Iowa City Considers Historic Designation for Pagliai’s Pizza Building Amid Owner’s Concerns

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The Iowa City Council is considering the historic landmark designation for a building at 302-316 Bloomington Street, despite opposition from the owner. This building houses Pagliai’s Pizza, a local icon, along with several apartments and a laundromat. Built in 1875, the building has served various community functions, including a Czech dance club and horse stable. The owner argues that the designation could hinder sale efforts and development, while supporters cite its architectural uniqueness and historical significance.

A Landmark Debate in Iowa City

The heart of Iowa City’s northside neighborhood could see a significant change if a building home to Pagliai’s Pizza receives a historic landmark designation. The City Council is in the process of deciding whether to add 302-316 Bloomington Street to a historic preservation overlay district. This decision follows recommendations from city staff and the Historic Preservation Commission, who value the building’s unique architecture and long-standing community role.

The building in question is nearly a century and a half old, with a history that includes functioning as a Czech dance club and housing a horse stable. Over the years, it has been transformed into a mixed-use space with apartments, a market, and the iconic Pagliai’s Pizza, which opened its doors in 1969.

Owner’s Opposition and Community Support

Despite broad community backing for the preservation effort, building owner Gary Skarda has voiced strong opposition. Skarda, who placed the property on the market for $5 million in October 2023, believes the historic designation could complicate selling the building. His protest requires a supermajority vote from the City Council for the designation to proceed. At a recent meeting, however, the absence of a councilor meant unanimity was necessary, postponing the decision.

Skarda argues that maintaining the building has become a challenge due to his age and physical limitations. He suggests that selling the building for development could benefit both him and the city by providing housing and increasing property tax revenue.

The Historic Preservation Debate

The debate over the building’s future highlights a larger discussion about historic preservation in Iowa City. Supporters of the designation point to federal and state tax credits that cover approximately 45% of the cost of repairs and upkeep for historic properties. Mayor pro-tem Mazahir Salih expressed concerns that the city needs to offer more support for building owners, suggesting that the current assistance may not be sufficient.

The Historic Preservation Commission and city planners counter these concerns, emphasizing the available financial aid and the city’s commitment to preserving its historical architecture. However, Salih calls for additional measures to support owners who are burdened by the costs of maintaining historic buildings.

As the Iowa City Council approaches a final decision on April 16, the future of the building at 302-316 E. Bloomington Street—and its beloved tenant, Pagliai’s Pizza—hangs in the balance. The outcome will reflect the community’s values regarding historical preservation, development, and the legacy of its local icons.

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