The Common Council officially struck down the controversial proposal to declare the Nines building in Collegetown a local landmark. The tiebreaker vote followed a five-hour meeting Tuesday night that set a “record” for public comment.
The owners, Mark Kielmann ’72 and Harold Schultz, will be able to sell the property for development without the constraints of landmark designation, which would have required any exterior change to the building to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The council was split 5-5 before Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 broke the tie with a vote of no. This marks the second contentious landmarking vote Myrick has decided within a year, after his vote blocked the Chacona Block property from designation last fall.
Kielmann and Schultz, present at the meeting, showed immediate relief and celebrated the decision in the chamber briefly, embracing family, friends and supporters.
The meeting heard 52 public commentators, a number that Alderperson Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) remarked was a “record.” Prior to the meeting, the Facebook page of the Nines urged local citizens to come out to the meeting and speak against designation, calling the situation “an all-out war.”
Kielmann and Schultz have spoken out against designation since the proposal was announced last fall, according to prior reporting by The Sun. Regardless of the ultimate decision, the co-owners had planned to close the Nines restaurant, banking on the money from the sale of the property as their retirement funds.
The plan that went before the Common Council Tuesday night proposed to only landmark the front portion of the building, including the iconic front setback where Nines patrons have enjoyed pizza and appetizers for nearly forty years. However, this compromise, commissioned after a March Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, did not satisfy the co-owners nor their supporters.
Kielmann told the Ithaca Voice that Visum Development had offered him $3 million for the property last year. However, a review of what the property would potentially be worth if designated, performed by Ithaca Director of Assessment Jay Franklin, only placed the property at $1.4 million — a loss of $1.6 million in sale value.
The Common Council debated the issue for nearly an hour Tuesday night, with multiple alderpersons remarking on the difficulty of the decision as well as the many aspects weighing on their minds.
Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), who lives “right around the corner” from the Nines property, advocated designation in order to preserve the history as well as the quality of life for Collegetown residents.
“I’m convinced that there’s more life to this building,” Kerslick said.
George McGonigal (D-1st Ward), agreed with Kerslick, arguing that the Nines’ rich arts heritage and central location were important to preserve as Collegetown rides out a wave of recent development.
Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) called into question the timeline of the ILPC’s push for designation, which kicked off only after Visum brought forth development proposals, likening it to spot zoning.
Todd Fox of Visum Development spearheaded the development deal last fall, which the ILPC originally cooperated with, Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken told the council. The ILPC put forth the proposal after Visum showed signs of pulling back, though the developers decided to attempt to go forward as planned.
In the ensuing months, several possibilities were put forth, including the final proposal of only designating the front portion. Other proposals included a HUD action plan that would provide the city input on the final development or the highlighting of the ILPC’s ability to grant demolition permission in the future in the case of extreme financial detriment.
Alderperson Stephen Smith (D-4th Ward) argued that if loopholes were being sought before the designation had even passed, then there was likely not a strong enough basis for designation at all.
Before voting began, Myrick gave a short speech on his position, which only became a voting one due to the tie. He praised the work of the Nines’ owners, citing the restaurant as “still one of the three reasons [he goes] to Collegetown” past his undergraduate years, but urged the council members to consider the future instead of the past.
Despite differences in opinions, the council praised the work of both McCracken and the ILPC and the Nines’ owners. Myrick commended the years that Kielmann and Schultz put into serving the community, and their success in purchasing a run-down building and “making a community center at a long and slow burn.”
“You can’t write a better story,” Myrick said.