Housing Development Would Put Collegetown Landmark at Risk

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The Nines bar and restaurant is a popular hub for students and residents alike

At a recent City of Ithaca Planning & Development board meeting, a local developer proposed a plan for a new multi-story apartment and retail building at 311 College Avenue, the home of The Nines bar and restaurant and the historic Neriton Number 9 Fire Company.

Affordable housing in the area has been increasingly hard to come by. Brian Crandall for The Ithaca Voice put the median income for a family in Tompkins County at $53,000 in 2015, while the average purchase price of a house in the county was $230,000. The development, which is aimed at housing students, is just one of many proposed housing solutions.

IV Housing
Housing prices in Ithaca have been rising disproportionately to income in recent years (via Ithaca Voice)

One of the many blues jams that happened weekly (via Tompkins Weekly archive

Students such as Cornell senior Michelle Xiong frequent The Nines and see it as a staple of the Cornell experience. Xiong, who first visited the bar as a sophomore, said she would be disappointed to see the end of the establishment.

“Ever since I first heard about [The Nines] from my roommate, I have been coming here with my friends,” said Xiong. “We refer to it as the upscale Collegetown Bagels.”

Mary Tomlan, the city’s historian, said that it is necessary to distinguish between the history of the much-loved businesses that have been residents of the station and the history of the building itself. She said that while it would obviously be a shame to see The Nines retire, it is ultimately the decision of the owners to sell the property. It is her wish that should the property be sold, the developers would take into account the importance of the station to the area.

Tomlan said the station is representative of a time of growth in the area. In the 1880s Cornell University experienced a surge in students, requiring the amassing of a significant amount of new buildings to house them. This resulted in the transformation of the surrounding area from largely farmland into a busy hub of academics and business.

Many of the buildings were cheaply built and plagued by fire hazards. Tomlan said the issue at the time was that the closest emergency services were down the hill, and it was often difficult for firemen to get their horse-drawn equipment up to the scene of the emergency. Members of the Cornell faculty, students, and other community members believed they could solve this issue themselves and were allowed by the city to create the Number 9 Fire Company in 1894.

Photos of the firehouse (above) and the #9 Fire Company (below) via Tompkins weekly archive

Many of the buildings were cheaply built and plagued by fire hazards. Tomlan said the issue at the time was that the closest emergency services were down the hill, and it was often difficult for firemen to get their horse-drawn equipment up to the scene of the emergency. Members of the Cornell faculty, students, and other community members believed they could solve this issue themselves and were allowed by the city to create the Number 9 Fire Company in 1894.

“The significance, I think, is that this is a time when the city of Ithaca recognized what we now know as Collegetown as an integral part of the city deserving of full municipal services, said Tomlan.
The current status of the development is pending. Neither the Planning & Development board nor the owners of the bar returned a request for comment, though Tomlan said the board requested a revised plan that would incorporate aspects of the original building if possible.

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I am currently a junior at Ithaca College studying journalism and politics in the Park School of Communications. I have been writing since a young age, and have always found the stories of the people around me to be more interesting than my own. I am currently in my third year of reporting for my college’s award-winning paper, The Ithacan, and have recently interned both for my local online newspaper, The Holliston Reporter, and Massachusetts State Rep. Carolyn Dykema.

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