Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The remains of the Chacona Block building, previously home to Collegetown Bagels, during demolition on June 18. The current construction zone is on its way to becoming an apartment building, overseen by students.

December 3, 2020

Students Propel $21 Million Real Estate Project in Former Collegetown Bagels Location

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The $21 million apartment development replacing the now-razed historic Chacona Block building — the former home of Collegetown Bagels — is on track to open its doors in August 2021. 

But this project isn’t run by conventional real estate developers: Cornell students are behind it, with the help of local partners and a redevelopment committee.

By the end of November, Student Agencies Inc. had already filled 85 percent of its new apartment building, 409 College Ave., in Collegetown. The project has been ongoing since November 2017, when development started — a process that included permits, government approval and finally demolition.

Construction began this past June on what was the iconic Collegetown Bagels corner, and SAI is on track to carry out its plans for the building to open in August, the construction timeline undaunted by the pandemic, according to Kyle Karnes ’91, the CEO of SAI.

Along with Karnes, the new real estate venture is led by the outgoing president Kaela Olsen ’22, the incoming president Charlie Lee ’22, the outgoing real estate manager Hamid Waraich ’22 and the incoming real estate manager Brooke Shachoy ’22.

While SAI reshapes the Collegetown landscape, the company also owns and operates a real estate office, a shipping and storage service, a moving company and publishes the Cornell yearbook.

As a nonprofit organization, the money SAI makes goes toward paying student wages, operating their businesses and maintaining the SAI endowment, which funds investments in larger projects like College Avenue apartments. 

“This building generates income, and that income is what we use to fund our not-for-profit mission at Student Agencies,” Karnes said. “It’s not a matter of one private owner getting rich; this redevelopment project really establishes our endowment for the next 200 years, so each and every year, we’re able to invest in our mission to the benefit of the students.”  

SAI is the second largest employer of Cornell students behind the University, providing jobs for nearly 300 students, according to its website. The company pays out about $500,000 per year in student wages.

“The endowment allows us to take risks on the business side,” Lee said. “Having this endowment allows us to start new businesses, take on new projects, and through our businesses, we can help out the local community.”  

While many students may have limited opportunities to work in a professional setting and make executive decisions for a company, students working at SAI are in a position to make choices that not only impact the company, but mold the future of Collegetown. 

“One of the bigger challenges for me was feeling comfortable making decisions regarding the project, because as a 20-year-old, I had never embarked on a $21 million redevelopment project,” Olsen said. 

The knowledge from school and this professional opportunity has been invaluable for the students working on the project.

“I’ve definitely taken the finance-heavy courses that I’ve taken at Cornell into this role,” Sachoy said. “I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve learned in the past month into the classroom as well. It’s totally interchangeable.”  

With 409 College Ave. materializing into a six-story apartment building, working in executive roles at Student Agencies has shown these four Cornellians what they’re capable of as students and professionals.

“I saw myself as a college student before Student Agencies, but when you’re in Student Agencies, you’re making decisions. You’re really running a whole business, and you have to think differently,” Waraich said. “You’re not a college student, you’re a professional in a working environment.”