The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

IC City Council defers vote to make Pagliai’s Pizza building historic landmark

More than 10 members of the public spoke at the city council meeting, many supporting the landmark designation despite the owner’s wishes to sell to a developer.
Sahithi Shankaiahgari
Pagliai’s Pizza is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

Members of the public packed the Iowa City City Council chambers Tuesday night, adorning red stickers symbolizing their desire to make the Pagliai’s Pizza building a historic landmark, which is a decision the building owner opposes.

“It’s private property, it belongs to me and my family,” Gary Skarda, the building’s owner, said to the city council. “I should be able to do what I want with it.”

After hearing from the building’s owner and multiple members of the public Tuesday, the city council deferred its first vote to make it a historic landmark until the next meeting on April 16. The council plans to consult with the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The vote for first consideration would be followed by two subsequent votes to determine the future zoning of the property. Both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve a historic landmark designation for the property during their own meetings in February.

The building, located at 302 E. Bloomington St., was built in 1880 by Joseph Slezak who designed it in an Italianate style, which originates from 16th century Italy and became popular in the U.S. during the mid-19th century.

Slezak was a Czech immigrant, and the culture of the Bohemian people was something the preservation commission took into account when deciding to recommend the building be designated as a historic landmark.

The building has adopted several purposes since its establishment, such as a hotel, ballroom, stables, carriage house, grocery store, and more. Currently, the building houses the restaurant Pagliai’s Pizza, a laundromat, and 16 apartment units.

After nearly 150 years of history, the building remained in Slezak’s family, eventually falling into Skarda’s hands, who is the fifth-generation owner. Skarda listed the property in September 2023 for $5 million due to his declining ability to take care of the property and mounting maintenance costs, Skarda said.

Skarda said the decision to sell the property was a hard one but due to his age and an amputation to his right leg, he can’t keep up with the maintenance like he used to. Skarda told The Daily Iowan in an interview he grew up in the building, oftentimes playing basketball outside where his father had built him a basketball hoop.

At the April 2 city council meeting, Skarda said he wants to sell the property to a developer, a wish he believes would be constrained by the historic landmark designation. Skarda said a developer could easily make three to four-bedroom condominiums with the space that could benefit the community.

“I have to sell it to a developer, and you’re not going to be able to develop that zone if it’s put on the historic registry,” Skarda said. 

Skarda added he believes a major concern of the community is what would happen to Pagliai’s Pizza, which has occupied the building since 1969. He said the business would still be eligible to go into a new development as well as the laundromat.

If the building is designated a historic landmark, it is still eligible to be sold. However, there are more regulations a buyer must go through to change the exterior of the building, and they would be unable to demolish the property. Any renovations or changes to the inside of the property, however, would be allowed. 

Jessica Bristow, who is the city’s historic preservation planner, told the DI in November 2023 the city can still make the property a landmark despite what the owner wants. Before the meeting on Tuesday, Skarda contested the vote to designate his building as a historic landmark, which means city council will have to achieve a supermajority of six affirmative votes out of seven city councilors to pass the rezoning.

While Skarda has spoken about his opposition to landmarking the property, city council is not required to take his opinion into account. The council is specifically tasked with determining if the property meets the criteria of a historic landmark when making their decision and to not take into account the desires of the owner.

Currently, the entire block that the property is located on, which is 302 to 316 E. Bloomington St., is zoned as a central business service. With approval from city council, the block would be rezoned with a historic district overlay, which essentially means the entire building would be a historic landmark. 

The building is located less than a block from the Northside Historic District, which is composed of several historic businesses and locations in Iowa City.

Jordan Sellergren, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, spoke at the April 2 city council meeting advocating for a landmark designation. Sellergren said 30 business owners co-signed a letter stating their belief in the economic benefit of keeping the building as it currently stands. 

A city staff report stated the city received 43 letters from the community that advocated for the historic landmark designation. Sellergren said the designation would not necessarily make the property less marketable.

Mayor Pro-Tem Mazahir Salih said she was concerned Skarda wouldn’t have enough money to continue maintaining the property if the building was designated as a historic landmark and wanted to hear more options on how to preserve the building while properly compensating Skarda.

Sellergren said the building would be eligible for state and federal tax credits for any renovations on the outside of the building, but no tax credits would be available for maintenance or renovations inside the building. She added the building may be eligible for funding through the historic preservation fund.

More than 10 members of the community spoke during public comment on Tuesday. 

Willy Oxley, who is an architectural woodworker in Iowa City, said during public comment that development costs and the accompanying pollution seems unnecessary when the building could simply be preserved.

“I think it’s absolutely senseless because these buildings were designed to be repaired,” Oxley said.

Iowa City resident Jay Honohan said he supports Skarda and thinks the decision should be left to him and his family. Honohan said the Pagliai’s business should not play into the decision facing the city council.

“A business inside of a building does not make it a historical landmark,” Honohan said.

With the deferment in the council’s vote, the city will reconvene at the next city council meeting on April 16 after having discussed the matter with the Planning and Zoning Commission. At that time, the council will once again consider a vote for first consideration on the property’s zoning designation.

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About the Contributor
Jack Moore, News Editor
Jack Moore is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from Cedar Rapids Iowa. Along with working at The Daily Iowan, Jack works for the University of Iowa's UI-REACH program as a Resident Assistant. UI-REACH is a program for students with learning, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities intended to provide support to these students throughout their college experience. Additionally, Jack is involved in Iowa City's live music scene as he plays bass for local Iowa City band "Two Canes."