ITHACA, N.Y. — It is a reasonable expectation that part of the business/real estate beat involves checking property transactions around Tompkins County. The vast majority don’t raise eyebrows. However, once in a blue moon, a well-known developer makes a big buy, or rather several big buys, in a very short span. Visum Development has been shopping around and making buys across Ithaca city and town in recent weeks.
In the past month, the firm has purchased at least four properties in the area, buying 202 Linden Avenue in Collegetown for $1.635 million, 121-125 Lake Street for $5 million, 602 West Buffalo Street on the West End for $732,500, and a vacant parcel on Strawberry Hill Circle in the town of Ithaca for $950,000.
202 Linden Avenue is a typical older Collegetown apartment house, assessed at a comparatively small $275,000, one-seventh of the sales price. 602 West Buffalo Street, the former Joe’s Restaurant, has been for sale for some time, and marketed as a redevelopment opportunity. It has an assessed value of $575,000.
The other two properties have more interesting histories. 121-125 Lake Street is the site of the former Ithaca Gun factory. Developer Travis Hyde Properties had plans for a 74-unit senior apartment building on the site, but the project was mothballed as the firm focused on Library Place, and never received planning board approval. While those plans never came to be, Frost Travis’s firm is now $5 million richer.
As for the 10.86-acre Strawberry Hill property, owner Cornell University had a deal with non-profit developer Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services to develop a 46-unit low-moderate income owner-occupied townhouse development called “Greenways,” where Cornell employees of qualified incomes would have had first dibs on units. But as costs rapidly escalated, the proposal was canceled in 2015 and the site hadn’t attracted much attention since.
The purchases are noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it’s $8,317,500 of property buys in just a couple of weeks, all with property seen as having potential for development or redevelopment. For two, the buyer, Visum, is a prolific Ithaca-area developer. Unlike some other local real estate firms, Visum does not buy land for the sake of holding onto it. They tend to make plans and bring them forward quickly.
But frankly, the detail they provided in a request for comment was a bit surprising, as it seems they already have concept plans mapped out for all four properties.
“We’re planning on approximately 110 bedrooms of middle-income/workforce housing on the site of the former Joe’s Italian Restaurant at 602 West Buffalo in the West End. We’re also working on market-rate apartment projects at two different locations in the city: 77 apartments on one site and 131 on the other. In Collegetown, we’re contributing another 27 or so beds of student housing on an infill site in the neighborhood,” said Patrick Braga, Visum’s Vice-President of Development.
“We’re also excited for our first suburban infill project: we acquired a site at Strawberry Hill Circle in the Town of Ithaca. We’re actively exploring two potential scenarios: either 52 detached single-family houses for sale, or a mixture of for-sale houses and rental apartments. Residents will be right next to the East Ithaca Recreation Way, just a short bike ride from Cornell.”
Reading between the lines, 202 Linden is likely the 27-bed Collegetown infill project. 602 West Buffalo is stated as a 110-bedroom redevelopment, and Strawberry Hill is described as a suburban for-sale or for-rent housing development. The 77-unit and the 131-unit project are question marks, at a glance.
However, Visum previously announced plans for a 131-unit project at 132 Cherry Street, a project that they still plan to carry forward as part of their “Neighborhood of the Arts” development. That leaves the 77-unit proposal as the project likely slated for the Ithaca Gun property.
“The Ithaca area continues to see sustained demand for housing supply to meet the ever-changing needs of its residents and growing workforce. We’re still months away from breaking ground, but we’ve already begun meeting with city officials to understand the road to receiving approvals. Details on a few new projects will become public in early 2022 once we begin Site Plan Review. Visum is excited to work on beautiful new buildings that will make Ithaca’s best features more accessible to more residents,” added Braga.
If those words hold true, then Visum will be keeping the city of Ithaca Planning Board quite busy during the next year, and give the town their fair share of work too. As to what the projects look like and the exact details, keep an eye out for updates over the coming months.