Where Have All the Drinkers Gone?

13 01 2012

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.

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7 responses

13 01 2012
ex-Ithacan

I can’t believe one of the watering holes I frequented in my youth (the drinking age was 18 back then) is closing. That leaves only the Chapter House as a neighborhood bar where I consumed adult beverages (starting in high achool at age 17, but don’t tell anyone).

Sad to see my old hood going from a a real community. There were many more permanent residents – many families like mine who owned those little apartment buildings and actually lived on the first floor and renting out the other apartments. We cared about our properties and worked hard to maintain them. Kind of looks like a student ghetto on many blocks now.
We also had a wide variety of stores, an elementary school (East Hill), a hospital on Quarry street, and Little Laegue teams. Many of the landlords were blue collar folks who took pride in being landlords as well as working stiffs.
I realize the life blood of Collegetown is the students, but it seems the area was a nicer place with the mixture of Ithacans and Cornellians we had in the old days. No way those times are ever coming back.

14 01 2012
B. C.

It is really unfortunate Ex. I think a couple of factors have come into play that resulted in this change. One of those is that Cornell is much larger than it was back in the 1960s, at least 4,000 more undergrads and a similar number of grad students. The second is that student attitudes changed. College became more of a party culture, which doesn’t mesh well with families.

It sucks because stores avoid Collegetown because of exorbitantly high rents, and there is hardly any traffic for three months of the year. Many students view Ithaca as beneath them and treat it as such, and the landlords are just out to make as much money as possible. I support the denser housing in the core because it keeps the market unsaturated and prevents private homes from being re-purposed for student housing, but a couple more projects on the scale of Collegetown Terrace will pretty much destroy the rest of the neighborhood for permanent residents (although technically, grad students are around all-year typically, and that is the target market for that project). With Cayuga Heights prohibiting more student housing, and no room on the steep terrain west of campus, students are going to funnel somewhere, and Collegetown is it.

14 01 2012
Ex-Ithacan

I agree with your reasoning BC. Times change, so do people and places. Alas.

btw, did you know there use to be a bowling alley (4 lane with a human pin-setter/ball return) in the basement of the Aces Apartment building on Eddy Street? That’s where I first bowled a game.

25 03 2012
DaddyO

It is sad to see long standing establishments close down. Especially when they have a bit of history to them.

22 05 2014
Suddenly There’s A Lot of News At Once | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] possible one of them does, but the upstairs units are not rented).  Novarr-Mackesey owns three parcels next door, but I don’t see anything on their website either. Regardless, this falls in a Collegetown […]

28 05 2014
“Dryden South” Proposed for Collegetown | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] interesting. There are 5 parcels on the south side of the 200 block of Dryden Road in Collegetown; 4 are owned by Novarr’s company. Kraftee’s was the fifth. According to the rumor mill, Novarr’s Dry-Lin LLC may have […]

28 07 2014
“Collegetown Dryden” Project Proposed | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] In January 2012, the recently-closed Palms and its two eastern neighbors (213 and 215 Dryden) sold for $3.75 million to local real estate development firm Novarr-Mackesey, the company responsible for Collegetown Terrace on East State Street. The old Tompkins Trust Bank […]

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