Ithaca, N.Y. — Ithaca will look to improve fire safety in the city after a blaze at The Chapter House last week destroyed two buildings and displaced dozens of residents, Mayor Svante Myrick said.

Myrick did not go so far as to propose any specific remedies at this point, but said he wants to evaluate what solutions might be feasible after the third major destructive fire in Collegetown over the last few years.

“I think we need to have that conversation now,” Myrick said.

Myrick didn’t think the city could mandate a specific law for Collegetown, but he did suggest that the student neighborhood — with its closely packed wooden buildings — has been hit hard by fires recently.

Here’s a brief history:

May 2011 | Cornell senior Brian Lo dies in a Collegetown fire. The building, 107 Cook Street, was burned down completely.

March 2014 | A fire at 202 Eddy Street in Collegetown displaces 12 residents. The interior of the home is destroyed, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. The home had to be demolished to be rebuilt.

April 2015 | Two buildings and the historic Chapter House bar are destroyed in a fire on the 400 block of Stewart Avenue that displaces at least 44 people.

Photo courtesy of Dave Burbank

As a result of the fires, the city may look to what it can mandate to improve fire safety conditions, according to the mayor.

“We’ve shied away from mandating that all old buildings install sprinklers,” Myrick said. “I’m not sure the benefits outweigh the costs.”

Myrick said he will ask the city’s Rental Housing Advisory Commission to weigh the pros and cons of mandating sprinkler systems. “I’m going to ask them to investigate it,” he says. “I think the best thing is to replace what’s unsafe and to sprinkle what we can, but I don’t know if mandating a replacement makes sense.”

Myrick stressed that he was not suggesting landlords deserved blame for the fires and says he understands that the costs of new safety equipment would almost certainly be passed onto the tenants through higher rents.

Still, Myrick said he thinks fire safety in Collegetown could be improved if local landlords realize that the next building to go up in smoke could be theirs.

“Nobody ever believes it could happen to them,” he says. “…If those of us in public life raise the question, maybe landlords will think, ‘Will it happen to me?’”


Ithaca Voice coverage of Chapter House fire


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.