ITHACA, N.Y.—Summer is construction season for Upstate New York, the time of year when it is easiest to avoid weather-related interruptions for projects large and small. Along with the usual road millings and repavings being taken care of locally, a number of buildings are being constructed across Ithaca and Tompkins County as well.
This month’s construction update will focus on communities outside the city of Ithaca—largely Dryden and Lansing, since that is where most of the suburban construction action is currently, with some stops elsewhere.
Dryden House for Women (West Main Street, Dryden)
Second Wind Cottages, a local non-profit seeking to provide safe, secure housing to previously unhoused individuals, is continuing progress on its development in Dryden. The land was donated after a fire destroyed the previous home on the property several years ago, and over $350,000 has been raised to build and equip the new four-unit apartment building on West Main Street in the village.
Unlike Second Wind’s Newfield development, which provides small cottages for 18 formerly homeless men, the “Dryden House for Women” is intended to service previously unhoused women. Along with the donated funds, Second Wind is building out the structure with the help of volunteers who donate money, time and skills to transform the house from wish to reality.
The small apartment building is a plain two-story structure that will blend in with the many others surrounding it. Two of the building’s units will be two-bedroom apartments, suitable for women with children, and two units will be one-bedroom apartments. Each will come with a kitchen and combination bathroom and laundry room.
The outside is faced with vinyl siding, and the roof and trim are complete. The rough opening for the door is temporarily covered by ZIP panels, and the outline for the porch and its roof is clear — porches, balconies and non-critical structural additions will happen later in the construction process. With any luck, the building will be ready for its first tenants before winter arrives, though as always with projects like this, that’s dependent on materials and volunteer labor availability.
1279 Dryden Road (Town of Dryden)
First proposed back in 2020 and approved earlier this year, Lansing businessman Ryszard (Richard) Wawak has started site preparation for his new apartment complex at 1279 Dryden Road, just east of the Hamlet of Varna. The existing commercial greenhouse has been demolished and the site is being graded and cleared for the slab foundations of the building.
As planned, the 28-unit complex would include 16 studio apartments with lofts in the main section of the building and four one-bedroom units, and two smaller “wings,” in this case smaller buildings decoratively attached to the main structure, with four one-bedroom units apiece. The building’s unusual manor-like design, by local architect Jose Guisado-Cortes, is derived from the Magnus Ridge Winery in Yates County.
The plans also include a small storage structure as a tenant amenity, as well as the usual retinue of stormwater and landscaping treatments. The parking lot will host space for 40 cars, and enclosed bicycle storage will be provided for 30 bikes. The building will be all-electric and Wawak plans to utilize rooftop solar on the south side of the building’s roof to provide for all of its energy needs — while it’s not explicitly stated in documents, that would make it a net-zero energy building.
The apartment complex will be about 14,250 square feet, relatively large by Dryden standards. An untroubled buildout period would plausibly allow for a certificate of occupancy by next summer. Initial estimates in 2020 stated $1,100/month was the target price for a studio, and $1,200-$1,300 for a one-bedroom unit; given the past couple years of inflation, it’s probably a little higher than that now.
As a side note, for those hoping for a comeback by the Plantations Bar & Grill next door, there was no notable progress to speak of on the new restaurant structure to replace the one destroyed by fire. Also, it appeared that a second apartment complex, 42 units planned by Park Grove Realty at 1061 Dryden Road, had yet to start site prep.
Heights of Lansing (Nor Way, Lansing)
The Jonson-Bonniwell family, doing business as Forest City Realty, has continued the steady buildout of its Heights of Lansing for-sale townhouse project in the Village of Lansing. The approach has become fairly standardized at this point, delivering at least one new townhouse string each year.
Each newer string of homes ranges from four to six units, with three-bedroom, four-bath units of about 2,600 square feet in size, and featuring all the premium fits and finishes one expects of a higher-end townhouse unit. Prices for the newest homes are coming in at the upper $500,000s, and selling near asking price.
This year’s four-unit townhouse addition has already hit the market, and the next six-unit string is partially framed with the standard wood studs covered in plywood sheathing and house wrap. The walls between each townhouse unit are insulated and fire-proofed, and the overhead beams of the garages are steel, likely for added durability and stability.
A second four-unit string is just starting work, with the site cleared and leveled, and excavation for the foundation walls now underway. While the structural aspects are the same from string to string, Forest City changes the architectural and material finishes with each string, so no two townhouse strings are exactly alike.
A likely timeline for these units would be a spring 2024 delivery for the six-string, and something in late 2024 or early 2025 for the next four-string. That would leave only one more section yet to build on the south end of the development, with another 30 townhouse lots parceled out but yet to be developed on the north side of the Heights of Lansing.
Village Solars (Village Circle, Lansing)
The Village Solars is continuing its steady, multi-phased buildout off of Warren Road in the Town of Lansing. The approach is unusually low-profile, with no requests for tax abatements. The Lucentes, doing business as Lifestyle Properties, and their mostly in-house construction team build two to three new buildings (18 to 24 units per building) each year. That way it fits their expense budget and the market comfortably absorbs the new units with little slack or extended vacancy.
Earlier this year, the Lucentes tore down one of their old 1960s-era split-level apartment houses that held 8-10 units at 28 Village Circle South, and in its place they’re building two new 24-unit apartment buildings on the south side of Village Circle South.
The usual unit mix on these 24-unit buildings is three three-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units, three one-bedroom units and 12 studios. Although not in this phase, the Lucentes also have an 18-unit building they’ve built in some recent phases.
The new Dryden “Ezra Village” development by Rocco Lucente is basically the same mode of development, and even the building designs are largely the same. The numbers are enormous at a glance, with 749 units proposed, though the original plan was for 952 units, but the number was trimmed down at the village’s urging. The plan is to build two or three apartment buildings, about 48-72 units total per year for the next 10-15 years, likely by the in-house construction team and without any pursuit of abatements.
As the Village Solars have demonstrated, the market can comfortably absorb a modest but steady annual number of apartments coming onto the market. With Ithaca’s economic base and the massive Micron computer chip plant getting underway in the Syracuse area, the Dryden site is well-situated to tap into regional rental markets.
These two buildings at the Village Solars look likely to have fall 2023 and spring 2024 deliveries. These are three-story wood-frame structures that allow for a fairly quick construction process, and the construction crew has years of experience working with this and similar designs across the Village Solars complex. One is largely complete from the outside, the other is still being framed, with window fittings and ZIP panel sheathing working their way up from ground level.
Design-wise, these buildings are similar to the other recently-built buildings, which were originally drawn up by Process Studio PLLC and revised by local engineer Larry Fabbroni II. The apartments utilize higher R-value insulation, electric heat pumps and some include radiant floor heating. Rents range from $1,281 to $2,145 per month depending on the unit. When completed in a couple of years, the Lucentes will have 568 apartments on the Village Solar site, making it the largest non-institutional apartment complex in Tompkins County — at least, until its Dryden sibling comes online with enough phases.
408 East Upland Road (Cayuga Heights)
Local accounting firm Sciarabba Walker & Co. LLP has moved into their new showpiece office building at 408 East Upland Road in Cayuga Heights. This replaces a 1960s office building that was previously on the site, and serves as an expansion to their headquarters in the office building next door.
The new building, designed by local architecture firm HOLT Architects, is net-zero energy, greatly reducing its ecological impact. The angled roof is intended to take maximum advantage of the sun’s rays so that solar panels that will be installed on top can fully supply the building’s energy needs, and all sorts of energy-efficient heating, lighting and construction attributes (LED lighting, geothermal heating, very high R-value insulation) reduce the building’s energy use so that it will be easier for the solar panels to meet the needs of the building and its occupants. Commercial office energy needs tend to have much higher peaks than residential, and as a result, net-zero is much less common for workplaces.
The building is approximately 5,500 square feet, of which about 3,200 square feet is “spec” space the company intends to lease out to other professional office tenants. There are some old advertisements online for the space that appear to be outdated or inactive, and the space remains a grey shell for the time being. The structure is fully framed timber construction, which is lighter and more ecological than conventional wood-frame construction, though more expensive. The construction project was handled by McPherson Builders on Ithaca’s West Falls Street.
Cayuga Health (The Shops at Ithaca Mall)
Renovations are ongoing at the future Cayuga Health facility at the Ithaca Mall on Catherwood Road. In the first phase, which is located in the 54,000-square-foot former Bon-Ton space, there will be shifting and expansion of existing Cayuga Health medical practices, administrative offices and the provision of rentable space to related vendors. The exact mix of practices to be contained in the renovated space is still being determined, but a banner within the mall states that cardiology, primary care, and rheumatology will have a presence in the new space, as well as lab services and a practice clinic for doctors doing their residency training.
A second phase calls for an on-site expansion into the former Sears space, bringing Cayuga Health’s footprint to 108,000 square feet. Cayuga Health purchased the storefronts for $8.5 million, with a smaller 9,000-square-foot interior storefront space on a long-term lease. Cayuga Medical Equipment, the organization’s medical supply store, is already up and running at the mall; the COVID-19 testing site closed earlier this year.
The new exterior façade has been attached (fiber cement panel from the appearance), with plastic sheeting over the new window openings. Plastic sheeting and safety flags on the roof parapet tell us the roof has yet to be finished. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse, which has a history of working with Cayuga Health, is the general contractor for the project. Similarly, HOLT Architects, which has a specialty in medical facilities, is providing the design work.
Cayuge Health has been quite busy this year expanding its facilities, with this project, and the new 65,000 square-foot, 5-story medical office building in the former Carpenter Park (now Cayuga Park) in the city of Ithaca. A third project, a new medical office and services at 260 Tompkins Street in Cortland, opened earlier this year.
Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center (Tibet Drive)
(Note: A first—there are numerous signs across the property saying that photography and video is prohibited. Out of respect for their wishes, and given that there’s no public vantage point from which to take photos, the only photo here is from the public right-of-way at the entrance of Tibet Drive.)
The Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center building itself is largely completed with only a few minor structural details left at most; there were some loose boards on the rear patio, possibly for some sort of interior or exterior finish work. The building is pretty close in appearance to the rendering, though a few exterior details were changed or absent from the delivered building. Outside, the new plaza has been laid, and a large statue of a standing individual is covered in plastic wrap — a brief unveiling from its delivery shows it’s a larger-than-life statue of the 14th Dalai Lama.
HOLT Architects, who designed the new learning center, have interior photos of the nearly-finished building on their Facebook page. The facilities on the first floor include an exhibition area next to the lobby, 24 seats for private study, four computer workstations, and a small reading corner along with four other areas with comfortable chairs for reading. The second-floor facilities include a Great Hall seating up to 250 persons for conferences and other presentations, a large reading room, a conference room and a quiet room for meditation.
According to the website, the library will have copies of all the Dalai Lama’s recorded speeches (80,000 hours’ worth), as well as the 127 books he has authored. In addition to works by the 14th Dalai Lama, the Library and Learning Center will hold the collected works of all the previous Dalai Lamas as well as a copy of the Kangyur and Tengyur, the works of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist masters, hand printed with wood blocks in Tibet.
Alongside HOLT, Edger Enterprises carried out construction of the new 9,200 square-foot Library and Learning Center. A formal opening ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 8. The original hope was to open it in time for the 14th Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday on July 6, but construction hiccups doomed that deadline.
What’s in the Pipeline
In the near term, projects likely to get underway before the snow flies include Trumansburg’s Village Grove mixed-income development, the 16-unit Cayuga Vista townhomes in Lansing, and the new Dandy Mart planned for the corner of Routes 34 and 34B near the Lansing Town Center.
Meanwhile, Menlo Micro will be renovating the former Kionix building in the Cornell Business Park over the next several months for its new New York computer switch plant. The renovation of the TransAct facility into an apartment complex is still down the road, if it happens.
As for Dryden, the Lucente development isn’t expected to begin construction until next spring. 1061 Dryden Road is likely to start soon, and a few smaller construction proposals are in the works at this time.
A few other proposals, such as housing in Dryden on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, and the Cayuga Farms development in Lansing, appear to be mothballed, inactive with uncertain futures. Meanwhile, the Beer Family’s Lansing Senior Cottages off of Millcroft Way have yet to begin construction.
There are some rumblings of explicit residential site plan submissions for portions of the South Works/Chain Works District on South Hill located within the town. The rumor mill is also churning about a possible apartment complex on Tareyton Drive, and a second phase of Cornell’s Maplewood Apartments graduate housing, but once again, if any of those rumblings pan out, construction would be at least a year away, if not longer.