ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s been on hiatus for a few months, but don’t worry, we’ve been keeping tabs on those construction crews and cranes in and around Tompkins County. Here’s a look at some of the projects underway in Collegetown.

The Chapter House site / 400-404 Stewart Avenue

The replacement structure for the fire-ravaged Chapter House building is nearly complete. The exterior is practically finished with only some stone veneer installation and sidewalk/landscaping remaining, and the eight apartments on the upper floors are undergoing finish work. According to Mark Anbinder over at 14850.com, the units will be ready to go on the market by this summer. The neighboring apartment building at 406 College avenue is undergoing roof truss framing and sheathing/window fitting on the lower levels, but is expected to be ready for occupancy before the 2018-19 academic semester begins.

In something of a rarity, at the March planning committee meeting, the developer of the replacement structure, Jim Goldman, thanked the city building codes and fire department for helping him navigate a potential coding issue. Normally, public comment sessions at city meetings tend to be a consistent airing of grievances.

However, one problem the city can’t help with is filling that first floor retail/restaurant/bar space. The flyer on Pyramid Brokerage’s website states it is still available, for $35 per square-foot (the space is 3,000 square-feet total). Unfortunately for Chapter House aficionados, the storied bar is not expected to returned to its old corner.

“The Chapter House will never be able to return to this site at apparent current asking price of $105,000 annually for gross 3,000 square feet, but is considering other locations and opportunities to license the name of our famous pub,” said Chapter House proprietor John J. Hoey in a recent email.

Maplewood

Maplewood has not had the best of luck during the construction. A wet fall, and an unusually wet and cold spring have really dampened efforts to move the project along at a clip that the development team would have liked. Supply issues (framing walls) and concerns from subcontractors about steady, non-weather interrupted work have also made things more complicated. The developer, EdR Trust, approached the town of Ithaca with a request to extend the working hours again from 7 AM to 10:30 PM for interior work, on top of the four-hour extension (from 9 AM – 5 PM to 7 AM – 7 PM) and the Saturday 8 AM – 4 PM hours previously granted.

It did not go over well. After getting a tongue lashing from members of the board about incompetence, the planning board did offer a partial concession to 9 PM on a 4-3 vote. Barring no further major issues, most of the units are expected to be delivered in July, though some of the later-scheduled townhouse strings will likely not be complete before August. There’s an air of concern that the units won’t be ready in time for incoming Cornell graduate and professional students, in which case EdR will incur the substantial cost of putting them up in a hotel, as some of the Collegetown developers had to do a couple of years ago (325 Eddy’s opening was especially rough), ut we’ll see what progress is made between now and then. The current plan is three phases of move in, on July 1st, July 31st and August 20th.

Walking around the site, construction is in just about every stage imaginable, from framing to sheathing to fit-outs to exterior siding and even trim work on the units facing Mitchell Avenue. There have been some changes in the plans, mostly cosmetic – a greater variety of brick and siding colors is being used than what was originally shown in the renderings, so there’s some more welcome additional variety in the townhouses and apartment buildings.

By the way, our apologies to our Belle Sherman readers – we’re aware Maplewood is not technically Collegetown. But it is student housing in close proximity.

232-236 Dryden Road, 210 Linden Avenue, 126 College Avenue
(Visum Development Group)

Just about every other sizable building project happening in Collegetown can be tied to one firm – Ithaca’s Visum Development Group. The first photo shows 232-236 Dryden Road, a.k.a. “The Lux“, which replaces a previous apartment building with 60 units and about 206 beds geared towards the Cornell market. The second photo and third photo are a pair of Visum’s smaller projects, 210 Linden Avenue and 118 College Avenue. 210 Linden will host 10 units in 37 beds, and 118 College will host 5 units with a total of 28 beds.

The construction process is pretty similar for all three – the basement levels, which have units on exposed slopes and amenity/mechanical space otherwise, use Amvic Insulated concrete forms, which are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete. This tends to be a more expensive option, but it provides a higher degree of insulation. These buildings were also designed by the architects of STREAM Collaborative, and are intended to be net-zero energy capable, meaning all energy consumed by the building (heat, electric) comes from renewable sources. The “capable” part comes from the need to locate and tap into a nearby solar array or other renewable source to provide the energy, since there’s not enough room on-site.

Visum was just awarded the enviable title of “fastest growing business in upstate” from Inc.com, and collectively, the projects underway here are valued in the tens of millions. Interestingly, a few other planned projects for Collegetown have yet to get off the ground – there has no notable activity at either of local developer John Novarr’s project sites at 119-125 College Avenue and 238 Linden Avenue.

As for things in the pipeline, for Collegetown it’s looking fairly quiet, unless one really stretches and tries to count Cornell’s East Hill Village in 2021-2023. Visum is still looking at a multi-story building for the Nines property at 311 College Avenue, but that proposal is up in the air while the potential historic designation of the former firehouse-turned-restaurant is debated by local boards and committees.

Most of the student-focused landlords and developers are holding off on new houses and apartments because of two things: (1) The market is absorbing the 872 beds that Maplewood is bringing to the Collegetown rental market, and (2) concerns about the impact of the 2,000 beds Cornell is planning to add on its North campus, though with the university’s expansion plans, the net gain there is actually more like 900 beds. While most of the community isn’t about to complain about a growing supply to satisfy some of the overheated demand and (hopefully) slow down rapidly increasing rents, for developers it creates enough risk that many are holding off on new projects until a new equilibrium is established and they see how the average market rent changes.

After Collegetown Terrace, Maplewood and the hundreds of beds built in Inner Collegetown since the 2014 Form District guidelines went into effect, East Hillers and Belle Shermanites may appreciate the relative lull.

Brian Crandall

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