Michael Wenye Li/ Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Larkin Building was recently designed as a historic landmark. Business owners around Collegetown are critical of this designation.

October 19, 2017

Business Owners Oppose Historic Landmark Designations

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As businesses across Collegetown have become or faced the possibility of becoming historic landmarks, owners of some businesses within these buildings have raised concerns, pointing out drastic increases in expenses associated with such a status.

The Larkin Building, named a historic landmark by the Ithaca Landmark Preservation Commission on Oct. 4, was home to Stella’s Restaurant before it closed last year. It joins two other historic properties on College Avenue, as well as several others around Collegetown, including a string on Eddy Street near the Eddy Gate.

The building housing the Nines has been considered for historic designation as well, and the Chacona Block, the large stucco building housing Collegetown Bagels, will soon go into the last round of voting on its historic status. And those most strongly opposed to reclassification? The building’s owners themselves, Student Agencies.

However, this is not as surprising as it sounds, said Nathan Lyman, manager of Ithaca Renting Company. One of the properties the company manages, Aces Apartments, is located in an Eddy Street building with historic property designation.

Historical landmark designation requires all changes to the exterior and site of the property to be approved first by the Ithaca Landmark Preservation Commission, according to a letter to all historic property owners.

This process, Lyman said, can make even the smallest changes to buildings difficult and expensive.

“My neighbor, who is not historically significant, can put in a vinyl window, which can be a perfectly fine window,” Lyman said. “While for my building, I have to put in a wood-sash window that I have to get custom-built, which can cost three to five times more.”

According to the open letter, the only changes left to the discretion of property owners are the colors of paint and roof sheathing — within a certain, prior approved range.

Bryan McCracken M.A. ’10, historic preservation planner for the City of Ithaca, said that these are necessary guidelines. The ILPC operates “to protect the city’s history and to ensure that representatives of our previous cultural, social [and] economic achievements are preserved for future generations,” he told The Sun.

Student Agencies has plans other than preservation for the property. In August, CEO Kyle Karnes ’91 spoke at an ILPC meeting against the designation.

According to the official transcript of the meeting, SAI hopes to rebuild the property in a modern style while keeping with the style of Collegetown. The original stucco facade has “reached the end of its usable life,” as stated by a consultant from Taitem Engineering.

If the proposal to name the building as a historic landmark is approved, SAI will not be able to rebuild the property without ILPC approval and would likely have to renovate the entire stucco facade, a project estimated at $720,000 by Taitem Engineering.

Owner of the Larkin Building George Avramis, also spoke out against the historical designation at the Common Council meeting, and cited worries about fire hazards.

“I think the owner of the land ought to have input on whether it is going to be designated,” Lyman previously said. “It’s like changing the rules.”

In terms of landmark designation, McCracken believes that the community is on the side of history.

“A lot of people have strong associations with buildings — the Chacona Block at its current location and the Larkin building as well,” he said. “They associate them with the Collegetown of their youth or with the city they grew to love.”

The Chacona Block designation will be decided in front of the Common Council next month.