The Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee voted Wednesday to send the proposal for historical designation of The Nines restaurant building back to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission for re-examination.
Given the options of a backwards referral, referring the property to the Common Council with either a positive or negative recommendation and tabling the motion altogether, the committee elected to allow further consideration or alternate paths to designation. This could include preserving only the front part of the lot, allowing for some development on the land.
This decision came after a lengthy public hearing, where a parade of local supporters and dissenters weighed in on a Collegetown staple.
Eric Lee, longtime friend of the owners and former Nines employee, said that the Nines had never been a “cash cow,” and that there was little to no hope of them selling the property as a restaurant.
“If you landmark this [property],” he said, “you’re going to chain these people to it.”
Landmark designation would mean that any development or renovation of the restaurant would have to be cleared by the landmarks commission.
Co-owners Mark Kielmann ’72 and Harold Schultz plan to retire regardless of the decision, they said at the meeting. According to Kielmann, the sale of the Nines to a developer was their “retirement plan.”
“I love this town,” Kielmann said. “[But] I don’t feel I’m being treated very fairly at this stage of the game.”
As the owners always planned to sell to a developer, they allowed sections of the building to fall into disrepair, some said. The committee recently toured the building in order to view the building first-hand, after which chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) expressed concern.
Possible alternate plans, a major reason for further review, could include development of only the deteriorated back section of the building.
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Committee and the Planning and Development Board had both unanimously recommended designation of the entire property, as reported by The Sun.
The Planning and Economic Development Committee, as opposed to other review boards, is permitted to take into account the owners’ personal stories and the practical, legislative and economic effects of designation.
“A designation of this property would have a very severe, real-world impact on the owners,” Murtagh said, urging the committee to consider all factors.
“We have contributed a lot to this community,” said Shirley Kielmann, wife of one of the owners. “We would like to end on a good note.”
The Nines building is currently valued at $775,000, according to review by Jay Franklin, county Department of Assessment. If it were permitted to be sold, the value of the property could be upwards of $8 million, said Brody Smith, attorney for Kielmann and Schultz. According to Smith, this could result in over $250,000 a year in tax revenue for the city.
The Nines building is nominated for designation on merit of its history as the No. 9 Fire Station in Collegetown, which served as an operating station in the early twentieth century before it was renovated as a restaurant in the seventies.
John Schroeder ’74, alumni advisor for the Cornell Daily Sun Alumni Association, urged the preservation of at least part of the building as a necessary historical reference for future development.
“It’s matter of wisdom and balance,” Schroeder said, “and putting the community first.”
Schroeder, who served on the Planning and Development Board for more than 18 years but was speaking as a private citizen, was the first at the meeting to suggest preserving only part of the building.
Committee members showed interest in this plan, as it would preserve the street-facing facade and open plaza of the Nines while allowing the owners to have “some sort of return” on their 40-year investment, Murtagh said.
“What we’re trying to do here is find a compromise that will allow us to move forward, that will allow the property owners to retire, and that will allow … the history to be protected,” Murtagh said.
The final decision on the Nines’ status will be made at the next Common Council meeting, slated for April 4.