A six-story blue glass-paned Student Agencies building marks the new facade of Collegetown after more than a year of construction. Straddling the corner of College Avenue and Oak Avenue, the madeover building is home to more than 50 apartments and a future location of Ithaca Beer Co.
The student apartment complex, constructed and managed by Student Agencies, is 100 percent occupied for this academic year. Charlie Lee ’22, Student Agencies president, and Brooke Shacoy ’22, general manager of Student Agencies Real Estate, say they have received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the project from their residents.
According to Lee and Shacoy, students were involved in many of the decisions for the building, from the type of fitness equipment in the gym to the type of furniture in the units. Student Agencies is the oldest independent student-run company nationwide and is the second largest employer of students in the area — after Cornell itself.
“I’m not a designer, but I kind of know what students are looking for,” Lee said. “I hope that our input helps select pieces that students actually want in their rooms.”
The building also prides itself on its emphasis on tenant relations — the building uses a property management software that allows tenants to file maintenance requests at any point during the day from their phone.
“I think we’re a lot more receptive than some of the other buildings around campus,” Lee said. “There have been some issues with property managers not doing things for long periods of time, just ignoring tenants. I have a landlord, I live in Collegetown and know what it’s like, so we’re trying to give our tenants the best experience possible.”
Jess Kutz ’22 is living in the building this year and has had an overall positive experience. In addition to enjoying the “spacious” rooms and views from her apartment, she has benefitted from the responsive system of management.
“The management has been extremely responsive,” she said. “Anytime that I’ve had an issue and need a maintenance request I can just text them and they get back to me. I’ve really enjoyed it, especially compared to the apartment that I lived in last year.”
Autumn Shelton ’22 does not live in the building, but she has been in the building and seen some of the units. The Student Agencies building lacks some of the amenities she would expect to find in a luxury apartment.
“I feel like it isn’t worth the price,” she said. “The value is really in the view. For $2,000 a month, I need an oven, I need a dishwasher, I need the ability to have a washer and dryer in the unit. I have a washer and dryer in my apartment, and it’s less than half the cost per month.”
As a tenant, Kutz’s main criticism centers on the kitchen. Advertised as a “full-kitchen,” it failed to meet her expectations. Her kitchen lacks a dishwasher, only has two small burners and the microwave doubles as a convection oven. She enjoys cooking, but she cannot fit her cast iron on the hot plates in the kitchen.
“Advertising as a full kitchen and then not serving the purpose or the functionality of a kitchen within somebody’s home is really concerning because there were expectations and they did not meet those expectations,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a very nice place, but if I knew this I might have gone to the Lux or some other place for roughly the same price and same location.”
The apartment complex also has a 2,000 square foot patio, where the wooden picnic tables of Collegetown Bagels used to sit. Ithaca Beer Co. will set up a second location in the ground level of this space.
Shelton is excited for Ithaca Beer Co. to replace the old Collegetown Bagels and welcomed CTB’s transplant across the street. She considers the beloved bagel shop’s new location a more functional, student-oriented and overall improved space.
Even though excitement about the new Ithaca Beer Co. abounds and Student Agencies has received mostly positive feedback from tenants and Collegetown dwellers alike, not all students share enthusiasm for the building.
Ben Inbar ’21 MEng ’22 views the building as an addition to the broader trend of student real estate development in Collegetown — consisting of constructing luxury apartments at the expense of affordable student housing.
According to Inbar, this trend started with Collegetown Terrace and the Lux.
“You had these inaccessible real estate developments that are really only for the wealthiest Cornell students that exist,” he said. “Student Agencies is one of the more absurd developments.”
During his four years of undergrad, Inbar lived in an apartment in Collegetown. To be close to campus, he paid a premium price for his unit despite it being “objectively disgusting.” At one point, he and his roommates found dead bats in their apartment.
“The new building is representative of the sort of greed and inequality that has been perpetrated throughout Collegetown for decades now,” Inbar said. “There are students who cannot afford to live near Cornell. And that’s a problem.”
The Student Agencies building houses a mix of studio, one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom apartments. For next fall, a standard studio apartment carries a price tag of $1,950 per month. The most expensive unit in the building, a one-bedroom apartment, is priced at $2,550 per month.
“You have to ask, ‘Who is that apartment for in a group of college students?’” Inbar said. “The answer is it’s for the richest of the rich students. It’s just like this enclave of the wealthiest possible people that you possibly could fit in a building.”
According to Lee and Shacoy, Student Agencies did not have much flexibility in the type of accomodation they could build. Many factors such as the location of the building, the size of the units and rental competition necessitated the construction of a luxury apartment complex. According to Lee, the building also pays a significant amount in property taxes, and the high rent prices are necessary to cover these.
“The new building had to be a certain property type and contain a certain amount of units,” Lee said. “The only way we could finance this project and make it work through Tompkins County Bank, was if it had certain rents and met certain criteria, and the product of that is the building now.”
In addition to paying back the mortgage and taking care of operating expenses, the profits from the building fund various Student Agencies enterprises, such as Big Red Shipping and Storage and Student Agencies Tutoring, operated by more than 200 undergraduate employees.
“This building is used to fund the Student Agency’s mission, which is something that not everyone really knows,” Shacoy said. “It’s not that our revenue is being pocketed, but it is being used to cover expenses and fund Student Agencies.”
The building has already received a flood of interest for leasing opportunities for next year. Even though there are some details still to be refined, Lee and Shacoy are excited for the building’s place in the present and future of Collegetown.
“We’re all so excited with how everything turned out and we just wanted to have the ability to sort of keep doing what we do and fund our mission,” Lee said. “We’ve been successful with that. So we’re honestly just excited for the future and excited for Ithaca Beer Co. to come in and really kind of revamp the block.”
Update, Sept. 10, 12:27 a.m.: This post has been updated to include more information on the building’s amenities.