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(The above images are from Philip Michael Brown Studio, which is working with Buckingham Properties.)

Buckingham Properties has huge dreams for the Tower at Midtown. The upper floors will be apartments. The lower floors offer an opportunity for retail and offices.

The developer is clearly is thinking outside of the box. This vision of heavy retail at the Midtown site would truly change the face of downtown. The renderings make the Tower at Midtown look like a mall that faces outward, with street-level retail.

Buckingham is very optimistic about its talks with national movie theater chains. The mayor has often talked of a movie theater at Midtown. Seeing how a private developer would be behind the project, it may not require the $1 surcharge she floated. There would still be room on the Midtown site for a performing arts center, another thing the mayor wants.

Buckingham has a track record of success. It’s hard to imagine a national theater chain coming in that hasn’t done market research. Downtown offers other entertainment options, such as sporting events, so why not movies?

Let’s remember, we all used to go to Midtown Plaza at one point. We parked underneath the mall. Midtown fell victim to the suburban malls and suburban lifestyle. But if Buckingham finds the right mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment, this grand plan to draw people downtown could work.

People will live above this complex. The East End is a stone’s throw away. Corn Hill is less than a mile away. There’s a customer base within walking distance and another one within driving distance that is sick of bland offerings in the suburbs.

(I wonder about the impact on The Little Theatre, which is undergoing renovations. The Little will still likely be cheaper, but can it compete on comfort and offerings? The Little does offer major movies, not just small films we’ve never heard of.)

I’m cautiously optimistic about Buckingham’s dream. Maybe hopeful is a better word. What do you think?


Links of the Day:


– Buckingham Properties is also about to start work on the north campus of Alexander Park, which is the old Genesee Hospital site. This has been a long time coming.

– The future of urban freeways is playing out in Syracuse.

– A Rochester developer is facing opposition to a plan to build affordable housing in wealthy Westchester County.

Is there a clown shortage?

Links of the Day:

– It’s going to cost taxpayers a lot more than originally anticipated to complete Midtown Tower.

Late last year, it was clear there was a funding gap. Christa and Morgan, the developers chosen to rehab the building, needed $2 million from the state to close on the $73.5 million project. The money didn’t come through in the first round of regional economic development council funding.

Now, the numbers have changed. In legislation to city council asking for approval to apply for state funding on a number of projects, the mayor says the city will ask the state for $4 million. The city’s share of the project is $8.7 million. The total cost of the project is now $62.1 million.

So taxpayers will have to foot 20 percent of the cost of rebuilding luxury apartments and condos. Nice. There should be more transparency about what exactly is going on with this property.

The legislation calls the tower the “centerpiece of the Midtown Rising Development.” There’s no question the tower should be a priority. It’s a scar on the city skyline. It boggles my mind, however, that the city dismantled the structure without having a clue who would do something with it and what it would cost.

Now we’re getting an idea.

– Street robberies are up in Rochester. The good news is that crime is still down considerably.

Why has it been 23 years since Oak Hill hosted a U.S. Open?

– Go Ursula! The Xerox CEO says her company would never sponsor the Masters, because of Augusta’s policy barring women as members. Also, Xerox isn’t into golf. Reuters reports:

“The way I think about it is, the Masters can do what the hell they want,” Burns said. “If they want to actually have no women in the Masters, then women and right-minded men should make a choice about what the hell they want to do with the Masters. If they aren’t interested in having me there, why would I go?”

Meanwhile, Reuters has a quick look at the company’s future in the technology service industry.

– Nice work if you can get it. New York State is hiring workers to clean up creek debris for $51.71 an hour.

– There’s a new book about Michelle Obama’s ancestors who were slaves. The New York Times review is very interesting.

City of Rochester website

When it demolished Midtown Plaza, the city left the steel skeletons of the Seneca Building and Midtown Tower standing. Steel and foundations are expensive and the city bet developers would reuse those structures.

The mayor admirably salvaged the PAETEC/Windstream deal and construction on the Seneca Building is expected in the spring.

The future of Midtown Tower, however, still looks iffy. The city selected a proposal from Christa Development Corporation and Morgan Management to turn Midtown Tower into luxury condos and apartments.

When City Council approved the project in September 2010, Christa’s Brian McKinnon made it clear what would prevent construction. “Financing. At the end of the day as you well know without access to credit, especially today, projects don’t happen.”

A lack of financing is precisely why construction didn’t start on the $73.5 million project in July 2011, as expected. The Finger Lakes Economic Development Council applied to the state for $2 million to help pay for the tower renovation, but the state rejected the request.

The state funding application indicates the developers still have to close on other financing, including $13.5 million in new market tax credits, $24 million mortgage, $16.5 million federal HUD loan, and $19 million in state bonding. The project has already gotten $6.9 million in state funding.

It’s clear this is one super-complicated project with a lot of moving parts.

When the city left the tower standing, all I could think about was the Hyatt fiasco of the late 1980s. Who doesn’t remember the scar on the skyline – the abandoned, half-built hotel? It was the era’s fast ferry. Midtown Tower is a similar eyesore.

But the tower can’t stand forever exposed to the elements. This will be the structure’s second winter stripped of its exterior. The city still owns the property and can tear down the tower if it must. Let’s all hope that’s not the ending to this story.