In the latest of several battles over historic Collegetown sites, the Ithaca Landmark Preservation Committee voted on Tuesday night to recommend designating the building that houses The Nines a “historic property”.
The building at 311 College Avenue, which once housed Ithaca Fire Station #9, has been home to the popular bar and pizza joint for nearly 40 years. Landmark status would prevent any significant exterior modifications in order to preserve the structure’s historic relevance.
“The #9 Fire Station served as a physical, social and residential connector between Cornell University and the neighborhood on East Hill,” said Christine O’Malley, preservation services coordinator for Historic Ithaca. “Not all fire stations have that history.”
The recommendation for landmark designation passed despite impassioned pleas from the co-owners of the property, Mark Kielmann and Harold Schultz. If officially designated, they will not be able to proceed with plans to demolish and develop the lot into a housing project.
“We are not Fire Station #9. We have not been [here] for 50 years,” Kielmann said when he addressed the board before the vote. He urged the commission to consider the land as a private property rather than a public space.
As the next step in designation, the board moved to send the proposal to the Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Board — a decision the owners promised to “fight all the way.”
This vote comes after months of speculation over the property’s future and in the wake of several battles over landmark designation over other Collegetown buildings, including the designation of the Larkin building and the defeat of the Chacona Block proposal.
The official proposal for the designation of the building, submitted before the meeting, stressed Criterions One and Five of the city’s guidelines for the designation of a landmark.
The first criterion applies to any building deemed to possess “special character” within the history of the area, while the fifth criterion requires a property to be associated with three prominent architects in Ithaca history. In the case of the property at 311 College Ave, these were Clinton L. Vivian, Arthur N. Gibb and Ornan H. Waltz.
When the floor opened for comments from the public, John Schroeder ’74, alumni advisor for the Cornell Daily Sun Alumni Association, suggested an addendum to the proposal that would place the building under the second criterion as well.
This criterion includes being associated with “historically significant persons,” and was proposed because of the building’s ties to William H. Sage, an early Cornell trustee member who was instrumental in the development of the firehouse.
The Landmark Preservation Commission drafted an addendum including this criterion that will be added to the proposal for the next vote.
The board also addressed the state of the building structure itself. The owners argued that because they had always intended to develop the building, the back side of the property is now in a state of “deterioration.”
According to Bryan McCracken, historic preservation planner, there is precedent for rejecting designation for buildings that are no longer viable, and “the ILPC does consider demolition proposals on a case-by-case basis.”
The commission emphasized, however, that they did not want to encourage “demolition by neglect,” according to M. Megan McDonald, board member.
Multiple supporting documents were submitted to the council on the day of the meeting, including legal rebuttals of the proposal penned by the property owners’ attorneys.
Though there was talk of a special meeting to vote on the issue, the landmark commission opted to have an informal 15-minute reading session to review the new material instead, after which the vote to designate was taken.
After review by the Planning and Development Board, the proposal will be sent to the Common Council, which next meets on March 7.