October 22, 2013
Project adds housing downtown
Owner converts second floor of Main St. building into student apartments
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Rich Andrews stands in front of his building at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue where he operates his insurance business, Andrews Agency. Andrews has renovated the second floor into apartments.
As downtown property owners take advantage of tax breaks to renovate apartments and rehabilitate buildings, local insurer Rich Andrews found an uncommon way to provide housing for college students in the heart of historic downtown Cortland.
Andrews, owner of Andrews Agency, an insurance provider in Cortland and Ithaca, purchased the two-story building at Main Street and Central Avenue in 2010 when he was looking to expand his business into the Cortland area. The building housed the First National Bank of Cortland until the mid-1950s.
It later was a bar and restaurant and most recently a music store, Ultimate Music, that closed in 2010.
Andrews said the living space is what is known as commercial indoor lodging, a form of housing similar to what people refer to as boarding houses.
"What that means is that you've got a number of unrelated people each individually renting a space with (access) to common areas — kitchen, bathrooms, lounge," he said, "and it anticipates occupancy to be long-term and not month-to-month."
Andrews said once he installed fire detection systems and additional security measures, the apartment space was a hit with SUNY Cortland students and by August, all seven large rooms were rented.
"I liked the location and I liked the building," Andrews said. "I like old buildings anyway, and it had a lot of architectural flare. People want to invest in something strong and solid and I think this building has that appearance."
Once his business was moved in, Andrews said he wanted to come up with a way for the building to pay for itself in the long-term and originally wanted to open the approximately 3,000 square feet of space on the second floor to other business professionals.
"The idea was to renovate it into office space, which I did," Andrews said. "The problem was tenants. I didn't have any tenants who were interested."
When the plan to rent office space didnÕt not pan out, the second floor underwent a second renovation transforming the space into student housing.
Two similar renovation and restoration projects are currently under way; one in the J.J. Newberry building at 51-55 Main St. and another in the Samson Block at 2-8 Main St.
Building owners who rehabilitate upper floors in downtown Cortland and renovate the upper floors for living spaces receive tax breaks, but since Andrews is using the space for student housing, he does not qualify for the program and he said he believes people like himself interested in creating student housing should be included.
"Let's do the right thing; let's do the right job," Andrews said. "If our market is students — or people who look or act like students — I don't see the problem with marketing to them."
After speaking with the students and their parents, he said most of them were interested in the space because of its location and the additional security measures Andrews added while renovating the space.
"I've had nothing but good feedback," he said.
Although Andrews said he has yet to experience any problems with the tenants, he is worried about what the parking situation will be like down the line once people start moving in to buildings that are part of the new tax abatement program.
"For it to continue to work downtown, we're going to have to address the parking issue," Andrews said. "There's a lot more potential building space than parking space; it's a concern."
The seven students have signed one-year leases with Andrews, meaning once they are finished with the spring 2014 semester, they will move out and new students will come in.
Since this is the beginning of the first year Andrews has actually filled the second floor space, he said he is going to assess the situation in the spring before making any decisions on renovating any additional space for student housing or other uses but for now, he is pleased with the arrangements.
"I'm happy with the way the building was built and I'm happy with the tenants," Andrews said. "I do have a little more space I want to convert, but I don't know when I'm going to tackle that. I'm going to see how this works."
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