I had first seen rumors of this on facebook, but it was only verified by the Sun sometime last night: The Royal Palm Tavern, or rather, “The Palms”, is closing, after 70ish years of service to the inebriated community (I’ve seen opening dates ranging from the late 1930s to 1944; the Sun went with 1941). The Palms closing next month will mark the third Collegetown bar closing in less than year, following in the footsteps of Dino’s and Johnny O’s.
I think most older readers of this blog have some memory attached to one or more these places. The Alumni Magazine did a nice piece about drinking-holes of yesteryear just back in November, complete with the line “the Royal Palm Tavern—still open, despite recent rumors to the contrary—has served a steady stream of students since the Thirties.” To some extent, I worry with the closure of multiple bars and the restrictions on fraternity parties are only furthering the move to drinking in the rundown houses of Collegetown, arguably a more dangerous environment than the aforementioned options. Let’s be honest, if a third of the drinking establishments in Collegetown have closed, and traffic was pretty high on many nights as it was, the traffic that would go elsewhere might just get frustrated with the lines and crowding and just drink at a private party. For the record, Johnny O’s closed after legal issues and their landlord opted for another tenant, and Dino’s was not allowed to renew their lease. The Palms is closing because of financial issues, and the owners are retiring.
As much as I could pursue an entry just on drinking culture/concerns, I’d rather stick to what I do best – Ithaca history and development. First, the Palms’ property, at 209 Dryden Road, is not for sale, it has already been sold.
That is, unsurprisingly, a prime, prime piece of property to tap into the more expensive segment of the Collegetown market. Now, being such a prime property carries a hefty price tag, so the developers would have to be fairly deep-pocketed, and in fact they are; it’s the firm Novarr-Mackesey, the same developers of the massive Collegetown Terrace project. The rumor mill has been cranking out the possibility of a mid-rise or high-rise apartment building on the site of the Palms. Unfortunately, at this early stage, it’s hard to say what the proposal will look like.
However, there are two certainties – they’re going to have one hell of a time tearing the Palms down, and if it goes over 60 feet (or over 6 stories, whichever comes first), then it’ll be even more difficult because they’ll need a height variance (B-2b zoning says building should be 6 stories or less, and no more than 60′ feet from base to roof). The zoning could be pliable depending on any fringe benefits for the city or any public enhancements (for example, offering public meeting space). The building was built around the early 1920s, and has operated as a restaurant/bar for virtually all of its life, and is seen as a potential historic landmark. Notably, some of the members of the Planning board also put together the historic buildings document. If Novarr-Mackesey wants to build anything, I see this being a prolonged battle, especially if it needs to go up to the Zoning Board of Appeals, where more objections can be raised.
Honestly, I hope to see something, because if buildings appear totally vacant like this, giving a poor impression to visitors and potential students, that is unacceptable:
Update: The Palms and two neighboring buildings on Dryden were sold last year toan LLC associated with Novarr-Mackesey for $3.75 million, well over their assessed value. In the Cornell Sun, Novarr claims there are no set plans for the location yet, but there will probably be a housing component. Considering his work with Collegetown Terrace, which will not be finished until 2014, it could be a couple years before financing and plans are lined up for the site’s redevelopment – leaving that part of the street rather blighted in the short term.