ITHACA, N.Y.—It’s not every day a large apartment complex sells in Tompkins County. Even the older complexes can fetch good dollars with the big buyers—or in this case, $24.8 million good dollars.

The University Park Apartments, located at 87 Uptown Road in the village of Lansing, sold for a hefty $24.8 million per the deed filed on Feb. 16. The seller was an LLC at 186 Pleasant Grove Road in Cayuga Heights, the same location as longtime Ithaca landlord Kimball Real Estate. More specifically, the filing lists businessman Peter J. Sarkus as a managing partner of the selling LLC—Sarkus is a long-time Ithaca real estate developer, landlord, and business partner of the late Peg Kimball, who founded Kimball Real Estate.

Perhaps more interesting to the reader is the buyer. The purchaser of the apartment complex was an LLC at 226 Cecil A. Malone Drive in the city of Ithaca—the address of Visum Development Group’s office.

Visum, of course, is best known for being one of the major players in the Tompkins County development scene over the past several years. University Park is a 197-unit apartment complex that opened in the early 1970s. One might first wonder if Visum might tear it down and make way for some sort of redevelopment. As it turns out, the short answer is no.

As for the long answer, here’s where it gets a little wonky. This isn’t a conventional sale with a loan from a bank or credit union. The lender is the seller; Sarkus’s LLC lent Visum’s LLC $20.8 million, per the legal filings. To briefly summarize, Visum has entered a series of legal agreements where it doesn’t fully own the property, it has effectively bought in to be the property manager on behalf of Sarkus and his business partners. Visum keeps the buildings in good order, pays the taxes and water bills, and collects the rents (likely getting some cut of those revenues), and it also agrees to certain restrictions—for a company known for its new construction projects, one detail that stands out is that not to demolish and remove any building without the consent of Sarkus’s LLC.

When reached for comment, Visum CEO Todd Fox explained that the 10.67-acre complex isn’t intended for any new building project. Rather, Visum sees a potential opportunity to grow its business portfolio by other means, namely property management through its “Live More Ithaca” business unit.

“Visum doesn’t actually have any ownership of 87 Uptown Road. Our sister company is handling the property management of 87 Uptown for the ownership group for the property,” said Fox.

“I can say that we are exploring an expansion into property management as a good way to refocus our time and resources, and everything is on the table at this point. New construction development has seemed to become untenable for the time being. Construction costs are almost 50% higher than they were four years ago. The only way to make projects pencil (out) is to increase rents, but rents can only be pushed so high until they eventually come crashing back to earth. You’re seeing rent price compression in every major market around the country and a lot of developers are getting crushed because of it.” 

In fact, Fox made clear that Visum is stepping back from the development scene; one of Ithaca’s most prolific developers of the past several years is now deciding to sit back and wait for less choppy real estate market conditions. The near-term investments are planned for opportunities to get into property management locally, and potential new development opportunities in other markets, like the firm’s Vanguard project in Boise, Idaho.

Fox did make clear that building plans like the Breeze, the Citizen, the Gem and 510 MLK would be completed. Beyond that, for projects like Strawberry Hill, The Hive or the Neighborhood of the Arts, it’s anyone’s guess, including Fox’s.

“Visum is committed to finishing the current projects that we received site plan approval, with the exception of the Hive as a big unknown, but once those get out of the ground, we’re going to sit back and let someone more bold than us take all the risk. There are plenty of new opportunities we are pursuing outside of new construction and the Ithaca market,” Fox stated. 

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at