The future of the Chapter House is in doubt.
When plans for a new building at 400-404 Stewart Avenue were granted approval by the Ithaca Landmark Preservation Commission in January, the hope was to have the iconic grad student dive reopen before the 2016-17 academic year. The original Chapter House building, along with a neighboring house, were irreparably burned in an April 14, 2015 fire.
Jerry Dietz, of CSP Management, told the Cornell Daily Sun in January, after final approvals were received from city boards, that foundation work was slated to begin in late February. Construction costs were then expected to be more than $2 million.
With May nearly here, no work has yet happened at the site. Chapter House owner John Hoey, reached in London last week, says he's “not sure if and when we'll ever be able to rebuild.”
“We want to reopen – I told everyone that,” Hoey said. “But we don't control the land.”
The Chapter House building and property is currently owned by MSW Management LLC, controlled by Sebastian Mascaro. The Florida rentier bought the property along with rooming houses at 406 Stewart Avenue and 116 Osmun Place from Mike Kimball in October 2010 for a total of $2,002,500.
Hoey said he believes a sale of 400-404 Stewart to a neighboring property owner is imminent, with the motivating factor being a more cost-effective redevelopment of the currently empty land. That owner is Jim Goldman, who bought 408 Stewart Ave. in October 2014 for $725,000. The Media, Pa. based landowner, who also owns a private airport in Albany, N.H., purchased 406 Stewart and 116 Osmun Place from Mascaro on April 2, 2015 for a total of $1,450,000.
During the planning and approvals process, it appeared that Goldman and Mascaro were cooperating in their efforts to rebuild on their respective properties. Local architect Jason Demarest shepherded designs for both through the approvals process at about the same pace, dealing with design details and a zoning variance for 406 to increase the number of beds from six to 11. Many of Demarest's sketches showed all of the buildings on the stretch, with the replacements looking similar, if certainly not identical, to their predecessors.
Reached by phone on April 22, Goldman was asked if he was planning on buying 400-404 Stewart and if the rebuild as planned was still going to go forward.
“I really can't say,” Goldman replied.
Asked if the number was the best to reach him for comment should any transactions hit the public record, Goldman said “I'd appreciate if you wouldn't [call]” and wished this reporter a good weekend.
Multiple calls to Mascaro at his company, Argus Corrections Solutions, a provider of anti-contraband phone technology to jails, were not returned. An email sent on the morning of April 26 to the work account of his wife Briana Seagriff Mascaro, a 2007 Cornell graduate and labor relations specialist at Disney World, had not received a reply as of this writing.
Hoey, a Pennsylvania-based investment banker and oil executive who bought the Chapter House in 1992, was operating the bar under a lease negotiated with Kimball in 2009 that was to last until the end of 2018.
“We would entertain licensing the name or opening a new Chapter House in Ithaca or anywhere, but feel the best draw is in the Cornell college town area,” Hoey wrote via email. “We have received feelers from other landlords of closed bars and bars reviewing closing options in the Ithaca area and negotiations are under way but no assurances of success. Our first preference is 400-04 Stewart street but time is slowly becoming of essence as likelihood of opening in next 24 months is a long way from realization.”