Article by Brian Crandall and Devon Magliozzi

ITHACA, N.Y. — After being paused for nearly a month, construction of Harold’s Square on the Ithaca Commons is set to resume again this week, McGuire Development says. Originally slated to open this spring, the timeline has been delayed and the status of the development — currently a steel frame of a building — has been drawing a lot of questions from local business owners and residents.

LeChase Construction will be taking control of the project site and steel fabricator and erector Raulli & Sons of Syracuse will be back on site in the next few days, a news release states. The developer’s press release also described some major changes in the project’s internal mix of uses. The number of apartments has dropped from 108 to 78, though online advertisements still tout the 108 figure for the time being. The amount of office space in the new building has grown from 25,000 square feet to 41,000 square feet, while the retail frontage has remained the same.

“We have made some adjustments along the way,” said Megan Tafelski, marketing director for McGuire Development. “There has been heavy interest in the office and retail space.”

Tafelski declined to name future tenants, saying contracts are still being negotiated and an announcement would be made in late spring.

She stated the changes to the buildings are “just internal,” adding that the exterior design was unchanged. When asked for a new breakdown of the unit mix of bedrooms and sizes, Tafelski said the number of micro-units, the 435 square-foot studio units, was reduced but did not have exact numbers on hand.

“It was more expensive to create an increased number of micro-units. Twenty micro-units cost approximately the same as 15 one-bedroom units,” she said.

The substantial internal changes lend credence to the original construction manager Taylor the Builder’s press statement, which said design changes made them unable to continue under the terms of their contract.

When asked about this, Tafelski said, “With any development project, it doesn’t matter who’s involved, there are always going to be changes. Whatever changes or processes we made were better for the organization.”

It’s a bit of a development irony for David Lubin of L Enterprises, the other half of the development team. The Harold’s Square project stalled for a number of years due to an inability to land tenants for its initially-planned four floors of commercial office space, which made it an unattractive prospect for a construction loan. It was only after the office space was reduced, and the number of residential spaces greatly expanded, that the project was able to get a loan and move forward with construction. The demand for office space in Tompkins County has traditionally been lukewarm at best, and it’s unlikely the changes were made without specific tenants in mind. It’s still unknown who the occupants for the enlarged office component may be.

The $44 million project is expected to open in stages, with the lower-level retail and office space ready for occupancy in the fall of 2019, and the residential units by late winter or early spring 2020.

For nearby business owners, the project timeline has been frustratingly slow. Joseph Wetmore, owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books, said while it’s hard to pinpoint an economic impact from the project dragging, “In retail, in general, it’s well known that having a large block of empty storefronts cuts foot traffic. It’s no longer enticing people to come down.”

Jay Sciarabba, owner of Trader K’s used clothing store, said he chose the spot for his store on The Commons for its front windows and Green Street delivery access but hasn’t been able to reap the benefits of either. “Nobody sees my windows,” he said. “It’s been a problem from day one and it’s going to be longer now because of these delays.” Sciarabba said scaffolding, fencing, and construction traffic have made his building less attractive and makes it harder for customers to park while shopping or dropping off used clothes.

Wetmore and Sciarabba agreed to let the Harold’s Square team use their access spaces to Green Street during construction.

“We agreed that we would temporarily let them use that easement exclusively,” Wetmore said. “But part of what they were supposed to do was essentially be a good neighbor. We were supposed to get regular updates on what was happening with construction. We rarely get anything. If you look at the timeline online, which is supposed to be updated regularly, it says they’re renting these apartments this spring.”

Wetmore and Sciarabba both said they welcome downtown development and look forward to having more residents on The Commons, but they are increasingly impatient. During the recent work shutdown, Sciarabba said he wanted the developers to “get the project done or give it to someone else.”

A copy of the press release from McGuire Development Company is included below:

Harold’s Square Project Back on Track: Raulli & Sons on Site

McGuire Development Company, a full-scale commercial real estate firm based out of Buffalo, NY, partnered with David Lubin, owner of L Enterprises, LLC, is pleased to announce the Harold’s Square project is running full steam ahead. Harold’s Square reassigned the Construction Manager role to LeChase Construction, LLC., a professional with deep ties to the Ithaca development scene, earlier this month.

With the transition from Taylor to LeChase, Harold’s Square has been able to maintain great momentum with the project. Specifically, Raulli & Sons was on site this week doing steel detailing work. The project has seen great progress in success of the foundation being laid and settling properly, as well as headway with the steel framing.

“Our team has completed multiple projects with LeChase and have appreciated their focus on fiduciary responsibility and transparency in the building process. We look forward to moving forward on the project and getting it completed and ready to bring new retail and office tenants, and renewed vitality to downtown Ithaca,” said James Dentinger, McGuire Development.

The Harold’s Square team is pleased with the revived momentum for the project and looks to have the project completed as quickly as possible. Harold’s Square will be offering phased occupancy to further move things along, with retail/office available in late 2019 and residential being available early 2020.

The 12-story, 180k SF structure brings 12,000 SF retail, 41,000 SF of office and 12 floors with 78 dwelling units. The project also includes 11,600 SF (3 stories) of the William Henry Building historic property that will be rehabilitated and made accessible. It is estimated that this $40+M project will lead to the creation of approximately 200 FTE office workers and approximately 50 FTE retail jobs with 100 construction jobs.

Construction updates for the project will be presented on the website at haroldsq.wordpress.com.

Brian Crandall

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