An Ithaca institution is getting a new name - reflecting the new leadership that has guided it for the last year.
Ithaca Rentals and Renovations, founded in 1977 by Mack Travis, has been led for the last year by his son, Frost Travis, and son-in-law, Chris Hyde, since Mack retired in 2010. Frost serves as president; Hyde is the company's vice president. The company also is re-branding to reflect the new leadership - Travis Hyde Properties is the new name - but isn't changing its community-driven philosophy.
"Ithaca Rentals and Renovations is a well-regarded company," said Frost in a prepared statement, "but it is time to update our name and refresh our look.
"It's a natural next step for this company, but the family commitment and personal integrity we put into property management remain the same," Hyde added in a statement.
The business has 17 properties (most are in Ithaca - including Gateway Center, Gateway Commons, Center Ithaca, the Clinton House, the Carey Building, Cayuga Professional Center, Cayuga Apartments, 407 College Avenue, Fall Haven, Lakeland, Lake Street Apartments, Ravenwood and the Eddygate, among others - although they also have a Binghamton property) covering more than 500,000 square feet; they include residential, office, storage, retail and industrial offerings.
"We really take pride in providing excellent services to all of our clients," Frost said.
The ability - and, more importantly, willingness - to step in and save two downtown Ithaca icons - the State Theatre and the Clinton House - when they were on the brink of shutting their doors is a prime example of just how invested the Travises are in the city. That mentality is entwined in Travis Hyde Properties.
"Our tagline is: ‘Continuing leadership in commerce and community since 1977.' Chris came up with that," Frost said. "Our business model is to give back to the community; support various arts and charitable organizations. A strong business is a pillar in the community."
That mentality is what really hooked Hyde.
"That was my biggest drive," he said. "One thing Mack, he's always about doing things in the community.
"In Binghamton, we were helpful to another developer in town," Hyde added for emphasis. "We're interested in helping other people grow in this community."
Frost said it's a similar philosophy to the one at the company - Urban American - he last worked before returning to Ithaca to join up with his father.
"It was ‘Do well by doing good,'" he said. "If you do something in real estate that's good for the community, then it's going to be good for you.
"There has to be a community benefit," Frost added. "Ithaca is a small town, we're going to see our neighbors. We want to know that it has a positive impact."
Mack said it just makes sense to develop projects that are beneficial to the city.
"There's no inherent value in bricks and mortar," he said. "The value of real estate comes from the people renting it, living in it.
"That's our job - to make as fine a building as possible and find the right tenants," Mack added.
"Development is high risk," added Frost. "You're putting your capital on the line, hoping for a reasonable return. Keeping the tenants happy, that's who we work for."
In the late-'70s, Mack was teaching in the Ithaca College film department and acquiring properties in Ithaca (he'd already bought an building in New York City and leased out the five apartments located there). His first property in Ithaca was on Aurora Street, a duplex Mack renovated mostly on his own.
"After that, he decided that wasn't the best way to do it and started hiring contractors," Frost said.
By 1980, when he built Ravenwood Apartments, Mack stopped working in film and devoted himself full-time to Ithaca Rentals and Renovations.
"From that point, he did a property every other year or so," Frost said. "He'd build or buy a property and absorb it into the company, then manage it.
"We now, from simple student housing, have branched out with commercial, retail, storage and we even have light industrial tenants," he added. "We look for opportunities for acquisition and development."
Mack joked - perhaps with a touch of seriousness - that Frost's indoctrination into the family business came when he was a boy.
"This transition started when Frost was 12 and started working on our buildings," he said, recounting a one Saturday around 7 a.m. When his son was at a renovation site at 407 College Avenue. "He was there cleaning up and I got a call from a guy who lived across the street saying he was going to turn me in to Child Protective Services."
It was later, though, that Frost's path to one day taking the reins really got started. As a young man in the mid-'90s, he returned to Ithaca and enrolled in Cornell's real estate program.
"We talked about his coming here and taking over," Mack said. "He went to Cornell and got his Masters. I thought, ‘Great! Now he's going to come here to work for me.
"After about six months, he came to me and said "Dad, I'm going to work for a big developer in New York City,'" he added. "I didn't know if I was going to see him again professionally."
Despite that uncertainty, Mack proceeded with his plans to buy out his partners, becoming the sole owner of Ithaca Rentals and Renovations.
Six years later, Frost was ready to return to Ithaca - right about the time his father had completed his plans.
"Everything just timed beautifully," Mack said.
Hyde had been on the corporate and franchise sides of the restaurant business, but was excited about the opportunity to be a part of the family business when Mack and Frost discussed the possibility.
"It felt like a good fit," he said, noting he was looking for a change. "The restaurant industry is a tough business.
"It worked out well, and it's been great coming to a great company," Hyde added.
Frost said Hyde's background really brought a lot to the company.
"It was great to see Chris come on board; he helps make the operations flow more efficiently," he said. "We're really complementary in our roles."
Consulting For Change
Despite the changing of the guard taking place within family, they brought in a management consultant firm about four years ago to come up with a transition plan. Initial plans, Frost said, called for a five-to-seven year transition.
"That was greatly accelerated," Frost said.
"The company looked at the business operationally in 2004," Frost said. "In 2007, they came to assist with planning my arrival. Then, in 2009, they helped with the ownership change.
"There is a whole host of legal and financial issues because of the unique characteristics of real estate," he added.
He handles the day-to-day decision making, while Hyde is in charge of operations: facilities and personnel.
Hyde sees the benefit of bringing in an outside group to evaluate the business and offer suggestions, including how to transition leadership roles.
"I figure they have a new perspective," he said. "The business gets a fresh look."
Mack said having an outside firm helped him with the transition from leading the company to serving in more of a consultant role.
"It was quite a transition for me," he said, gesturing around the office now occupied by Frost. "This office, that desk, my own furniture, my paintings on the wall. It was quite a shock when we had the management consultant come in. They said to me, ‘Your problem is you can't let go.'"
The transition process began with Mack and Frost - now leading the company - switched spaces at the office. About a year ago, Mack stopped handling the operations side of business, handing those duties over to Hyde.
"At the end of summer (2011), I moved home, and that's huge," he said. "I'm still involved strategically; we meet once a month."
As for Mack's perception of the company now that he's out of the day-to-day?
"I feel very good about it," he said, noting that Hyde has brought great experience to the operations end of the business, while Frost is "quite good" with the financial side.
"One of the things I was so impressed with was Frost's integration of the New Roots Charter School into the Clinton House with the Kitchen Theatre in there at that time."
In The Works
The most recent project for the company is the redevelopment of the former Ithaca Gun site into housing units.
That location was rife with contaminated areas, so the company undertook cleanup efforts there through the state's Brownfields program. The remediation work, aided by Brownfields funding, hit some snags when the cleanup bill rose during the process when it was determined that there couldn't be on-site disposal of the contaminated soil as had been planned. The company sought to use a portion of the funding earmarked for the next phase of development for the cleanup; those funds have recently been released, Frost said, and he anticipates remediation restarting in the spring.
"We expect to carry that to completion," he said. "There's still a little remediation left, but we're confident we're going to have a good project there in the next several years."
Soil removal, Frost said, will most likely start in the spring.
"There will be more soil removal and off-site disposal," he said, adding there is not much more of that work left to be done. "The parkland donated to the city to create the Ithaca Falls overlook park needs more work; the city has the funds embargoed for that.
A previously proposed project for that site called for 160 units that was later reduced to an 80-unit proposal. That never came to fruition, which led to the Travis Hyde involvement and their initial proposal calling for 33 units. That number has, however, increased a bit.
"It's likely going to end up more than 50," Frost said.
The main reason for that is due to inability to dispose of the fill on site. Because the soil was required to be removed, the eventual ground where the buildings were to be constructed was considerably lower, changing the viewscape from the proposed housing units. To raise the units to the proposed height, parking is going to be underneath the buildings, creating space for construction of additional units.
"We may wind up with a different look and feel," Frost said, noting that the changes will play on the industrial nature of the site. "It will have an industrial look. The idea was to honor the industrial past there."
Other than Ithaca Gun, Travis Hyde doesn't have any projects ready for primetime yet. Frost said they have a few possibilities, but nothing solidified. There are plans to convert the second floor of the Carey Building (the downtown home to several retail businesses on its first floor) and add a third floor for apartment units.
"We'd be keeping it retail on the first floor," Frost said.
As for downtown overall, in light of questions surrounding the plans for the Commons, he's "optimistic about the future," noting that there are a number of development projects - Breckenridge Place, phase two of Cayuga Green, Seneca Way, Ithaca Hotel and expansion of the Holiday Inn - in the works.
"Those are all positive things in the pipeline," Frost said, adding that he believes the Commons situation will be resolved well. "The city will see its way forward.
"One thing is for certain," he added. "If nothing is done, business on the Commons will suffer."
In addition to a resolution to the Commons conundrum, the city has had a difficult time with development, due in large part to project proposal review and outdated zoning in Ithaca.
"They need to streamline the approvals process," Frost said. "I think that it's important to have public comment, but I think if the city charter were to be changed, you can eliminate some of the duplication."
Outdated zoning? That's Mack's biggest issue.
"Rezoning is important, so everything doesn't have to go through the approvals process to get variances," he said.
Outdated policies? At a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, only those with properties within a couple hundred-foot radius of a proposed project can offer their comments.
"The Seneca Way project (proposed mixed use project for the former Challenge site), for example, there were a small number of people who live near it that were able to comment," Frost said. "But, that's a gateway to the city, and the proposed project would provide much needed development there. A small vocal group can decide what's best for the community, but they may only have their interests at heart."
"We're looking forward to the leadership (Ithaca Mayor) Svante's (Myrick) going to bring about," added Mack.
For more information about Travis Hyde Properties, visit its website at www.travishyde.com or call (607) 273-1654.