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 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

###

US Ceiling Corp recognized as a Level Up Champion by RMAPI

Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative program celebrates organizations whose starting wage is $15 or higher

WEBSTER, N.Y., July 8, 2022—Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) today recognized US Ceiling as a Level Up Champion. The program celebrates employers who have made the decision to increase their starting wage, showing that doing the right thing is part of their company’s DNA.

“Making this pledge to RMAPI is an easy decision,” says US Ceiling President Melissa James-Geska. “We increased our minimum base salary from $15 to $16 per hour in June of 2021, as it aligns with our longstanding commitment to invest in our employees. Our people, who are the soul of our organization, remain our greatest asset.”

The Level Up Champion distinction signifies to current and potential employees that an organization is committed to fighting poverty. RMAPI recognizes these organizations and hopes to inspire other employers to commit to a $15/hour starting wage and be part of the wider movement to lift the entire Rochester community.

“We are proud to be among many other organizations who are recognized as a Level Up Champion and hope other employers answer RMAPI’s call to action,” says James-Geska.

To learn more about Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and become a Level Up Champion, visit www.levelupchampion.org.

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 21st 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, including the Urban League of Rochester and ITEC (Isaac Training & Education Center) to provide skilled trades training and employment opportunities—helping people build economic self-reliance and inclusive, equitable communities that thrive.

US Ceiling proud to provide interior solutions for LECESSE Construction’s Zion Hill Senior Apartments project

Governor Kathy Hochul yesterday announced completion of a $13.5 million affordable and supportive housing development in southwest Rochester. Zion Hill Senior Apartments features 45 affordable apartments for households aged 55 and older, with seven apartments reserved for residents in need of supportive services to help them live independently. 

“Access to safe, affordable, and supportive housing is critical to helping seniors remain healthy, active and engaged in their communities,” Governor Hochul said. “Zion Hill Senior Apartments provides a comfortable and secure environment, while complementing transit-oriented revitalization efforts in Rochester. Developments like this will ultimately help us achieve a greener and more equitable New York for the future.”  

Read NYS’ full press release hereopens PDF file .

US Ceiling promotes Laura West to vice president of business development

WEBSTER, N.Y., February 2, 2022—US Ceiling Corp, an award-winning social impact subcontractor, is pleased to announce the promotion of Laura West to vice president of business development.

In her new position, West aims to strengthen existing client relationships, promote US Ceiling’s role as a long-standing trusted resource and identify emerging gaps or opportunities in the marketplace. She will also work to enhance the firm’s corporate strategy in conjunction with its executive leadership team.

“Laura continues to build momentum within our company, including growing our people, our client base and opening new channels of revenue,” says US Ceiling President Melissa Geska. “She is committed to raising the bar at every turn to establish a truly differentiating experience in terms of creating and cultivating construction relationships. Her ability to significantly impact our organization by combining her people skills and her purpose-driven spirit makes us a best-in-class team capable of supporting and exceeding our industry’s needs.”

West brings more than 30 years of business and corporate strategy experience, including community outreach, marketing, real estate and program development. She joined US Ceiling in 2018 as director of USC Academy, helping launch [and develop curricula for] the company’s workforce development program, which is designed to cross-train and enhance the skills of existing field staff and provide priority populations in the Rochester community with skilled trades training and employment opportunities. In late 2020, West stepped into the role of director of human resources, overseeing employee onboarding and annual reviews.

“I am very excited to take on my new role,” says West. “The breadth of construction expertise combined with the investments in our people and work scopes position the company for significant growth potential. I am eager to focus on client engagement and strategic initiatives as we continue to provide our customers with successful project outcomes and exceptional service.”

West holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Rochester and is an SOS (Save our Sodus) board member and co-founder of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame. She is a former board member for the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, and has served as a United Way volunteer. West is a local real estate investor and NYS licensed salesperson, working in commercial and residential sales for Coldwell Banker. She resides in the Webster area.

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 21st 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, including the Urban League of Rochester and ITEC (Isaac Training & Education Center) to provide skilled trades training and employment opportunities—helping people build economic self-reliance and inclusive, equitable communities that thrive.

###

US Ceiling promotes Sherry Jackson to vice president of marketing and communications

WEBSTER, N.Y., December 22, 2020—US Ceiling Corp is pleased to announce the promotion of Sherry Jackson to vice president of marketing and communications.

In her new role, Jackson will continue to lead strategic marketing initiatives, as well as drive efforts for brand recognition, advertising, social media and internal and external communications.

“Sherry has proven herself to be an invaluable asset to our company. She performs with the stealth and grace of a racehorse and the force of an army,” says Melissa Geska, president of US Ceiling Corp. “With the passion and diverse mix of communications industry experience she brings, I know she will continue to expand and bolster our marketing and brand initiatives, and we are excited to see her continued leadership.”

Jackson joined US Ceiling in 2018 as director of marketing and business development, helping rebrand the growing minority- and woman-owned (M/WBE) company and successfully launch its AeroBarrier division.

A results-driven leader, Jackson began her communications career as a public affairs associate at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center. Since then, she’s worked locally as an award-winning advertising copywriter and public relations account executive, successfully managing key accounts in the wine and spirits, energy, transportation, aerospace, defense, industrial, and senior health care markets. Jackson made the shift to the construction industry more than six years ago, serving as a corporate communications specialist and diversity program manager. It was then she tapped into her passion for supporting M/WBE firms.

“I feel extremely blessed to reach a point in my career where my ‘heart work’ intersects with my ‘work work,’” says Jackson. “US Ceiling has the magic that only a diverse team can bring and I’m honored to continue helping the company build its incredible capacity.”

Jackson holds a B.A. in communications/journalism from St. John Fisher College and is a co-founder of the Rochester Anti-Racism Action Coalition. She resides in the Webster, N.Y. area.

About US Ceiling Corp

Founded in 2001, US Ceiling Corp (usceiling.com) is a NYS Certified M/WDBE subcontracting firm that offers extensive experience in commercial, multifamily and residential construction, including acoustical ceilings and drywall; insulation and air barrier systems; metal stud and wood framing; finished carpentry and general trades; and construction management. The Webster, N.Y.-based firm’s consistent stability and growth stem from the hard work and dedication demonstrated across its expanding footprint, allowing a broad reach of services for local and out-of-town projects. With an unwavering commitment to diversify the construction industry, US Ceiling Corp is committed to empowering the Rochester community and partners with like-minded organizations, including the Urban League of Rochester’s YouthBuild Program, to provide skilled trades training and employment opportunities.

###