Special award recognizes James-Geska’s exemplary leadership, vision, resilience and the drive to move her organization forward and improve the lives of others
ROCHESTER, N.Y., March 22, 2023—The City of Rochester tonight honored US Ceiling Corp President Melissa James-Geska with the 2023 MWBE Champion Award for breaking barriers and paving the way for other minority- and women-owned businesses in the community. James-Geska is the first MWBE owner in the history of the City of Rochester to earn a major development contract—having been named one of the prime contractor partners for the Bull’s Head Revitalization project in 2021. James-Geska is also chair of the Builders Exchange of Rochester and is the first woman and person of color to serve in such a capacity in the organization’s 135-year history.
James-Geska stressed the importance of community during her acceptance speech, saying, “Let this be a time that we unite and create a common sense of community in Upstate New York. Minority and women-owned businesses must rally together to advocate with a collective voice. In the words of Thomas Paine, ‘It is not in numbers, but in unity that our great strength lies.’ Let us humble ourselves, so that we are open and ready for growth. Let us ask for help when we need it and offer to help when we can.”
Under James-Geska’s leadership, US Ceiling has emerged as an industry force, helping change Rochester’s landscape by working on some of its most notable and transformative construction projects, including Tower280 at Midtown, the Sibley Building and The Nathaniel Apartments. Ever the visionary, in 2020, she launched US Ceiling’s development arm, USC, bringing workforce development and social impact real estate development to projects in Rochester and Ithaca.
James-Geska takes great pride in paying her success forward—continually serving as a role model and mentor, and contributing to various nonprofit organizations that address issues affecting minorities and women. Passionate about bridging the labor gap and promoting diversity in construction, she works to provide practical experience and employment opportunities through her firm’s skilled trades training and workforce development program, USC Academy, which has provided 337,723 hours of paid skills training since its launch in 2019. Since opening its doors in 2001, US Ceiling has created 460 jobs in the Rochester community, helped build 10,807 affordable housing units and made 170 charitable donations to dozens of community-focused organizations.
The evening’s awards event was held at the Strathallan as a kick-off to the City’s inaugural Upstate NY MWBE Conference, which will take place over the next two days.
About US Ceiling Corp Founded in 2001, US Ceiling Corp (usceiling.com) is a social impact subcontractor that specializes in interior commercial, multifamily and residential construction. Now in its 22nd year, the award-winning NYS Certified MWBE firm is committed to diversifying the construction industry and empowering lives. People-focused and purpose-driven, US Ceiling partners with like-minded organizations to provide skilled trades training and employment opportunities—helping people build economic self-reliance and inclusive, equitable communities that thrive.
Values-aligned community developers to transform the former Emerson Power Transmission site into landmark neighborhood
ITHACA, N.Y., December 8, 2022— The 95-acre site in South Hill, formerly known to Ithacans as Morse Chain, Emerson Power Transmission Plant, and most recently, the Chain Works District, is being reimagined through a diverse collaboration that combines extensive development, construction and neighborhood investment experience, and proven track records in delivering equitable community-serving projects.
The $300+ million endeavor, now known as SouthWorks, is led by Philadelphia-based SHIFT Capital, a nationally recognized social impact real estate firm, in addition to the property’s previous developer, David Lubin, of Ithaca-based L Enterprises. SHIFT has also tapped two leading minority- and woman-owned firms to take part—Rochester-based, US Ceiling Corp, led by Melissa James-Geska and New York City-based, Xylem Projects, led by Nnenna Lynch. Vicki Taylor Brous, a longtime Ithacan and project coordinator for the site, joins SHIFT in the same role. The SouthWorks team plans to create a new mixed-use neighborhood, including housing, technology, commercial, retail and industrial/manufacturing to serve as a catalyst for Ithaca’s local economy.
“SouthWorks is a potential game changer for Ithaca. Its size and scope allow us to intentionally and collectively, with businesses and residents, design a neighborhood that welcomes leading-edge thinking and practices, drives sustainability throughout, and connects living and culture site-, city- and townwide,” says SHIFT Capital Partner and CEO Brian Murray. “To do this, we brought together a team who reflects SHIFT’s values and vision and is driven by a shared dedication to Ithaca. David, Melissa, Nnenna and Vicki each add a distinct expertise to the team, and together with the community, we are able to plan the next steps for the future Ithaca.”
“SouthWorks is a landmark project that will help define, bolster and advance the Ithaca region, generating thousands of jobs and economic opportunities for generations to come,” says L Enterprises Founder David Lubin. “I look forward to working with the new team to ensure that this project represents the kind of development I imagined when I began planning it a decade ago: commercial space for light industrial/manufacturing and small businesses, housing options, parks, and public art. It is rooted in the community and will anchor the continuing revitalization of the entire region.”
“We’re excited to build on the project’s momentum and ongoing workforce development efforts with community partners and the City and Town of Ithaca,” says US Ceiling Corp President Melissa James-Geska. “SouthWorks is a robust model of holistic real estate development; community and collaboration; sustainability; and opportunity. Together, we are determined to create something that delivers on its promise for the people of Ithaca.”
“Community outcomes are at the core of everything we do,” says Xylem Projects Founder and CEO Nnenna Lynch. “We’re excited to join the great work already underway and the opportunity to be part of the long-term vision for Ithaca, as well as ensuring SouthWorks is built for all of its constituents, particularly local residents.”
“I’m excited to join the SHIFT Capital team and implement a whole-neighborhood approach to the redevelopment of the old Morse Chain factory site,” says Project Coordinator Vicki Taylor Brous. “The plant brought prosperity to the area for more than 100 years and holds a lot of historical importance to the Ithaca community. After a decade of perseverance, tenacity and hard work, Emerson Power Transmission, David Lubin and their respective teams have made the site ready for redevelopment. Through thoughtful and community-forward planning, and a great team selected to accomplish it, we look forward to revitalizing the site and making it an asset to the community once again.”
The History and Future of the Site The site at 620 South Aurora Street, located in both the City and Town of Ithaca, has remained vacant for 11 years. It had been used for manufacturing everything from industrial chains and automotive parts to Tommy airplanes used in World War I. Morse Chain occupied the facility from 1906 until 1928 when they joined with BorgWarner, which owned the property from 1928 to 1982. Emerson Power Transmission continued manufacturing at the site from 1983 until its closure in 2011. The site provided much needed jobs for residents and drew immigration to the area, whether they worked at the factory or on the supportive infrastructure, including the rail lines that ran to the site.
In July 2013, Emerson Power Transmission selected David Lubin of L Enterprises to develop the site due to his knowledge of the Ithaca area and his passion for its development. Emerson and Lubin, with guidance from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), then partnered over the next decade to make the 95-acre property one of New York State’s most thoroughly environmentally investigated and remediated sites. Although the property was initially slated to be brought up to industrial standards, after thousands of tests, tracing and planning, the majority (90+ acres) of the site has now been remediated to residential standards. A Record of Decision Amendment and a Site Management Plan were approved by the DEC in October of 2022.
When complete, SouthWorks will include the revitalization of 850,000 square feet of existing buildings and will total more than 1.7 million square feet. The site has gained City of Ithaca Site Plan Approval and EIS approvals. In addition to the on-site work, the Gateway Trail, which runs at the base of the property, will be developed in partnership with the City of Ithaca and will connect the South Hill Recreation Trail to Buttermilk Falls and the Kirby Edmunds Bridge.
Planning for SouthWorks is under way with anticipated announcements regarding the next phase in the development expected in early 2023. For more information on SouthWorks, please visit southworksithaca.com and sign up for updates.
About SHIFT Capital SHIFT Capital is a nationally recognized neighborhood investment group who executes real estate projects and financing strategies that create equitable and mixed-income communities for the long-term. SHIFT believes community-centered investments create shared and sustainable economic opportunity and growth, and impact that unites people, businesses, neighborhoods and cities. To date, SHIFT has invested more than $330 million in the neighborhoods they serve to create ecosystems that strengthen entrepreneurship, creativity and value for tenants, and health and safety for communities. SHIFT owns and manages a mix of two million square feet of new and refactored industrial, commercial and residential spaces for small businesses, entrepreneurs and residents. For more information: visit SHIFTcapital.us, Instagram: @shift_capital and LinkedIn: SHIFT Capital
About L Enterprises L Enterprises is a real estate development company started in 1980 by David Lubin. L Enterprises has developed a wide scope of projects throughout New York, including the Hilton Garden Inn located in Elmira, Hampton Inns in Elmira and Oneonta, and 115,000 SF of medical offices with an ambulatory surgical center in Big Flats. L Enterprises is also responsible for the success of a 525-acre business park and residential development in Athens Township, PA. L Enterprises lead the Harold’s Square development, a 12-story building in the center of Ithaca, with 78 apartments, 50,000 SF of office space and 16,000 SF of retail space valued at more than $60 million. As the SouthWorks developer since 2010, David brings an unmatched knowledge of the site and the broader Ithaca development area.
About US Ceiling Corp Founded in 2001, US Ceiling Corp is a social impact firm that specializes in interior commercial, multifamily and residential construction. Now in its 21st year, the award-winning NYS Certified M/WBE is committed to diversifying the construction industry and empowering lives. People-focused and purpose-driven, US Ceiling partners with like-minded organizations to provide skilled trades training and employment opportunities—helping people build economic self-reliance and inclusive, equitable communities that thrive. For more information, visit usceiling.com, Instagram: @us_ceiling_corp and LinkedIn: US Ceiling Corp
About Xylem Projects Xylem Projects is a mission-driven real estate development and investment firm. As an NYC and NYS Certified M/WBE business, Xylem is dedicated to preserving housing and creating mixed-use projects in which tenant and community outcomes are front and center. Xylem seeks to make investments that help communities thrive and is guided by its four pillars of community enrichment, design, sustainability, and innovation. For more information, visit xylem.nyc