with state courts and the electeds in Albany as they are, I’m skeptical.
The Ithacan (215 East State Street)
In downtown Ithaca, construction activity is centered on the redevelopment of the former Green Street Garage. The eastern third is being redeveloped into “The Ithacan” mixed-use project by a team of developers led by Marriott co-owner Jeff Rimland of Rimland Properties.
As planned, Rimland’s $64.3 million development rebuilds the eastern third of the garage with two levels of public parking (about 130 spaces), one ground-level private parking area for the building’s occupants (34 spaces) and 10 floors of residential with approximately 200 apartments, mostly one-bedrooms with about 40 studios and 40 two-bedrooms in the mix. Ten percent of the units will be listed at 80% area median income, and another 10% are set aside for Ithaca College’s Physician Assistant program. A residential lobby would front Green Street, as well as an access hallway between the shops lining the Commons.
The apartments weren’t expected to come onto the market until the start of 2024, but in something of a surprise, apartment manager Greystar now expects some move-ins by the end of this summer. Advertisements posted online promote balconies, in-unit washer/dryers, walk-in closets, air conditioning, dishwasher, high-speed internet, hardwood floors, in-unit microwaves and refrigerators. Building-wide amenities include a fitness center, lounge, multi-use room, and a roof terrace with grills, fire pit and a sundeck. Prices will run from $2,284/month for a basic studio to $3,591/month for a top-end two-bedroom unit.
Purcell Construction Corporation, which also did City Centre just down the block, is the general contractor for The Ithacan. Atlanta-based Cooper Carry is the architect.
The Ithacan will be one of the tallest buildings in the city, 156 feet, 10 inches from the base to the top of the mechanical penthouse. The project is topped out and exterior façade materials are being attached, including a dark grey “cementitious panel” that is the fashionable thing these days, though arguably not the best for one of the cloudiest, greyest regions in America. For the areas to be faced with Accro Cor-Ten metal panels, they get an additional waterproofing and railing for adhesion. The cementitious panel doesn’t need the additional work and utilizes a standard water-resistive barrier. The large steel brackets running along the sides of the building are for the installation of decorative architectural rails. The smaller brackets in that interior wall section are connection joists for the balconies.
Asteri Ithaca (120 East Green Street)
Meanwhile, down on the other two-thirds of the Green Street Garage site, work continues on the Asteri mixed-use project. The central portion of the garage, which had been rebuilt in the 2000s and designed to accommodate additional floors, is essentially complete at this point. Signage and trellises for vines to “soften” its presence will be installed later in the construction process.
Meanwhile, framing continues for the Asteri building, which will be 12 floors at full build-out. The steel stud walls and U.S. Gypsum sheathing can be seen through portion of the mustard yellow panels, which appear to be some sort of panelized exterior wall, perhaps a combo exterior sheathing and water-resistive barrier, though there’s no legible writing to suggest who made it. It might be STO Corporation’s StoGuard, which is used for multi-material facades and is uncommon around here, but I am not sure. The exterior will be finished in aluminum panels and cementitious material (fiber cement). The partially exposed third floor is where the apartment levels begin, and the steel elevator cores/stairwells can be seen towards the rear (north) of the building.
Note that the plastic tarp-enclosed corner next to the Green Street Garage will be the primary entrance to the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center, and the space between the two will host a narrow but landscaped pedestrian walkway that leads to the Cinemapolis Plaza and Home Dairy Alley.
The $108.2 million mixed-use development, which is being developed by the Missouri-based Vecino Group, is a U-shaped 12-story building that will consist of 350 parking spaces in a reconstructed Green Street Garage, the 54,921 square-foot Downtown Ithaca Conference Center and a small amount of retail space. The upper floors of the building will house 181 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom units, and set aside for those making 30-80% of area median income.
The project was approved by the city of Ithaca’s Planning Board in November 2020, and the formal groundbreaking was in September 2021. The project is expected to be complete in early 2024. Welliver is the general contractor for the garage and conference center, and Vecino’s in-house construction team is building the apartment tower, with Northern Mast Climbers of Skaneateles providing the mast climbers and transport platform seen against the building. Vecino’s architecture division is in charge of the building designs. Local firm T.G. Miller P.C. is the civil engineer and The LA Group is the landscape architect.
Gateway Center / “The Dean” (401 East State Street)
Not all projects are shiny new buildings. The five-story, 47,285 square-foot Gateway Center was built as a warehouse way back in 1925. It was partially converted into meeting and office space by Don Dickinson in the 1990s, and then fully renovated into Gateway Center by developer Mack Travis in the early 2000s.
As reported last fall, the local market for office space received quite the beating from COVID and the growing trend of remote work. Between national trends and having a lukewarm market to begin with, the local office market is weak, with high vacancy rates in existing office properties. However, the local housing market remains quite strong. If the existing structure is suitable, that means there’s opportunity for a residential conversion by those with the money and know-how.
Plans detailed by Mack’s son and current company head Frost Travis call for a $19.6 million conversion of the now-vacant office floors into 46 market-rate apartment units. The original working name was the “Gateway Lofts,” but now they are calling it “The Dean” for Harold W. Dean, the Ithaca businessman who built the warehouse a century ago.
The ground floor would still offer commercial retail space for two restaurant tenants and a fitness center. It would also include a 1,800 square-foot community room to be leased at below-market rates to senior services non-profit Lifelong and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (the nation’s first black fraternity, which will have its birthplace monument next door), and available to the general Ithaca community at standard room rental rates.
The upper floors are fairly routine as conversions go; floors 2-5 will host the apartments, the fifth floor will have a community room for tenants, and there will be a rooftop garden terrace and outdoor seating area. The units will be all-electric and comply with the Ithaca Green Building Policy. STREAM Collaborative is the architect and Taitem Engineering is providing the engineering work, while Purcell Construction would be the general contractor in charge of build-out. Tompkins Trust is providing a $15,801,452 loan to finance construction.
The upper floors have been vacated, and the utility chute on the east side indicates that the removal of interior materials is underway. After all, a fairly extensive reconfiguration is going to be required, to remove some existing interior wall partitions and commercial fixtures, and then build out interior stud walls, bathrooms, kitchens and so forth. From the outside, that won’t look like a whole lot because the shell of the building is remaining the side, and most of the exterior was repaired and updated in the 2000s, with plenty of useful life left.
The goal is to have the apartments available for rent by December. Nothing is listed on Travis Hyde Properties’ website yet, but we’ll keep an eye out for updates and rental prices.
Library Place (105 West Court Street)
It’s nice to see the Library Place project making steady progress The 66-unit market-rate senior housing project with ground-level amenity space and retail was the subject of much anxious debate from 2020 to 2022. Now the structure is fully-framed, the water-resistive barrier has been applied, most of the glazing is in, and brick masonry is beginning to be laid from the rear west corner, working its up up the west wall under the plastic sheeting (likely a protective measure from the March cold and moisture, allowing the mortar between the bricks to set properly). The subtle patterns in the brick are a nice touch.
At last check, an opening date has been planned for sometime in the fall (I am still wary of providing specifics given this project’s history). Amenities will include a restaurant, à la carte home health services from an on-site agency, community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, warming pool, and parking. Library Place will also be working with our neighbors at LifeLong to provide on-site activities and programs, per the project’s webpage.
Travis Hyde Properties is the developer alongside Bridges Cornell Heights, HOLT Architects is designing the building, and LeChase Construction is the general contractor. Taitem Engineering provided design consulting services as the project seeks to achieve high-level state environmental sustainability standards (NYSERDA Multi-Family New Construction Program Tier 3).
What’s Coming Next
In Collegetown, there are a few projects that have tentative schedules but yet to begin construction. “The Ruby” a 35-unit project by homebuilder Boris Simkin to be located 228 Dryden Road, has cleared its lot but isn’t expected to start construction until late summer, presumably for a August 2024 opening. The city’s new $9 million fire station at 403 Elmwood Avenue will start construction in December, according to construction bid requests. I have no updates on the 35-unit apartment building proposed for 121 Oak Avenue by Josh Lower, though it’s just about out of time on Site Plan approval. “The William,” a 29-unit building recently approved for 108-110 College Avenue, I would presume to be on a development time similar to 325 Dryden, given that it’s the same developers; late 2023 — August 2024 is possible, though I suspect 2024-25 is more likely if they already rented out the two current apartment houses on-site for next fall.
As for Downtown Ithaca, the Argos Inn has their plans for a rear addition, which is looking at a September start for an opening in Summer 2024. I have no updates on the 353-unit McKinley Gateway Apartments plan. If they start this summer, they might be open in time for the Fall 2025 school year. Urban Encore’s Plan to turn vacant office space into 16 apartments and renovated ground-floor retail at 115-121 and 123 South Cayuga Street is looking at a January 2024 start. As for the new Tompkins County office building, they seem more concentrated on tearing historic buildings down for parking then on putting anything up right now.
Although not Collegetown or Downtown, just because it’s close-ish to those neighborhoods, The Breeze, the 77-unit apartment project slated for the Ithaca Gun site, started site prep in the past week with removal of the contaminated soil. That was after this photo run was made, so we’ll save that writeup for the next construction update.