ITHACA, N.Y.—I’m going to start this off with a little story. I’ve done these construction photo galleries dozens of times over the years, but this was the first time I was ever in a car accident while doing one (and frankly, my first car accident ever). I was just arriving to my first site in a long day of shoots, signaled a left turn to park on a side street, and a college kid drove into my car. He thought I had slowed down to parallel park against the curb to my right and tried to pass me on the left, instead smashing into the front driver’s side of my vehicle.
I was okay, but my car was not. According to my insurance, a rental was going to take days to obtain due to the ongoing nationwide car shortage. I am lucky I have an editor who was kind enough to pick me up and drive me home. I am also lucky I have colleagues who stepped in to take photos I could not—I can claim the first three photo sets here, because they were between the auto body shop and the Voice’s office. Everything else is thanks to Matt Butler and Jimmy Jordan. Thanks, guys.
Anyway, this month, we’ll be focusing on projects underway or recently completed in and around the city of Ithaca. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, put the phone down if you’re glancing at this while driving, and dive in below.
Founders’ Way (320 West Buffalo Street)
The Immaculate Conception School site, now called “Founder’s Way,” is well underway. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is developing the mixed-use project after the Rochester diocese accepted their bid to purchase the property for a mixed-income redevelopment back in 2018. The project’s mixed-use nature required it to pursue a Planned Unit Development (PUD) zone from the city of Ithaca, a sort of make-your-own zoning that has to be approved by the Common Council as well as the usual Planning Board review. As a result, the project had a rather extended review process, not to mention the usual arduous and lengthy effort required to obtain affordable housing grant funds. Approvals were granted in October 2019 and construction began last spring.
The $25 million INHS redevelopment calls for a partial re-use of the existing school building, preserving the west wing while replacing the south wing, preservation and eventual renovation of the Catholic Charities building and two-family house at 330 West Buffalo, and three new two-story townhouse strings along West Buffalo and North Plain Streets. Plans call for 71 low-and-moderate income apartments and four for-sale townhomes (on the corner of West Court and North Plain) for owner-occupied lower-income households, for a total of 75 housing units. Office space for non-profit community organizations at below-market rental rates will be provided in the basement and first floor of the renovated west wing of the school.
The perimeter townhome buildings are actually ahead of schedule, according to INHS; kudos to Pittsford-based newcomer Hamilton Stern Construction for being on top of their game. The townhome strings have been fully framed and sheathed in Huber ZIP System plywood Panels. Windows have been fitted and the roofs have been shingled. Utilities rough-ins are underway in the new buildings, while 330 West Buffalo is still undergoing some interior demolition as the gut renovation of that century-old structure into a duplex continues. The townhomes will be ready for occupancy by July 2022.
As for the school building, there have been some complications, namely that they found more asbestos than they thought would be there, and some structural quirks where the school’s old wing (preserved) and new wing (now torn down) were connected. The new slab foundation portion is complete and above-ground framing is underway for the new build, while plumbing, HVAC and new insulation are being installed in the west wing of the old school undergoing renovation. The former school is expected to be ready for its new tenants in December 2022.
West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street)
The $21.7 million West End Heights project is physically complete and now in the process of leasing up its 60 one-bedroom, 716 square-foot apartment units. Twenty-two apartments are available to individuals in the community who qualify for affordable housing, including Section 8 housing. The target market is 50-60% area median income, those making under $37,680/year in a one-person household, or under $43,020/year in a two-person household. Those who qualify may apply to Lakeview Health Services here before the deadline of Nov. 13. Lakeview says on their website that mobility and hearing/visually impaired units are available.
According to the brochure PDF, units come with stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, on-site laundry room, community room, outdoor courtyard, 24-hour security and enjoy easy access to TCAT and the businesses of Ithaca’s West End. Office space on the first floor is set aside for use by residents and other Lakeview clients.
The other 38 units are set aside for disadvantaged groups. Twenty of the units are for people with a mental health diagnosis, and 10 units are for people with a diagnosis who are also experiencing homelessness. The remaining eight units are for homeless or unstably housed individuals who may also have special needs relating to substance abuse and/or HIV/AIDS.
Plan Architectural Studio of Rochester is the architect, while local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects handled the landscape designs. Lecesse Construction of Rochester was in charge of the buildout.
West End Ironworks (430-444 West State Street)
Arnot Realty’s $39.3 million redevelopment of the former Bishop’s complex is a rather tricky endeavor. The project involves reusing the facade of the existing century-old building on the corner, likely built around the time the site was used for an iron foundry, and to be honest, century-old brick is not the most stable building material. The construction team has had to shore it up with a steel bracing system as they inspect it to ensure its structural integrity, and make the necessary repairs in order to safely attach it to the new framing. The dark material visible from the inside of the brick wall is likely waterproofing. Brick has an unwelcome habit of absorbing moisture and carrying it down to the more sensitive building layers behind it.
The five-story West End Ironworks project stands to bring to the market 129 apartments and about 4,800 square feet of commercial retail space in three storefronts when it opens for occupancy in the summer of 2022 (though the documents on file with the county say September 2022, which is stretching the definition of summer a little). Advertisements for the units tout access to a fitness center, yoga studio, indoor and outdoor lounges, pet facilities, and secure bicycle parking. Unit sizes will range from studios to two-bedroom units. Forty-nine parking spaces for residents will be available on the ground level and accessible from the rear of the building on West Seneca Street.
Serving alongside Arnot on the project team is architecture firm Eric Colbert & Associates and local engineering and design members Taitem Engineering, T.G. Miller, and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects.
Asteri Ithaca (120 East Green Street)
Yes, the Green Street Garage site is essentially one big construction zone, but it’s being split into two separate projects for the sake of clarity in this article. The western and middle sections of the garage are part of the $96 million (according to the state; county documents say $108.8 million) Asteri mixed-use project. Local and state officials held the ceremonial ground-breaking late last month.
As designed, the Asteri project includes the renovation and expansion of the newer middle section of the Green Street Garage to host 350 parking spaces, and the demolition of the western third of the garage to make way for a 12-story building. The highrise would contain the 49,000 square-foot Downtown Ithaca Conference Center on the lower levels, with 181 apartments on the upper floors. All the units, mostly studios and one-bedrooms with a few two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments, are set aside for households making 30-80 percent of area median income.
Similarly to its sister development Arthaus on Cherry Street, Vecino is partnering with Tompkins Community Action on its Asteri project to set aside 40 units as 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 residents of the development will be provided with 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.
The construction itself is complicated, and Welliver is in charge. The first stage of construction, following the demolition of the western section and related site preparation, is the expansion of the center section of the garage, with the new highrise to start about six months later, early 2022 when adjusted to the current timeline. Wood forms are in place for concrete pours for the support columns as they rise to accommodate the new floor slabs. The expanded garage will be completed in twelve months, meaning late summer or early fall 2022. The conference center and apartment building won’t be fully finished and occupied until early 2024.
The Ithacan (215 East Green Street)
I’m sure using a State Street address when all the apartments are on the East Green Street side won’t be confusing at all. The Ithacan is the project replacing the eastern end of the Green Street Garage Downtown. One of its co-developers, New Jersey-based Aptitude Development, called it “The Marshall” like several of their other projects on their website, but Jeff Rimland is the lead developer on the project and has stayed with the more appropriate choice of The Ithacan.
As planned, Rimland’s $64.3 million development plan rebuilds the eastern third of the garage with two levels of public parking containing about 130 spaces, one 34-space ground-level private parking area for the building’s occupants, and ten floors of residential with 200 apartments, a combination of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. A residential lobby would front Green Street, as well as an access hallway between the shops lining the Commons.
Of the 200 apartments, 160 are general market-rate units, 20 are below-market workforce housing units (80% area median income), and another 20 are set aside for students in Ithaca College’s Physician’s Assistant program, which has opened in newly renovated space in the Rothschild Building next door, which Rimland also owns.
The eastern garage segment has been taken down and it appears site prep and excavation for the new foundation are underway. The original timeline targeted a Summer 2022 completion, which is definitely off the table given the COVID pause and various material supply issues. With work on the highrise itself only just getting underway, summer 2023 (likely August 2023 given the agreement with Ithaca College) is a more plausible completion date at this point. The Watertown office of Purcell Construction Corporation, the same firm that built out Student Agencies and City Centre, is in charge of the buildout.
Library Place (310-314 North Cayuga Street)
I wish I had something more substantial more to report on the stalled Library Place senior housing project. Ostensibly, many nearby residents are agitated about the Library Place construction site next to DeWitt Park. The project has been in a tailspin ever since the initial COVID-driven pause on all construction activity back in March 2020; once that lifted, many projects eventually got back to work. Library Place did not.
The development team, led by Travis Hyde Properties, stated there were issues in 2020 with rescheduling construction, and Ithaca Area Economic Development noted the development team ran into financial issues related to a spike in material prices over the past year. The project was supposed to resume construction during the summer. While there are signs of recent activity on the site, given the dumpster and forklift, it’s not what anyone would really call construction. The plywood on the elevator core and stairwells has greyed rather unpleasantly thanks to 1.5 years of exposure to the elements.
The City of Ithaca does not have a firm idea when construction will resume, and this pause can only go on so long. Eventually, issues will arise with expirations of construction permits and with the legal clauses of any outstanding construction loans, which usually have “due dates” for construction stages. We’ll see what happens, but even if an announcement is made, it’s probably safer to wait beyond the press release and until men and machinery are back on site before saying construction has resumed.
If/when completed, Library Place would consist of 66 senior apartment units with community and amenity space. Even if it gets underway at full speed tomorrow, this project would take a little over a year to complete.