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In questioning the heaps of tax dollars going to University of Rochester’s College Town project, I’ve pointed out the Mt. Hope Ave. corridor is not distressed. Typically, you think of HUD loans and grants going to support places that are economically challenged.

Census data for 2010 shows us the area is doing far better than the rest of the city. In several census tracts surrounding the project, unemployment ranges from 4.8 percent to 11.5 percent unemployment. Median household income falls between $27,018 to $51,875. Poverty rates fall between 20.3 percent and 38 percent. (Keep in mind, there’s a heavy student population.) The average home lists for more than $100,000.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the river in several census tracts surrounding the Brooks Landing project, unemployment is between 17 percent and 23 percent. Median household income is between $14,022 and $29,422. The poverty rate falls between 37.5 percent and 50.4 percent. The median sale price for homes is under $65,000. In the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood, homes sell for less than $40,000.

The Brooks Landing project has also received substantial tax incentives and other support. There’s no question the Plymouth Ave. corridor is benefiting, as the college’s success is finally crossing the river. It took a boost from government and the college to make that happen.

But Mt. Hope Ave. doesn’t need a boost. It’s an extremely busy commercial corridor in a neighborhood with high property values and low unemployment. The College Town developers are getting a $20 million loan, to be paid back with their property taxes, as sweet a deal as we’ve seen in ages. If I’m the landlord of Bruegger’s, Starbucks, Chipotle and McDonald’s across the street, I’d be banging on City Hall’s door’s asking for the same deal to level the playing field.

I bet College Town will be great for the college and the city. I’m just at a loss to explain why taxpayers are paying one-third of this $100 million behemoth.

Links of the Day: 

– This cafe and deli seems like a great addition to Plymouth Ave. I walk the corridor often and it’s great to see vacant storefronts getting rehabbed.

– Wegmans is building a cheese-aging facility in Chili.

Will apple cider hit $8 a gallon?

– College rankings are a racket with implications beyond simple prestige.

“You, American Airlines, should no longer be flying across the Atlantic.”

Do you need a visa to come to the United States? Consider investing in Rochester projects developers can’t fund on their own.

Eager to help build student housing for the University of Rochester, the mayor is asking city council to approve a $900,000 loan for The Flats. It would be a $20 million high rise apartment building on the riverfront.

That’s up from the $750,000 city loan the mayor originally proposed to finance the project. The city would get money for the loan in part from the sale of property on Lattimore to the  U of R.

Here’s the kicker. City council legislation revealed the developer plans to get $12 million in funding from EB-5 visas. The Democrat and Chronicle explains how it works:

The program, possibly being used for the first time in Rochester, is one of several employer-based immigration options. It gives preference to these foreign investors, though other programs give higher favor to immigrants with special or unique job skills.

Immigrants invest at least $500,000 in a new or troubled U.S. venture that generates 10 new jobs, or in a regional center (Buffalo has one). They are granted conditional permanent residence for two years and then can petition for full citizenship.

This could be a very good project for the 19th Ward and the city. But the complicated nature of this deal and others shows how terribly hard it is to get anything financed and built in this town.

Something else in the legislation stood out. City council is being asked to approve the $900,000 loan on short notice to meet the “2013 deadline required” by the U of R. If the college wanted this so badly, why not put its own money into the deal? On both sides of the river now, city taxpayers are on the hook for big college development deals. And the deals are getting more complicated.

-Links of the Day:

A large addition to the Brooks Landing project appears to be moving forward. It’s called The Flats at Brooks Landing and has been on the drawing board for several years. The developer applied for tax breaks for the project, indicating it’s moving ahead. (I’ve emailed him for a construction start date.)

The Flats would be an 80,000-square foot, 11-story building that would include a boat house for the University of Rochester. There would be 70 apartments for students.

Brooks Landing is shaping up to be a success story. One of the retail and office buildings had been slow to fill up, but there are now several restaurants and a coffee shop.

Update: The mayor has submitted legislation asking city council to authorize $385,000 in environmental cleanup funds for the site. The city’s economic development arm also plans a $750,000 loan. The project cost is closer to $20 million. Construction is expected to begin in the spring. – RB 3/9

– We make a lot of stuff. Rochester ranks 33rd out of 100 metro areas on exports. This is significant news. Our region is the second largest economy in the state and exports will play a huge role in our future success.

– Kodak CEO Antonio Perez sent a cheery email to employees about how the company is faring under bankruptcy.

– Pat Robertson wants pot legalized.