ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca Voice is continuing this month’s construction gallery series with a look at downtown projects, just in time to supplant any awkward Thanksgiving dinner table chatter.
Last week featured galleries of ongoing projects at Cornell and the Collegetown area. Next up is downtown and Ithaca’s inner neighborhoods, followed Wednesday by a gallery of projects elsewhere around the city.
The 12-story Asteri Ithaca building adjacent to the Ithaca Commons is topped out and sheathed. Work continues with the installation of exterior cladding, a combination of fiber cement and aluminum metal panels. The blue material is likely a water-resistive barrier, to protect the sheathing from any water the fiber cement (basically, wood fiber mixed with concrete) absorbs. Notably, as seen in the second photo, the concrete stairwells are not being coated with the water-resistive barrier.
Utility rough-ins (electrical, mechanical, and plumbing installations) are ongoing in the upper floors, while the lower floors show that drywall is being hung but flooring and major fixtures have yet to be placed. Most windows, but not all, have been fitted into the structure. Concrete planters have been poured and set in the alleyway connecting the site to the Commons.
As designed, the $108 million Asteri project consists of a pair of components. The first was the renovation and expansion of the newer middle section of the Green Street Garage to host 350 parking spaces, which has been completed. The second component is the highrise, which will host the 49,000 square-foot Downtown Ithaca Conference Center on its lower levels, and 181 apartments on the upper floors. The unit mix will be 78 studio, 87 one-bedroom, eight two-bedroom, and eight three-bedroom apartments.
The conference center will contain a 12,300 square-foot ballroom, a junior ballroom and breakout rooms, 6,300 square feet of pre-function and trade show space, and a full production kitchen with all-electric units. With the help of grants, the facility is going to be the first fossil fuel-free mid-size conference center in the country.
ASM Global will manage the conference center, and Suzanne Smith Jablonski, who has a history of managing local non-profits, was named the director of the Downtown Ithaca Local Development Corporation, which is the non-profit owner of the conference center on the city and county’s behalf. Current plans are for a late winter 2024 opening, and the Conference Center is now taking bookings for business meetings and events such as weddings.
As for the apartments, those will be set aside for households making 30-80 percent of area median income. Similarly to Arthaus on Cherry Street, Vecino is partnering with Tompkins Community Action on its Asteri project to set aside 40 units for supportive housing for households at risk of homelessness, though unlike Arthaus this does not appear to be limited to younger individuals. Supportive services for these residents will be included as part of overall property management, with offices and staff onsite.
All development residents will be provided free internet service, with each unit hard-wired for 5G access, including routers for WiFi. Amenities will include a 12th-floor sky terrace, a fourth-floor fitness center and a community room. Residents will also have access to a common laundry room on every other floor, and indoor bike storage on the ground floor.
While Arthaus has seen its share of crime issues, for what it’s worth, Asteri is more centrally located to social services and support organizations than its Arthaus counterpart. With the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center on the lower levels, there will likely be a regular security presence around the building.
Welliver is the firm in charge of the buildout, and partial occupancy (the lower apartment levels) is expected to begin in April 2024, with the scaffolding coming down before the end of the calendar year.
Gateway Center / “The Dean” (401 East State Street)
Now, on to a renovation — or conversion, to describe it more accurately. The five-story, 47,285 square-foot Gateway Center was built as a warehouse 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, both locally and across the nation, the market for office space has taken quite the beating from COVID and the rapid rise of remote work. Given that Ithaca had a lukewarm market to begin with, the local office market is in rough shape with elevated vacancy rates compared to pre-pandemic. However, the local housing market remains quite strong. As a result, if the existing structure is physically suitable, then there’s an opportunity for a residential conversion by those with the money and know-how.
Plans detailed by Mack’s son and current Travis Hyde Properties President 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 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. (Correction: The initial version of this story included senior citizen organization Lifelong in the community room, but that was taken from an inaccurate initial announcement).
The upper floors are fairly routine as conversions go. The second-through-fifth floors will host the apartments, with a community room for tenants on the fifth floor, 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 renovation of the upper floors into apartment space is ongoing. There are plans filed to renovate the exterior of the building with new railings, Art Deco-themed signage and a coat of Benjamin-Moore “Kendall Charcoal” paint, but those features have yet to be approved by the city Planning Board.
As noted by 14850.com, Angelhearts Diner will be closing for two months to accommodate the renovations, namely the installation of all-electric HVAC equipment for the ground-floor commercial units. Travis Hyde Properties will be covering all of Angelheart’s expenses during the closure, so staff will continue to be paid while the space is being updated.
While Angelhearts should be open once again in January, the timeline for the apartments is rather uncertain, with nothing listed on Travis Hyde Properties’ website yet. Stay tuned for updates and rental prices.
Library Place (105 West Court Street)
After almost a decade of planning and construction, Library Place is nearing the finish line. 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, and way too many emails in my inbox. From the outside, apart from some minor metal panel facade work, landscaping and trim finishes, the project is largely complete and leasing is underway. Meanwhile, HOLT Architects, the firm that designed the project, has pictures of the model unit and finished interior and exterior common areas on its social media.
Floor plans on the website indicate no fewer than 26 apartment plans spread across the building, with the smallest unit being a 1-bed, 1-bath, 527 square-foot unit at $2,545/month, and the largest unit being a 3-bedroom, 2-bath 1,187 square-foot at a whopping $5,935/month (full listing here). Most of the one-bedrooms have a posted monthly rent in the low $3,000s, and the two-bedrooms in the low-to-mid $4,000s. According to the leasing documents, yes, there are seniors willing to pay that much, with a number of units already spoken for.
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 their neighbors at LifeLong to provide on-site activities and programs. It was announced earlier this month that The Rook, currently located at 404 West State Street, would be the restaurant tenant, opening on the ground floor next summer.
Ithaca’s Travis Hyde Properties is the developer of this project as well, with upscale senior housing provider Bridges Cornell Heights as its project partner. Alongside HOLT as architect, 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).
Northside Townhomes (Third Street)
This is a bit outside the scope of downtown, but it’s being included here for balance.
The Northside Townhomes redevelopment plan calls for a complete teardown and replacement of what was a 70-unit complex dating from the 1950s and 1960s. The new project includes an additional 12 units (for a total of 82) with an anticipated townhouse-style unit mix of 20 one-bedroom units, 20 two-bedroom units, 20 three-bedroom units and 22 four-bedroom units.
Technically, this is a lower population density than what was here before (225 bedrooms now, 208 bedrooms proposed), because the original townhouses had a number of three-bedroom, four-bedroom and five-bedroom units that are being replaced with smaller one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, which are in higher demand. A community building, as well as two playgrounds, will be provided for all residents to utilize. Other site improvements include landscaping, lighting, walkways, 82 parking spaces and other site amenities.
The original plan was to be finished in phases, with the entire project completed in mid-2025. However, the first townhomes should be finished much sooner than that, perhaps by spring.
Townhouse strings are in every stage of construction from foundation slab and footer pours, to framing and sheathing (wood frame, Huber ZIP plywood panels), to roofing and the application of Atlas EnergyShield polyiso foam wall insulation, to window fittings and stone/vinyl siding façade materials. Exterior details like porch columns will be completed closer to the end of construction, after trim pieces and siding are attached. Those utilitarian wood rails will be encased by the column trim.
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