ITHACA, N.Y. — As of Tuesday, the former Nines building at 311 College Avenue has new owners.

According to deed filings with the Tompkins County Clerk, a limited-liability company (LLC) owned by Nines proprietors Harold Schultz and Mark Kielmann sold the former firehouse-turned-restaurant to “311 CA Associates LLC” for $3 million. A registration filing for the LLC shows that it shares an address with the offices of prominent Ithaca developers John Novarr and Phil Proujansky. The sales price is somewhat less than the $3.5 million that 311 College Avenue had been listed for on commercial real estate websites.

The Nines property has been the subject of controversy in recent years as its longtime owner-proprietors sought to retire and sell the building. Initially, Visum Development Group had entered into a purchase agreement for the property and proposed a six-story building for the site, but the plans received significant pushback from residents who wanted the venerable century-old building designated a historic local landmark. The building plans were canceled, revived a month later, and then quietly shelved later in 2018.

Meanwhile, plans to designate the building a historic landmark received push back from the owners and their supporters. Schultz and Kielmann had run the Nines for 38 years, and the city had not expressed any interest in a potential historic landmarking until they were preparing to sell. The owners contended that landmarking would have made the building much more onerous to renovate or redevelop, making it much less valuable and threatening their financial capacity to retire. The landmarking fell through in June 2018, when the Ithaca Common Council split on a 5-5 vote for designation, and mayor Svante Myrick cast the deciding vote to defeat the proposal.

It is not clear what is planned for the site at this time, though clearly Novarr and Proujansky have been gearing up for a major project in the Collegetown neighborhood. A one-story building the duo owned at 325 College Avenue was taken down in part to make way for a future development, and the pair made a massive $15.6 million purchase of multiple properties across the street from the Nines late last year.

While it has yet to be confirmed on-the-record, it is strongly believed that Novarr and Proujansky are the developers behind a massive Collegetown redevelopment project first pointed out by the mayor in his State of the City address, and later described in the City’s 2018 Planning Report as a 900,000 square-foot project with up to 300 housing units and commercial space. An undertaking of that scale would require the ownership of numerous Collegetown properties, and the only large Collegetown landlord actively acquiring new space is the Novarr-Mackesey Development Company. The Ithaca-based firm has grown rapidly in recent years, with the 1,200-plus bed Collegetown Terrace on East State Street, the Breazzano Center for Cornell University at 209-215 Dryden Road, and apartments for visiting Cornell faculty and staff currently under construction at 119-125 College Avenue among its latest projects.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.