The Chacona Block, which is owned by Student Agencies and houses Collegetown Bagels.

Sun File Photo

The Chacona Block, which is owned by Student Agencies and houses Collegetown Bagels.

August 30, 2019

Are Collegetown Bagels and Rulloff’s On the Chopping Block? Developers Plan Demolition for June 2020

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One week after spring graduation, Collegetown Bagels and Rulloff’s Restaurant will shut their doors. They may not reopen for at least a year.

Cornell’s Student Agencies, Incorporated — which owns the block building on the corner of College Avenue — submitted redevelopment mockups for a new six-story building on the lot to the City of Ithaca’s planning board on Friday, who will review the documents on Sept. 24. Demolition would begin June 1, with a reopening slated for August 2021.

The plans include an outdoor gathering space similar to Collegetown Bagels’ busy outdoor plaza. The plans may not include Collegetown Bagels.

SAI CEO Kyle Karnes ’91 told The Sun that while Collegetown Bagels’ owners have expressed their desire to sign another lease for space in the new property, no agreement has been reached and SAI is also considering other tenant options.

“At this point, there’s no guarantees who’s going to be in that space going forward,” Karnes said, while noting the businesses’ nearly 50-year relationship. “We’re going to keep having those discussions with CTB — and with others, quite frankly.”

The new building would add two stories to its current height, thanks to new zoning designations in the area. It would include a bottom floor of retail space, as well as five stories and 56 units of “higher-end” apartments that are priced accordingly, Karnes said.

Development is projected to cost $12 million.

Gregar Brous — part of the Brous family, whose local eatery staples include Ithaca Bakery and three CTB locations — told The Sun on Friday that the plans put the futures of the Collegetown branch and Rulloff’s bar in limbo.

Though the designs are still under review, Brous — who also owns Rulloff’s — is preparing his next move with the expectation of demolition. If given the option, he said, he’d like to reopen in the new space.

“Part of it will be a financial decision,” he said. “I don’t know what the rent structure will be.”

Brous claims that he already pays the highest rent per square foot in all of Ithaca. Though there have been a few conversations with Student Agencies, he currently has no idea how pricing will be handled in the new building.

Karnes declined to comment to The Sun if or how much rent would change if CTB were to sign a new lease. The majority of SAI’s income and operating budget comes from rent from its College Avenue properties.

Even so, August 2021 would be the earliest that CTB and Rulloff’s could move back onto the Collegetown corner.

During that time, Brous said that he may try to open new locations in one or two of Collegetown’s many empty storefronts, ideally opening the same day the current locations close.

“We would like to maintain some presence here,” he said. Whether that would be a permanent move or a temporary one, he doesn’t yet know.

Sketches show what the building may look like. Developer tried include elements of the existing street design.

Courtesy of Student Agencies

Sketches show what the building may look like. Developer tried include elements of the existing street design.

Student Agencies notified Brous of the development plans on June 1 of this year, a year out as required by their current lease. He saw the draft plans for the first time this week.

The proposal replaces the 17-unit building and its 1800s-era stone facade — described as “crumbling” by surveyors in 2017 — with a sleek 56-unit complex.

While the plans state that the side of the new building facing College Avenue would keep street continuity in mind — including preserving some of the original stone design elements — the corner facing Cornell would be redone in tall glass to reflect the trees and sky lining Cascadilla Gorge.

It would feature historic Chacona Block’s decorative stone lions, which workers pried off and preserved during previous construction, but not its Greek cross — which broke into pieces during the process.

Student Agencies has contracted with local firms Holt Architects, Whitham Planning & Design and Frost Travis for the development.

“This corner has been really important to the community and the Cornell community for 100 years,” Karnes said. “And so we take our responsibilities for the corner very seriously.”

For almost 40 years of that time, the corner has been home to breakfast, late-night and reunion weekend favorite CTB.

The restaurant opened in Collegetown in 1980, in the shop that now houses the Bear Necessities merchandise store. It was only a one-counter shop, Brous said, run by himself and his wife. In the beginning, it sold two products: bagels and cream cheese.

“When we expanded and we offered melted cheese on a bagel, it was like earth-shattering,” he said. “And then when we added tuna fish, I thought people were going to freak out.”

Though CTB has been dishing up bread creations for nearly four decades, its tenure is dwarfed by age of the 108-year-old Chacona Block building, which has maintained its original facade through the decades. And Student Agencies, 17 years its senior, will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year.

A plan for the Cornell-facing view of the new building. Large glass panes would reflect towards campus.

Courtesy of Student Agencies

A plan for the Cornell-facing view of the new building. Large glass panes would reflect towards campus.

The student-run non-profit involved some of its undergraduate members in the building redesign process, which Karnes said kicked into high gear about six months ago.

“We’re planning for our next 100 years,” he said. “We’re all Cornellians ourselves … and we demand a beautiful project on the corner.”

Plans to redevelop the space have been in the works for longer than that, however. Community preservationists met SAI’s plan to redevelop several years ago with a two-year push to instead designate the building as a historical property — blocking demolition entirely.

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 broke a Common Council tie in November 2017 with a vote to deny the designation, citing necessity for economic progress and development.

During the designation proceedings, Gregar’s father and Ithaca Bakery founder Ira Brous expressed concern that a redevelopment would mean CTB was “thrown out of the building.”

“This is not a case where Student Agencies is kicking CTB out of the building and saying ‘see ya, we never want to talk to you again,’” Karnes said on Friday.

“There’s going to be a new lease for somebody on that corner,” he continued. “Now, obviously, we’re exploring all our options, but clearly one of those options is … to continue to move forward with CTB.”

CTB is moving forward as well: Its downtown location will shift into the Ithaca City Center in October, leaving only one of the three branches in its current location by this time next year.

“I realize there are changes, and that’s part of life. And we will adapt,” Brous said. “At the same time, we’re pretty attached to the space.”

Correction, August 31: A previous version of this story misstated the age of the Chacona Block building. It is 108 years old, not 123. The Sun regrets this error.