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Sibley 220X165By approving the purchase of empty Kodak office buildings on State St. for Monroe Community College, the county legislature has altered the future of Main St. and the Sibley building.

It’s sad really. An empty, once-great department store and an empty once-great office building competed for the college’s downtown campus. The Wall Street Journal reported the saga as emblematic of the struggles of Rust Belt cities.

Whatever one thinks of MCC’s move to Kodak, there are very serious questions about what this will cost taxpayers. MCC has only secured about half the money needed for the $72 million renovation. The county is buying 560,000 square feet, twice the space MCC needs. There’s no cost or timeline associated with building out the other half of the complex. This could very well cost taxpayers more than $100 million. Meanwhile, SUNY announced it needs hundreds of millions of dollars to stabilize its finances. And no one would be surprised if Kodak abandons the complex.

MCC has five years left on its lease at Sibley. If the Kodak move doesn’t come together, the county could end up owning a ton of excess space.

Sibley has been neglected for much of MCC’s 20 years in the building. But there are new people in charge. Main St. will be on the upswing when Windstream moves in and Midtown Tower gets under way. A new bus terminal is going right behind the building. Sibley’s owners have promised a state-of-the-art renovation for $18 million less than the Kodak price tag. MCC insists the Sibley building got a fair chance at keeping the campus, but the college trashed Sibley from the start.

Mayor Tom Richards pointed out MCC would be a good citizen if it had stayed put. City taxpayers spend a lot of money on MCC because the county charges residents based on where students live. Do public institutions have a responsibility to help revitalize downtowns? The Kodak move will not have much of an impact on High Falls; the campus will be inside a self-contained box. MCC’s future on Main St. would have had a much greater impact, as it would have remained in the heart of downtown.

The Democrats played their hand poorly. They had this thing won, but incomprehensibly gave up their power to withhold a supermajority when they agreed to non-location-specific bonding. One could also blame former mayor Bob Duffy for helping to kill Renaissance Square in 2009. Four years later, Main and Clinton still looks like crap, MCC is leaving, the bus terminal is going in anyway and the performing arts center project could move to the suburbs. Finally, Wilmorite shares blame for neglecting the property and not paying its $20 million tax and loan bill.

It’s possible 10 years from now, MCC students and staff may look wistfully at Main St. and wished they’d stayed. They might be all alone in a sea of parking lots and abandoned office space. There will have been countless headlines about cost overruns or expansions that never happened. Students will get off the bus at a shiny new terminal and instead of walking 20 steps to class, they’ll have to get on a shuttle. The Sibley Building will be filled with residents and new offices. There will be a restaurant or two on the first floor.

There are many scenarios that could play out. The best scenario is the project is fully-funded and stays within budget while Sibley is able to find another use for the department store portion of the building. The worst scenario is MCC moves in and can’t finish the build-out, Kodak moves out and Sibley remains vacant. I bet a combination of the above happens, which means this move won’t be a win-win for anyone.

34 Responses to MCC’s Costly Move

  1. February 12, 2013 at 10:21 pm JustaTaxpayer responds:

    Bravo Rachel. That was the best summary of this debacle yet written. I hope SUNY steps in and stops this. Or the republicans kill it “quietly” a few months from now for any number of good reasons. Crazy stuff.

  2. February 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm Patrick C. responds:

    The players are simply interested in power, not public good. Not simply sad, but tragic in the sense that all the cast is flawed by ego.

  3. Lost in the midst of this power struggle between two brain dead political parties is the question never asked – do we really need a supersized downtown campus in the first place?

    Consider the student enrollment numbers in Monroe County. In 2009, there were 116,134 students enrolled at schools in Monroe County. That dropped to 112,916 students just two years later. That is a decline of 3,218 students – nearly the entire student population of Brighton (3,517 in 2011) or East Irondequoit (3,167 in 2011). These school systems are the feeder system for MCC, and collectively are expected to experience major enrollment declines for at least the next decade. Again, why do we need a huge expansion in MCC’s footprint if we are projecting a major drop in public school enrollment in Monroe County for the foreseeable future?


  4. Prediction:
    10 years from now the BRIGHTON campus will be closed and made available for well connected developers to make big cash on. The ‘soccer’ stadium will take over as the sports fields for MCC (solves that problem) and just like in Brighton, students will be surrounded by parking lots inside of their big box.
    Think I’m nuts? Why hasn’t Iola been developed yet? How many years ago was that supposed to happen? Creating a massive new and ‘U of R friendly’ complex out of Iola, the main MCC campus and the jail site will make fortunes for a few and the Dumbocrats will be placated by a forced move of all of those nice, middle class white kids into the city at ‘Kodak MCC’. Gotta think long term, real long term people.
    You’ll see.

  5. February 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm DominionROC responds:

    Rachel….very disappointed in your views. The decision regarding MCC and its downtown location must be measured on what is best for the students…and what is best for Downtown Rochester…not what is best for an out of state developer who would benefit the most.

    Students DO NOT like a downtown campus…they would rather be immersed in the best..highest quality campus…the main Brighton Campus.

    Downtown Rochester will not benefit from community college students with very little disposable income. These students have limited time…limited funds …and want only to attend a quality campus….not a refurbished department store with very limited amenities.

    Rachel…explain how Downtown Rochester would benefit from the presence of MCC students? When they first opened the Damon Center… the first two floors of Sibleys were saturated with retail and services like banks, restaurants and stores. After a couple years…just about EVERY commercial entity closed down!!! These are FACTS and we must learn from facts.

  6. MCC forced students downtown years ago by offering popular programs down there.Now this stupidity. If they can’t raise funds themselves to make the move, they shouldn’t. I see that our ineffective legislature has approved this idiocy.

  7. Rachel- why is it that the Wilmots are to blame for not paying their taxes on Sibleys? Are not the City DEMS to blame for letting the Wilmots out of the responsibility for not paying to blame?

    Why did we pay the Wilmots rent at 3-4M a year when they didn’t pay the taxes? Are not the DEMs, if not both parties to blame on that one?

    And YES FOR THE 1000th time, no one has ever justified why we need a Downtown MCC. The number of students don’t justify it, no economic impact of MCC DT has ever been proven.

    THE only reason for MCC DT is political correctness.

    We write forever about the 18M wasted on MCC Kodak vs the MCC at Sibleys, yet the 70 to 100M wasted on even having an MCC DT vs ONE MCC in Brighton is never considered.

    I don’t know how else one could view that – except to call it media based censorship of the real or … the rest of the story.

    The Rochester media should be so proud.

    • Oh, Oriely,

      We forget who put MCC in the Sibley building to begin with in the early stages of the Wilmot ownership. Why it was a Democrat county executive to provide an anchor tenant for the new “multi-use” enterprise.

      Problem was, no retail or commercial service groups ever wanted to go there. The Lerner Store tried moving from its dead retail corner in the Granite Building to a ground level front entrance spot in the Sibley and lasted only one leasing cycle.

      The student are going to love it at the State Street Location, free from the chaos called the Liberty Pole. Bus lines, the Lake, Dewey and Lyell, will serve them well at the new location. Parking will be superior compared to the existing site.

      As for the extra space: ever hear of leasing it out to other compatible government and community organizations?

      As far as the problem with HS enrollments going down, MCC is as much a place for young adults to go back to school and get a marketable skill or to do some college prep work as it is for an extension of HS.

      Re egos involved, I’d be p.o.’d too if my previous location for the MCC was torpedoed in a seventh-hour move by an outgoing mayor.

      Then, the same entities hand-picked re-developer jacks the rent on his anchor tenant because he knows he’s got them over a barrel with no place to immediately move?

      Besides, if re-purposing Kodak facilities isn’t a good civic venture, what are we going to do when the Tower comes up for grabs?

  8. February 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm Catherine Root responds:

    “Do public institutions have a responsibility to help revitalize downtowns?” Absolutely, Rachel, and this is clearling not a responsible choice for the core of the city.

  9. “THE only reason for MCC DT is political correctness.”

    “Students DO NOT like a downtown campus…they would rather be immersed in the best..highest quality campus…the main Brighton Campus.”

    Both are incredibly ignorant statements.

    I work full time during the day, all week… and the end of my 9 hour work shift, I attend school. Do you really think that by the time I get home from work, my preference is to drive to Henrietta? Probably not.

    I live on Park Avenue. I am white.

    There is nothing ‘politically correct’ about a downtown campus- more like convenient and accessible… for EVERYONE regardless, as any and all education should be.

  10. February 13, 2013 at 1:14 am lellingw responds:

    Monroe Community College can’t hold up Downtown Rochester anymore than Midtown did. It has been there for a few years now and it didn’t make Downtown any better and the students were poorly served there. I don’t know exactly what will happen at the Kodak building but it will be better. Most who are lamenting the move aren’t thinking of the school or the students, they are more concerned about Downtown and if it would have helped, it would have done so long ago. Being at Kodak allows for MCC to have a full campus there with facilities for students such as gyms and performance halls that are important to student life. I think taking charge of where they want to be rather than have people tell them they are supposed to hold up Downtown will allow the school to grow and attract more students who had no desire to be Downtown. Not all students take buses and the transportation issue will work out.

  11. The new bus downtown buss terminal is actually not the far away from Kodak.

    North-bound Lake and Dewey buses go will go there directly from the terminal transferring students from all others using the facility.

  12. Minneapolis Technical & Community College: sits on the edge of downtown Minneapolis:


  13. February 13, 2013 at 8:38 am Thomas Frys responds:

    Rachel come on stop trying to make it sound like Sibleys meant more to rochester than Kodak.That part of the city sucks and is crime ridden drug infested and as the Students say Rodent infested.the kodak site IS downtown.And the Wilmorite gang is heavy and also part of the County Govt. so you connect the dots!

  14. The start of one sentence in your story crystalized by thoughts: “Four years later, Main and Clinton still looks like crap … ”

    In that context, could we honestly expect the MCC situation in the Sibley building to get better — either in the final five years of the current lease or as part of a new deal to keep MCC there?

    Progress in Rochester, especially downtown, is always at a smail’s pace — the Hyatt hotel, the Midtown project, the bus depot, etc.

    This rather dramatic step of moving the MCC downtown campus forces immediate change. There will be no choice but to move at full speed.

    At the same time, we open the Sibley building up for something more suitable for what’s left of the commercial district.

  15. Please SUNY, stop this partisan debacle. Anne Kress, where is the rest of the money going to come from…..taypayers, long after you’re gone.
    A typically poor majority decision.

    • February 13, 2013 at 11:49 am Thomas Freys responds:

      Jim where do you think the money will come from for the Sibley building under a rock? its all taxpayer money,wake up!

  16. Jim: And if MCC stays in the Sibley building, those same taxpayers will be paying rent in perpetuity. I’d rather plow $100 million into the Kodak project now, do some annual upkeep and at the end of the day own the property.

    Tell David Gantt and the gang to get off their butts and find the money in Albany. If Mario Cuomo’s kid can pledge #1 billion to Buffalo, he can dip into petty cash to get the MCC project geared up.

  17. Downtown is dead. Long live the suburbs.

  18. CHarr

    Perhaps we should put MCC on Park Ave to make it even easier for you to walk to.

    The purpose for MCC DT is not ease of access. There are free buses running all day from MCC to DT and back. IF you won’t ride the bus for 20 minutes to get to college you don’t have the initiative to get through college anyway.

    Drive your car to MCC DT vs MCC Brighton is a 5 to 10 minute difference. Is that too much to ask today? I rode a 10 speed bike 4 years —in the winter as well— to college. Guess what I made it, you can too.

    • I’ve been taking the bus for the last 4 years, I am well aware of what public transportation is available in Rochester- in all areas.

      Like I stated, I work a 9 hour day in East Rochester and go directly to school afterwords so your comment in regards to my initiative is null and void.

      My reference to Park Avenue was the fact that having a campus located IN the city is, yes, a great asset for people who don’t drive, can’t drive, take the bus or ride their bike… or go go go from 7am until 10pm with little to no time in between for anything, let alone travel.

      If you can find me a bus that gets me from East Rochester to Brighton in 20 minutes you’re a miracle worker.

  19. No one can actually predict what will happen in the future. We can look at the past and try not to make the same mistakes. MCC at its present location has shown to be problematic. It would be a mistake to remain there. Without knowing all the specifics, I tend to lean in favor of moving to State Street based on the comments of the current MCC president and the committee that studied the options. Mayor Richards comments are always concerning downtown development and NOT was is best for the students. This is very telling in itself. As for the money, money must flow to keep an economy going. This money will be going for jobs and materials to renovate the existing building. This is all good. As for midtown, lets see if it EVER gets completed and if it EVER gets tenants. I have my doubts. Too much politics at play within the city itself. As I stated at the beginning, there is a history. Ignoring history will doom you to repeat it. Just my thoughts.

  20. February 13, 2013 at 10:33 am Peking Humonculous responds:

    The idea that an MCC campus at the Sibley building is supposed to “save downtown” is absolutely hilarious! Thanks for the laugh, Rachel! If nothing else, this only proves that our loser mayor is all out of ideas and can only grasp at straws at this point. This is what years and years of failed leadership gets you- the same failed leadership that allowed the Wilmot family, HUGE Democrat supporters by the way, to skate away owing this city MILLIONS. But by all means, when the mayoral election comes around again, let’s put another Democrat in office. Because in Rochester, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (see RCSD), is how it is done.

    • Your comment hardly merits a reply. It merely reflects your ignorance of the issue.

      • February 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm Peking Humonculous responds:

        Hiya, “Jim”- I assure you, just because we disagree, that “hardly” makes me ignorant of this issue or any other. Or is that just your canned retort for anyone who doesn’t see things the way you do? (Pssst- I get the feeling it is.)

        So please share your wisdom, “Jim”- how will a campus at the Sibley building save downtown? Explain to me how the Wilmots bucking their payment of over 20 million in taxes helps the city of Rochester. List, for me, the many Democrat-sponsored successes that have helped our fair city attain its status today. Share your vast wealth of knowledge with “ignorant” folks such as I, “Jim.” I am eager to read your reply!

  21. As a former MCC alumni AND a taxpayer, I think I have a bit more of a right to voice my views on this than some. While I would love MCC to stay in the Sibley building to anchor that part of Downtown, it’s not MCC’s responsibility to drive economic development in the city; that rests in the mayor, the City Council, the county executive, the County Legislature, the Rochester Business Alliance and other groups. MCC is a college. Its benefit is first and foremost for the students. Cheesy community building takes a distant second or third. Second, as a public college, it’s accountable to the State University of New York Board of Trustees, not just the county legislature and certainly not the city of Rochester. We have been arguing about the site and development of a permanent downtown campus since I was in kindergarten. First it was supposed to be part of “Renaissance Square”, then “Wynn Development”. It should never have been part of either. Why Wynn seemed to think a last minute, last-ditch pitch to the public (I’ve been told the homeless enjoyed his free cofee and food) would work at this point, I don’t know. He seems as clueless on this as the CATS developers were of the Fast Ferry. Again MCC exists to educate students in this area. It is a State University of New York entity. It is not responsible to prop up a faltering downtown. Besides when I go downtown during the day, I see thousands of people on the sidewalks and in the restaurants and shops. I don’t know why people think we need MORE “development”. It’s hard enough to find a parking spot now.

    • Get serious. The true issue is, who’s going to pay for it. Neither MCC or the County Legislature has a clue.
      There was no need to push this thru now. There was plenty of time to deal with the unanswered financing.
      But as is typical with Maggies crew, they screwed it up again.

  22. February 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm Peking Humonculous responds:

    You gotta love the folks who are so ready to point their fingers at Maggie Brooks (who, I will agree, well deserves it) but don’t you dare besmirch the names of the fine Democrats who have helped raise this city to the lofty heights we all enjoy today!

  23. Impressed with your work initiative
    Not impressed with your logic.

    You live in Park Ave area, but go to MCC at nights. Why not live in Henrietta and walk to MCC? Then we would not have to justify one campus as you’d be in favor of one because its close to where YOU live. Talk about being provincial.

    No because YOU LIVE ON PARK AVE. we are supposed to have an MCC DT– for YOU. God forbid if you lived in Webster or Greece, we would have to build an MCC there.

    Where is your concern about the poor in Greece or Webster who can’t get to either MCC ‘s easily? Think there aren’t any poor in those communities who have to struggle to get to any MCC?

    Math or Accounting courses are based on numbers and logic. Accounting will teach you about money and what it means when you don’t have any. Like our govt. has no money but want to spend 100M on an MCC campus 5 miles from the Main. Logic education would be helpful.

    • The reference to living IN THE CITY is the point that OTHERS IN THE CITY need access to a DOWNTOWN CAMPUS.

      If I was to move to Henrietta to attend school, I would not be able to get to work.

      Sorry to disappoint, but I will not be relocating my job or my home to be closer to the Brighton Campus when they have made school accessible to people LIVING IN THE CITY.

      Obviously I shouldn’t have even mentioned the area that I live in because the point of the post was that I live in the city- not Wayne or Ontario county. You have chosen to take the fact that I live in the Park Ave area and use that as some type of accusation for self entitlement, which I don’t have.

      I work hard for what I have- at work, at home and in school.

      I will agree with you there on the Government’s spending- locally and as a country.

      I realize that there are poor or less fortunate people EVERYWHERE, and always will be, but having a campus downtown allows a CENTRAL location for the MOST people to access education. I for one will absolutely be taking advantage of a Downtown Campus, regardless of where it is.

  24. February 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm MCC Supporter responds:

    Why is Winn and the City of Rochester begging for MCC to stay? Winn wants MCC to buy 250,000 square ft. of space for $3 million even though they bought about a million square feet for $3 million. MCC can buy 540,000 square feet for $3 million. Winn wants MCC to stay because they know MCC will expand and need to buy more space. In the end Winn’s plan will cost the taxpayers far more. MCC is thinking long term. Mayor Richards wants MCC to stay downtown because he doesn’t want another vacant space in the heart of downtown. MCC deserves there own place and should not be bullied into staying somewhere they do not want to. As a taxpayer, I fully agree with and support MCC’s move to Kodak.

    Cons of the sibley building and surrounding area
    1 – RPD is already on Main street and there is still violence and nuisance.
    2 – Winn proclaims to offer parking but it is private parking. The St. Joe’s garage has inadequate security.
    3 – The Sibley building is infested with rats, cockroaches and bats! I have seen them inside the building just last week.
    4 – The HVAC is terrible. Some heaters in the building do not work.
    5- The elevators are always out of order for one reason or the other.

    Support MCC’s move for downtown. It is not MCC’s responsibility to revitalize downtown or to help Winn make money.

  25. Others in the city don’t NEED access to a downtown campus. -ITS a nice to have .. they don’t NEED IT. There is a free bus to MCC Main and it takes 20 minutes. USE IT.
    IF you won’t take the free bus to get there – they shame on you… (them)
    We don’t NEED to spend the money on a NICE TO HAVE.
    The number of people who would get a degree with MCC DT but won’t if they HAVE to go to MCC main.. is extremely small. Why spend 70M for them?

    And most, if not all go to both schools for some courses. IF you can go to both, you can go to ONE.

    And what about the 1000’s of un-needed trips required between both schools DAILY by faculty staff, police and students? Does that make any sense? — ALL for what? Political correctness.

    • As I have already stated, it is not possible to catch the shuttle to MCC in time for any of my classes after working to support myself. I am aware of the bus schedule, and the shuttle- I rely on public transportation to get where I need to go- so that is not even an option, and again, is an irrelevant statement.

      I would much rather be taxed because MCC has decided to invest in its downtown campus, than to be taxed to support people who don’t educate themselves and/or won’t work.

      The money will be spent either way, it’s the name of the game.

      –And yes, even if just for political correctness.

      Sorry it seems to rub you in such a wrong way as I have no doubt that it will happen regardless- I hope the Downtown campus grows and flourishes, and that ‘small’ number of people who graduate will eventually transitions to a large number of people who are graduating.

      For all the money and tax dollars we spend every day that go to complete WASTE, I think it’s time that this country (everywhere) invested in education, both quality and accessibility.

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