September 22, 2019

GUEST ROOM | The Destruction of Collegetown

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Imagine you are an alumnus from the Class of 2010: You and a couple of your college friends make the trek to Ithaca to visit your old stomping grounds. After checking out campus for a little while, you head towards Collegetown for dinner.

“How about Stella’s?” your friend suggests, “It’s got great atmosphere.”

“Sounds good!”

You walk across Cascadilla Gorge and down College Avenue. You see the black awning — “COFFEE LUNCH BRUNCH STELLA’S DINNER WINE COCKTAILS.” As you come nearer, however, you see the windows are covered with paper “FOR RENT.” No problem, you can walk a bit further and go to The Nine’s. They’ve got great atmosphere and the deep-dish pizza is delicious, you think to yourself, I remember going there with my friends during my first week on campus. Great memories. You speed walk to The Nine’s, knowing that there will be a wait when you arrive. You cross over Dryden Road and note that an empty lot occupies the former home of the Turk Brothers clothing store on the corner. On the corner across College Avenue, you see another vacant lot: I thought a buffet placed opened there, you think.

Finally, you get to The Nine’s, or at least, the former home of The Nine’s. You are heartbroken. How could such a popular and lively spot shut down? Eventually, you are able to find a place to eat: now time to hang out, catch up and chat over some drinks at one of the many bars that bring life to Collegetown.

“Let’s go to the Palms!” Everyone agrees it’s a good choice, and you walk up Dryden Road. However, you soon notice that in place of the beloved 70 year-old tavern stands a huge glass façade with windows revealing the empty and lifeless atrium of the Breazzano Center. This isn’t the Collegetown I remember, you think, where’s the life?

Fine, The Palms is gone, but at least you can still go to the Chapter House, right? This was a great spot! I remember going here the evening before graduation. You follow Dryden Road down to Eddy Street and take the steep route down Williams Street. You see the familiar building of The Chapter House, but where’s the sign? Where are the neon lights in the windows? “Apartments for Rent,” a paper in the window reads. You’re no longer surprised; it seems that everything is closed.

You continue walking around Collegetown, noting the missing locations: Dino’s is gone as is Johnny O’s, and what happened to the Pixel Lounge? You and your friends find yourselves returning to the only remaining lively strip of town: the building with Collegetown Bagels and Rulloff’s.

Okay, you can stop imagining that you are an alumnus.

Collegetown is supposed to be the close-to-campus option for students wishing to reside in a lively town setting. It’s a spot for students to go grab a bite to eat with friends at a real restaurant that doesn’t feel like a dining hall. Traditionally, the liveliness of Collegetown came from the many restaurants and bars that provided sustenance, conversation and an escape from campus. But one by one they’re disappearing.

The liveliest remaining spot — no matter the time or day of the week — is the corner home to CTB. It shouldn’t be surprising, given how Collegetown has been changing, that this corner is next on the list to be disrupted, but the word-of-mouth concern floating around campus is apparent. CTB does not work solely because of its location. It works because of its character.

The chalked menu, the brick and wooden exterior, the classic outdoor seating space bordered by trees, flowers and a wall that contours to the natural hill of the land. Sure, the building is old, but it represents what Collegetown has always been about: old walls that have seen generations of students grabbing coffee in the mornings, eating with friends, going out for drinks after a rough exam — living and bringing life to Collegetown.

The plans for the building to occupy the corner of CTB is set to have a glass façade with “high-quality urban design elements,” according to the mockups for the construction. This sounds awfully like Breazzano Family Center on Dryden Road (I’m sure many readers don’t even know what this building is) — another unwelcoming faceless building that stands on the grave of lively institutions. These cold modern buildings are architecturally nice, and perhaps would be welcome additions elsewhere.

But in an old, college neighborhood at a school characterized by great tradition and history, it just seems wrong. Student Agencies, which owns the building, does plan to lease the bottom space of the reconstructed building to retail. However, with the need to cover construction costs, they may jack up the rent too high for CTB (which already claims to pay the highest rent in Ithaca) and Rulloff’s to stay. To be honest, I’m not sure if there is anything that can be done about these changes; they tend to be out of control of students. I used to think that it simply required supporting Collegetown institutions that closed due to lack of business, but CTB proves that even the successful spots aren’t safe.

It seems certain that CTB and Rulloff’s will be kicked out, at least temporarily, as construction is going to happen. CTB could relocate within Collegetown temporarily as construction takes place, but their home is that first corner of College Avenue. I hope that Student Agencies recognizes the value of institutions like CTB and Rulloff’s and is able to offer reasonable lease agreements that encourage their return. While I’ll certainly miss the current building, it seems like the minimum Student Agencies should do is work hard to ensure that the tenants that make their building so popular are welcomed back after construction.

Matthew Frucht is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com.