Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Public backlash and several “roadblocks”, led Visum Development to rescind its proposal for constructing a six-story commercial rental property in place of The Nines.

October 22, 2017

Developer Backs Away from Proposal to Convert The Nines into Apartments

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The developer behind a proposal that would have turned a beloved bar and restaurant, The Nines, into a six-story apartment building has backed away from the Collegetown project, he told The Sun on Sunday.

The news may keep the historic business’s corn nuggets coming for a bit longer, but the developer, Todd Fox of Visum Development, said The Nines’ owners have another buyer, so the business may still be coming to a close.

Fox’s proposal called for a total demolition and redevelopment of the building at 311 College Ave., and would have constructed a 45-unit, six-story commercial rental property in its place, The Sun previously reported.

Facing public backlash, Cornell’s announcement that it plans to add 2,000 on-campus beds by 2021 and a fear that the cost of the project would begin “spiraling out of control,” Fox ultimately withdrew from the project.

“At the time that we originally made the purchase offer, we felt much more bullish on the student rental market,” he said in an email. “We’ve personally noticed less demand in the market over the last year and with Cornell’s latest announcement to add 2000 on campus beds, we know the market will only continue to soften.”

“We were at a critical juncture in which the risk became too great,” he added.

Fox said that “roadblocks” during the planning process also influenced his decision to withdraw the proposal. Owners of The Nines could not be reached for comment on Sunday evening.

“We started to see the potential cost of the project spiraling out of control,” Fox said. “We were already overpaying for the land and where we think the market is going over the next 5 years, we had no room for error.”

The reluctance of the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board to sanction the demolition may have also played a role in Visum Development’s departure.

While lacking an official landmark designation, The Nines building on College Avenue includes both the original No. 9 Ithaca Fire Station, built in 1895, and a 1908 addition at its front. The W.H. Sage Fire Company was formed in 1894 to serve the growing population in Collegetown. In 1971, Ithaca sold the building, noting that it no longer served its needs, and the current fire station was built next door.

The building is eligible for historic preservation by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the fact that there is not an active application for reviewing the site could lead the commission to take up the issue.

The project is a microcosm for the larger debate between those favoring economic development in Collegetown and those putting a greater priority on historic preservation.

Fox said he has “a lot of money invested in this project” and had hoped things could be worked out, but that the sellers had made the project difficult.

“We needed some relief and cooperation from the sellers in order to continue down the planning process and at the very least be able to determine what the true [cost] would be to develop,” Fox said, adding: “Apparently the sellers have another buyer and they decided not to be amenable to our request.”

No one answered an office number for The Nines’ management and someone who picked up the phone at the restaurant said they were not authorized to speak about the development. That person added that one of the owners, Mark Kielmann, was out of town.