This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”
Ithaca, N.Y. — When it comes to development news in Ithaca, John Novarr’s name inevitably comes up. As one of the largest property owners in Ithaca (worth $43 million, and growing), he and his company, Novarr-Mackesey Properties, have an indelible presence on the local rental market.
To be honest, an interview hadn’t been planned. It was a chance email asking about the planned time frame of construction of Collegetown Terrace Phase III that led to a phone interview with one of Ithaca’s most prominent developers.
It might seem a little unusual that Novarr-Mackesey is limited to Ithaca, but as Novarr explained, Ithaca has a lot of significance to him. It’s where he has “firm roots”. His father was a Cornell professor, his family lives here, and he started his business here in the 1970s. He did own property in Burlington, Vermont (where he went to college at UVM), but found that physical distance made property management more difficult, and he sold off his Burlington interests to focus on the Ithaca market.
Novarr-Mackesey’s primary property holdings are 312 College Avenue and Collegetown Terrace. With the zoning variance, the Collegetown Terrace project could be built to hold as many as 1,295 beds, 669 more than what was contained in the previous properties on that site. It’s a massive development for any city, let alone a community as small as Ithaca.
Novarr explained that the size of the project is the result of several different details coming together – he’s in “a good financial position”, there’s a strong market for it, and it was easier to develop his amassed State Street properties in collective phases, rather than a piecemeal approach as it had been with the previous buildings on the site.
“I felt could do a better job by planning out the whole thing [property]”. He stressed that the lot coverage is less than what was previously on site, and firmly stated multiple times that there is no intention, now or ever, to sell the property to Cornell.
As for Collegetown Terrace’s third phase, a 247-unit building that may contain up to 340 bedrooms, the plan is to start construction in late 2015, and have it ready for occupancy in time for the fall 2017 semester. “It will take a while to construct due to its size…it’s the largest building in the development.”
Novarr was much more reserved when discussing another project he has on the horizon, a 141-unit project in the heart of Collegetown called “Collegetown Dryden”. “It’s in flux”, he replied. “You’ll have more to write about by the end of the year”.
When discussing if he thinks the recent wave of student-oriented apartment buildings will lower prices, his response was frank. “No, it’s not going to,” he replied flatly. “There’s a huge demand for decent housing. The last I checked, from 2002 to 2012, Cornell added over 2,000 students. The number of bedrooms coming online is a few hundred? [The number of bedrooms is] a pretty minor increase.”
Asked about other developers and projects he admires, one smaller Collegetown developer came to mind. “I particularly like the projects the Beers do, they work hard to do nice projects”, Novarr replied warmly. “They do a really nice job”. The Beers own several houses in the Collegetown area, including the wedding-cake like Grandview House on College Avenue; their largest project is the Coal Yard Apartments, a three-building, 56-bedroom project on Maple Avenue completed two years ago.
With the tight rental market, Novarr feels that his developments will have no problem filling up. “The city could use a couple more Collegetown Terraces,” he mused.