With fiery citizens overflowing Ithaca City Hall on Wednesday night, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 broke a Common Council tie by voting to not designate the Chacona building in Collegetown a historic landmark, possibly imperiling the future of Collegetown Bagels in the building.
The vote, which split Common Council, means that Student Agencies, the student-run organization that owns the building, will likely aim to replace the building at 411 to 415 College Ave., which has housed Collegetown Bagels since 1995, with a new building that has more apartments.
Ira Brous, one of the owners of CTB, said a redevelopment could make it possible that CTB “will be thrown out of the building” and could imperil the food production for other locations.
“We are vertically integrated,” Brous said, adding: “If this affects our kitchen, which makes the food for our other locations, our entire business is at risk. … I’m not just talking about the Collegetown location, but all of them.”
No redevelopment plans have yet been submitted to the city by Student Agencies, so it is unclear what kind of impact the group’s potential renovations could have on the longtime bagel, sandwich and coffee shop.
The group said in a statement before the vote that even if landmark designation was granted, it would “not preserve the ongoing operations of CTB, as that is determined by the usual landlord-tenant lease.”
Luke Bushner ’19, president of Student Agencies, said on Wednesday night that a petition signed by more than 2,200 urging the city to designate the building as historic was misleading, “if not irresponsible.”
“It was framed in a way that made it seem like they were saving Collegetown Bagels,” Bushner said, claiming that the development “wouldn’t affect that area.”
Student Agencies offered a memorandum of commitment that if they were allowed to develop the property, they would maintain an outdoor space that is similar to the current outdoor patio and develop the building in a way that retains its current architectural style. CTB’s owners remain concerned that the patio may be removed in any redevelopment, which could imperil the business.
“I am worried about CTB,” Myrick told The Sun in a brief interview after the vote. “I love CTB more than the next guy, and I hope they remain on that corner for as long as I am alive.”
“But, I also care about the overall health of the vicinity, and freezing [development on] that corner isn’t the best we can do,” he added. “The students who live in that building could tell you why.”
The vote split the two alderpeople who represent the Fourth Ward, which encompasses Collegetown. Stephen J. Smith, an associate director of development at Cornell, voted against historic designation and Graham Kerslick, executive director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, voted in favor.
Kerslick said the building is “charming” and has a “local presence” and it would be a “significant loss” if the building was not preserved. Smith, in a previous interview, told The Sun that historical designation would “lock the visual appearance of this building while doing little to protect the functions and features we love.”
Many speakers affiliated with Student Agencies voiced their opposition to the landmark designation, including the agency’s former president, CEO and many alumni and current members.
Lincoln Morse, owner of the development company that surveyed the building, said the building is “crumbling.”
“This is a product that doesn’t meet any standards of modern masonry construction and has reached its lifetime expectancy,” Morse said of the building’s current materials. “It doesn’t make sense to spend $2 million on a facade that currently costs $400,000.”
Those who spoke in favor of the landmark designation emphasized that the building is central to the history of Collegetown, and said that with proper maintenance, it could survive for many years. The building, these people said, is also a symbol of the Greek immigration that played a significant role in the development of Ithaca.
Prof. Katelin Olson, architecture, art and planning, is an expert in historic preservation and started the popular petition on Facebook that urged Common Council to designate the building as historic.
“It can take up to 80 years for a new building to make up for unnecessary demolition of a historical building,” Olson said. “When a building is demolished, it will result in an overwhelming amount of the materials ending up in a landfill.”
The Chacona block building meets all five of the criteria for historical landmark designation, according to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Julee Johnson, president of Historic Ithaca’s board of directors, told The Sun after the vote that “the organization is disappointed, but what was interesting was how hard the decision was.”
“There was a lot of thought given and a lot of discussion,” she said.
Smith said the building is not important enough to restrict the possibility of redeveloping the building.
Chacona “is not a guy people looked into the history of and then they found the building,” Smith said. “It was the other way around.”
“This building would make him historical, it would not canonize the history he made or contributed,” Smith said.
Cynthia Brock mentioned that while this block holds memories for many Ithacans and Cornellians, a landmark designation is “not the way” to keep those “memories alive.”
Myrick, in explaining his vote against the designation, also said Collegetown “is better than it was five years ago” and that residents of the area now have “an interest in non-drinking activities, which is something we hoped for.”
Cynthia Brock (First Ward), Donna Fleming (Third), Rob Gearhart (Third), Deborah Mohlenhoff (Fifth Ward), Smith and Myrick voted against the designation while George McGonigal (First), Seph Murtagh (Second), Ducson Nguyen (Second), Michael Decatur (Fifth) and Kerslick voted in favor.