Pagliai’s Pizza is shown Feb. 8, 2024, in Iowa City, next to a laundromat that is also included in the property under consideration to become a local historic landmark. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa City residents wrote letters, spoke in front of the City Council and wore specially designed stickers showing their support of designating the building that houses Pagliai’s Pizza as a local landmark, but some members of the City Council didn’t seem convinced.

After a 2 1/2-hour meeting, which also included more than a dozen residents asking the council to designate Iowa City as a sanctuary city to protect transgender rights, council members voted to continue the public hearing on the landmark designation to April 16.

Related: Iowa City Council to vote on historic landmark status

More than 50 people packed into the council chambers for the April 2 meeting, with standing room only, and some watching the proceedings from the hallway.

City Attorney Eric Goers said the council will meet with the Planning & Zoning Commission during the April 16 meeting, and the public will be allowed to speak again regarding the proposal to designate the property, at 302-316 E. Bloomington St., as a local landmark.

Preservation advocates passed out flyers and stickers in support of designating the Pagliai’s Building as a historic landmark at the April 2, 2024, Iowa City Council meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Known formally as the Slezak-Holub-Skarda Building, the site is often referred to as Pagliai’s Pizza, which has leased space on the ground floor of the brick Italianate building since 1969.

The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved pursuing the landmark designation, which would protect the buildings from demolition, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the rezoning, and city staff recommended approval, but owner Gary Skarda was opposed.

That raised the bar for the measure to pass the City Council, requiring a super-majority vote, or six of seven council members to vote in favor. With one member — Laura Bergus — absent, that meant all six of those in attendance would have to unanimously approve the first reading in order for the rezoning to move forward.

While most of the council seemed open to approving the designation, Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih raised questions.

The Iowa City Council listens to speakers during the April 2, 2024 meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Teague asked if the building that houses Pagliai’s could be separately designated historic, rather than the entire property, which also includes a laundromat in a repurposed stable. Salih questioned if the financial incentives of the historic designation would be enough to offset potential losses.

Skarda, the fifth-generation owner of the property, which was built between 1875 to 1880, said developers would be able to construct a larger-scale residential building on the site that would provide more tax revenue for the city.

The 15 apartments are studios and one-bedroom, while four larger apartments have dining rooms and are of adequate size for couples, he noted.

“It’s private property,” Skarda told the council. “It doesn’t belong to the city.”

Owner Gary Skarda addresses the City Council during the April 2, 2024, meeting in Iowa City. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Supporters of the landmark designation pointed to the loss of a building that is a cultural and historic cornerstone of Iowa City, representing the story of Bohemian immigrants who built it as a fraternal hall for a meeting and social center for Czech immigrants, along with a grocery store, hotel for farmers, saloon and more.

Jordan Sellergren, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the landmark designation might actually make the property more marketable, and make it eligible for financial incentives, such as state and federal historic tax credits.

This is at least the fourth attempt to have the building protected as a local landmark, she said.

Known as Národní Síň, or National Hall, Czech cultural and fraternal organizations, such as ZCBJ, used the upper level for dances and other social gatherings after owner Joseph Slezak constructed the building, which reflected his immigrant roots in Bohemia, later part of the Czech Republic. It was later owned by his son-in-law, Joseph Holub.

Some of the history of the Pagliai’s Building is detailed on screen during the Iowa City Council meeting.

City staff received 43 letters in support of the proposed rezoning, including former and current Iowa City residents, and Cecilia Rokusek, president and CEO of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.

“We believe that history and culture should not be confined to museums, but should be a living and breathing part of our communities,” Rokusek wrote, noting that the building has statewide, if not national significance in the history of Czech-American culture. “Fewer and fewer of these landmarks remain to tell this important story and to inspire new generations of immigrants.”

Last year, Skarda listed the building for sale for $5 million, including 16 apartments and the neighboring laundromat.

Regardless of the outcome, Anthony Fontanini, who owns Pagliai’s Pizza, has said the business has a lease through September 2030, and plans on staying open through that time, and hopefully longer.

Besides Skarda, two people voiced opposition to the landmark designation, while a dozen spoke in favor of the local landmark.

“The building brings more value to our city as a historic property than a development,” said David Woodruff, a board member of Friends of Historic Preservation, citing environmental and cultural losses as costs of demolition.

More: Iowa City takes first step to landmark Pagliai’s building

Jordan Sellergren, at right, listens while David Woodruff of Iowa City speaks in favor of landmark designation during the Iowa City Council meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)