ITHACA, N.Y. — Yes, it is finally happening. The replacement structure for the Chapter House, which burned down in April 2015, is under construction.

It’s been a rather long and uncertain path to get to this point. After the fire, the replacement structure spent about a year going through the city’s approval process for reconstruction – the building site sits in the East Hill Historic District, meaning that the city has additional review procedures for a “certificate of appropriateness” along with a trip to the Planning Board for new project review, and Board of Zoning Appeals functions for zoning variances. There was even a visit to the Board of Public Works to allow the first-floor awning to overhang the public sidewalk.

Further complicating matters, towards the end of the city’s lengthy reviews the site was sold off in May 2016 to neighboring property owner Jim Goldman. Goldman was pursuing his own plans to build a new apartment house on his lot at 406 Stewart Avenue, which was also lost to the Chapter House inferno. There had previously been some coordination between Goldman and former Chapter House owner Sebastian Mascaro, in that both used architect Jason K. Demarest for their new buildings, and early design concepts planned for one large building spanning both properties.

Building permits for the two new structures were filed in September 2016, and then…nothing happened. The grass grew long, and then undisturbed snow drifts covered the site, and it was as quiet as a tomb until a few weeks ago.

For the staff of the Voice, this is where things get a little strange. After receiving tips that the project was to start construction last month, a staff member dropped by the site and snapped a few photos, but on-site workers from remediation company ERSI did not want to go on the record to say work was underway. A call by another staffer to the property owner led to the same stonewalling, and the property manager, CSP Management’s Jerry Dietz, responded that he had no details at the time. So it became a case where there was clearly something going on, but no one wanted to talk, and since the building permits had been issued eight months earlier, the Voice couldn’t truly confirm work was underway, and didn’t want to write something only to have it be another false start.

As a result, we’re giving credit where it’s due – Mark Anbinder at 14850.com was the first person to break the news, and was able to get Dietz on the record to say that Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt Corporation will be the general contractor for both 400-404 Stewart Avenue and 406 Stewart Avenue. The given reason for the delay was an inability to find “favorable pricing” from contractors.

In a brief conversation this morning, Dietz explained that the owner prefers to be as low-key as possible with the project and would like to stay out of the public eye, but Dietz confirmed the details relayed by 14850. “They (Hayner Hoyt0 will be building the project. Mr. Goldman has hired his own project manager to oversee the work, and Hayner Hoyt will build those new properties. CSP Management will be expected to re-lease the apartments when they become available. That’s about the extent of what I’ve been told.”

If one visits the site now, you can see that the property has been leveled and graded, and a foundation is being excavated. The steel H-beams will be used as support for a retaining wall to shore up the soil, protecting the foundation and providing stability as the concrete is poured and cured.

According to Dietz, the buildout will be rapid. “I can tell you that the schedule I’ve been told, which is admittedly very ambitious, that they will have a building at 400-404 (Chapter House site) targeted to be done in the late fall or early winter, and then they will start 406 sometime later in the spring and have that completed later in 2018. It’s a very aggressive schedule.”

On a final note, while a new building may be underway, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Chapter House is coming back. “Mr. Hoey has been public about being interested in bringing the Chapter House back, I am not aware of any discussions happening to this point,” said Dietz. In the meanwhile, the first floor retail/restaurant space where the Chapter House would go is being advertised for lease over at Pyramid Brokerage.

Brian Crandall

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