US Ceiling Corp tapped to transform new home of founding chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, nation’s first Black intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity

Award-winning MWBE construction firm to help reimagine 11,000-SF,
15-bedroom house located in Ithaca’s Cornell Heights Historic District

ITHACA, N.Y., August 16, 2023—US Ceiling Corp, an award-winning NYS Certified MWBE firm committed to diversifying the construction industry, today announced it will serve as general contractor for the founding chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha’s physical residence hall and program house, the “House of Alpha,” located in Ithaca’s Cornell Heights Historic District.

Owned by the 501c3 nonprofit Alpha Light Fund Inc., the 11,000-square-foot House of Alpha, located at 105 Westbourne Lane, not only becomes the first-ever permanent residence for brothers of the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., but also serves as a catalyst and platform to develop current and future leaders in all fields. The newly restored facility will be the location of the Alpha Light Fund Leadership Institute: a cultural destination site for support, rejuvenation, growth and development. The Institute’s programs and services are designed to strengthen and reimagine social impact to create a more just and equitable society.

Originally built in 1927, the 15-bedroom historic structure features exposed timber beams, slate roofing and custom finishes. Renovations include an ADA-accessible entrance, new mechanical and electrical systems, new signage and flooring, window and exterior siding restoration, sitework and exterior patios, and a structural steel addition and roof deck. US Ceiling Corp was awarded a contract to oversee demolition and abatement, and interior and exterior construction to transform the space for future occupants.

“As a minority- and woman-owned construction company continually working to build our capacity these past 22 years, we are deeply honored to partner with Alpha Light Fund and the founding chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha on such a historically significant initiative,” says US Ceiling Corp President Melissa James-Geska. This project represents a lot of firsts, most importantly for our trailblazing clients. To have a place to call home, that you own, right near Cornell University—where everything began in 1906—is beyond inspiring. This general contracting opportunity is also the first of its kind for my organization. We have worked very hard to break barriers and strengthen our value proposition and service offerings to be able to execute a project such as this, and we’re very grateful for the trust placed in our team and the opportunity to establish a foothold in the Ithaca market. We are also thrilled to be connecting with and hiring other skilled trade professionals in the area, as US Ceiling Corp is part of the Southworks development team, and this project is a wonderful catalyst for that initiative as well.”

“We are delighted to partner with US Ceiling Corp in their mission to empower lives and provide opportunities for marginalized individuals and underserved Black communities, which perfectly aligns with the goals of our organization,” says Alpha Light Fund President Dr. Dennis Mitchell. “Just as the founding of Alpha Chapter was like the ‘big bang’ from which all Black Greek organizations sprang, we hope this milestone for Alpha Phi Alpha’s founding chapter both provides significant value for the local Black community and sets a precedent that other Black Greek collegiate chapters across the globe will follow.”

AEPM International, LLC, a full-service, minority-owned architectural and engineering firm is overseeing the design of the project. Demolition and abatement for the residence hall is under way, and construction began in July. Prospective bidders interested in the project should contact US Ceiling Corp Preconstruction Manager Rich Nestlen at rich@usceiling.comcreate new email. Minority- and woman-owned construction companies are encouraged to participate.

Follow this developing story on US Ceiling Corp’s social media channels or the news section of their website.

About US Ceiling Corp
Based in Rochester, N.Y., with a growing presence in Ithaca, US Ceiling Corp ( is a social impact contractor that specializes in interior commercial, multifamily and residential construction. Now in its 22nd year, the award-winning NYS Certified M/WBE 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. LinkedIn: US Ceiling Corp; Instagram: @us_ceiling_corp

About Alpha Light Fund
Alpha Light Fund Inc. [] is a 501c3 nonprofit organization committed to supporting initiatives and projects that improve the lives of young African-Americans and Black communities.

About Alpha Phi Alpha™
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Md., was founded on December 4, 1906, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. The Fraternity has long stood at the forefront of the African-American community’s fight for civil rights through Alpha men, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Andrew Young, Edward Brooke and Cornel West. The fraternity, through its more than 720 college and alumni chapters and general-organization members, serves communities in the United States, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Visit and follow Alphi Phi Alpha on Twitter @apa1906network.


Unique partnership announces details of groundbreaking SouthWorks project

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.”

In addition to the four partners, the site will utilize the talents of CJS Architects, Fagan Engineers, SCAPE Landscape Architecture, and Buro Happold as the sustainability consultants.

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 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, 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, 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