ITHACA, N.Y. — At the city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting last night, Visum Development Group reintroduced a sketch plan concept to replace the Nines bar and restaurant at 311 College Avenue.

The first plan proved controversial due to concerns over aesthetic impacts and the potential loss of what many local see as a historic structure, although it is not designated as such by the city. The redevelopment plans had been cancelled shortly after negotiations between the the current owners and Visum were called off in late October.

However, in a turn of events, Visum brought forward conceptual plans for a new building to the Planning Board as a last-minute addition to the board’s agenda. A sketch plan is merely a concept phase where the applicant seeks input from the board, with the intent of incorporating the feedback into a formal site plan review application to be submitted to the city later.

“Our goal is to approach redevelopment of 311 College with sensitivity to its context. Since the initial proposals generated some controversy, we wanted to make sure that the Planning Board saw that we dedicated a lot of time, energy, and care into the final product,” said Patrick Braga, Vice President of New Market Development for Visum.

Hand-drawn sketch images by Braga presented a more historically-inspired building design, with first floor retail accessed through garage bay entries shaped like the fire station’s bays, and decorative quoins and cornice elements. The first floor doors would be either sliding or garage-like, to create a more open space during good weather. The designs are conceptual and are only intended to garner feedback, so the formal submission may look substantially different. Braga and architect Jagat Sharma are working together on a formal design for the new building.

“I think it’s a contextually sensitive direction to take; replacing one traditional building with a new traditional building has been a core part of Ithaca’s unending regeneration,” said Braga.

Regardless of the exterior design, Visum still intends to submit a six-story, approximately 80′ building with first floor retail frontage, apartments at the rear and five floors of apartments above.

The city is keen on preservation of the original fire station, if not the later masonry addition that most recognize as the Nines. Visum states that, in consultation with building movers, transporting the structure in one or a few pieces would be prohibitively difficult with no suitable location nearby, and deteriorated structural features that would need to be removed and rebuilt. Therefore, any move would require the building be disassembled, due to its size and condition. That process would take months and would remove the building from its historic context. At this time, the tin walls of the original fire station are being considered for incorporation into the proposed building’s lobby, although Visum expressed openness to including parts of the brick and wood frame as well.

“I have arrived at the conclusion that the narrative of the site’s history is far more valuable than the wooden structure that currently stands on the rear of the parcel. Redeveloping the building with a new structure that responds mindfully to material realities which preceded it both carries on Ithaca’s living traditions of urban regeneration, and acknowledges bygone social realities constructively,” wrote Braga in a submitted document to the board.

What happens now may be something of a question mark. At least one member of the board (John Schroeder) is firmly opposed to any redevelopment, others are open to a plan provided that it pays proper homage to the Nines, and that the general pros outweigh the cons. Furthermore, while Visum may proceed with plans and working with the Planning Board, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission used the month between proposals to explore the process of historic designation. Any designation would need to be approved by Common Council, and the Planning Board, in charge of reviewing the new proposal, is allowed to give their opinion to the Council for their consideration.

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