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“I respectfully request $100 million to allow the City to support the private development of a downtown Performing Arts Center.”

That might be the most amazing sentence ever written by a politician.

But Mayor Lovely Warren did indeed ask for the money with a straight face in a February 13 letter to the governor. She also asked for other stuff, including money to repair sidewalks, reorganized the police department, fill in the Inner Loop and assist the Sibley Building project. Her monetary request was far, far greater than the wish list sent to the governor by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Two weeks before Warren wrote her letter, I wrote a blog asking “Why Not Rochester?” The governor had just visited suburban Syracuse, awarding $100 million for a lakefront project. We can’t criticize Rochester for not getting anything and then criticize our leaders for asking.

Yes, Warren’s request was very bold. But we’re talking about a state that was prepared to give Syracuse University $200 million for an athletic stadium before Miner put on the brakes. We’re talking about a state that is giving Buffalo $1 billion, not including the tens of millions being used to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium.

That fact is, we’d have a new performing arts center on Main Street if our last two mayors cared to advocate for one. If Warren wants a theater at Midtown, she’ll get a theater at Midtown, especially with help from County Executive Maggie Brooks, who said she supports the effort. Getting our state lawmakers behind that vision would help, too. (So far, they most definitely are not.)

Here’s what former Brooks spokesman Noah Lebowitz posted on my Facebook page:

Facebook comment

 

Links of the Day:

 

- A Cornell professor weighs in on college athletes getting paid. She relates them to medical interns.

- I just do not understand putting $95 million of tax dollars into a Ralph Wilson Stadium renovation while at the same time exploring a new Bills venue.

- See ya suburbs. More people want to live in the city.

- This is hysterical: When your anonymous neighbor makes fun of you via a Wi-Fi name.

 

Video of the Day:

 

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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?

Elm St.

 

Elm St.

 

If you thought rebuilding the Midtown block involves selling a few remaining parcels, think again. There’s a former office building on the site the city hopes to unload.

When demolishing the Midtown block, the city decided to keep 88-94 Elm St. Built in the 1960s, it has 13 floors and 83,000 square feet. The ugly brown high rise has been vacant since 1998, when the city acquired it through tax foreclosure. The city did asbestos work and replaced the roof, but the building has no operable HVAC and electricity and only some working plumbing.

The city put out a Request for Proposals for the building. The city will only consider adaptive reuse. The purchase price is an estimated $360,000. The city will consider reserving a certain number of garage spaces for the developer.

If the project doesn’t sound daunting already, consider the fact 88-94 Elm St. backs up to the Hotel Cadillac, which is used as a de facto homeless shelter. The city spearheaded a plan to get the county to stop using the Cadillac as emergency housing. Will a developer plunk down big money with the Cadillac – and it’s reputation – right next door?

The Cadillac was sold in 2001 to a developer who promised changes, including closing the bar. Back then, there were several drug deaths at the hotel. In recent years, the hotel has been the scene of fires. Neighboring businesses on Chestnut appear to have cleared out. The area has further declined, which may be due in part to Midtown’s closure.

A similar tension existed between Cascade District developers and the Open Door Mission. The mission made some rule changes and exterior improvements to appease the owners of high end lofts. The Open Door Mission does not appear to have prevented any progress in the area. Nothnagle and Bridge Square are two additions to the neighborhood.

Proposals for 88-94 Elm St. are due in May. It will be interesting to see if the Cadillac poses any kind of barrier, and if so, how the city plans to address it.

Links of the Day:

- A lot of Monroe County agencies do not post meeting agendas, resolutions and documents online, as required by law.

- An Albany inmate died after her pleas for heart medication went ignored. The state appears to be covering up report into her death.

- Schools do not want to be polling places anymore, because they’re worried about safety. This is a solution in search of a problem.

- Matt Lauer wants less tabloid fare on ‘Today.’ He has nothing to say after the reports, except expressing remorse for victims.

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.

Links of the Day (Downtown Edition):

- The Midtown Plaza demolition appears to be complete, a year and a half after it started. Construction will start soon on the former Seneca Building, where Windstream will go. The city hopes to rehab the tower, but that’s a $72 million project that has yet to secure financing. There are several parcels that remain to be sold.

The mayor has said the city has the luxury of time, as infrastructure work needs to be done. But I can’t imagine this doesn’t weigh heavily on City Hall.

- The Buffalo Convention Center is losing business because it’s on a strip with vacant storefronts and condition of Main Street is poor. Buffalo Rising suggests tearing the whole thing down:

If Buffalo wants to compete in this market, it needs to think smarter.  It needs to do something far outside the box.  My suggestion would be to tear down the convention center and don’t replace it.

(snip)

Buffalo already has countless large, underutilized spaces that would provide a unique alternative to the typical convention center and provide more than enough space.

Buffalo already has a giant problem with vacant buildings and lots, so destroying things doesn’t seem to be a good idea. However, after reading about the rejection of Buffalo’s Main Street for conventions, one has to wonder if Rochester’s convention business has suffered.

A large hunk of Rochester’s Main Street is pretty deplorable right now.

- Speaking of tearing things down, Syracuse is considering removing some downtown buildings. A Post-Standard columnist suggests making them a parking lot:

If we demolish these unfortunate wastes of perfectly good concrete, we’ll create much needed parking space for office workers, downtown dwellers and visitors.

This goes against smart urban planning on so many levels. Parking in downtowns is needed, but should be underground or in garages. When you create wide open parking lots, you’re discouraging density and taking up developable space. Besides, they’re freakin’ ugly.

Rochester is building on its downtown parking lots. A townhouse complex is going up at W. Main and Plymouth. The U of R has plans for Block F. There are other lots in development.

This column, written a couple years ago, is a rebuttal to the idea the Syracuse buildings should be torn down for parking.

- Expressways through downtowns should be called “expenseways.” They decrease the values of adjacent properties. There’s now a movement to remove some urban freeways, including Rochester’s Inner Loop and Syracuse’s I-81.

The New York Times reports “Broadway Hits Gold in Buffalo.”

“The Addams Family” musical packed the house at Shea’s, a 3,000-seat downtown theater, and raked in $1 million a week.

Excerpt:

Like theaters in Cleveland and Sacramento, Shea’s in Buffalo has become important because of its reliable subscribers — 13,100 for each of its six one-week Broadway tours this year. An impressive 85 percent renew annually; the subscriber base insures that 55 percent of seats are bought even before tickets go on general sale.

“The industry has noticed how good it is to play Buffalo,” said Stuart Oken, a lead producer of “The Addams Family,” who pointed out that the show made more money per performance here than in Toronto, Miami or any other city since the tour began in September.

If it’s happening in Buffalo, couldn’t it happen in Rochester?

Rochester clearly supports shows at the Auditorium, but it doesn’t seem to compare to what’s happening at Shea’s. At 2,400 seats, the Auditorium is not as big. The facility’s location and parking are difficult. There aren’t any places to walk to have dinner before or get a drink after a show.

Of course, this is why the Rochester Broadway Theatre League desperately wants a new performing arts center. The league selected Midtown Plaza after the collapse of Renaissance Square. But at $70 million, with half of the funds coming from the public, the mayor is decidedly lukewarm. The city’s attitude will never get a new theater in downtown Rochester; getting that kind of cash requires an elected official as champion.

Reading about Buffalo’s Broadway success is a little frustrating because Rochester tore down its stately theaters. The former RKO Palace is now a parking lot. The decision to preserve and restore Shea’s ended up being a huge for downtown Buffalo.

RBTL insists a new theater would be an economic engine.

A million dollars a week…

Want to know how a proposed housing development or office building fits into your neighborhood?

Bergmann Associates, under a contract with the City of Rochester, has been creating a 3D map of the city. So far, only downtown, Eastman Business Park and University of Rochester have been plotted in detail.

The program allows users to “fly” over the city or “drive” along the streets. The technology is similar to video games. I tried it out a couple weeks ago and found it easy to use and fun.

Ultimately, the city would like to make the map available online for public use. There are even mobile versions. For now, it’s a nifty tool for architects, engineers, city planners and potential developers. It’s also a great thing for TV reporters, who often show sketches of proposed projects. Now, we’ll be able to show life-like videos!

Bergmann put this video up on YouTube of a “fly over” of Rochester. (Thanks to Zack Seward and Rochester Subway for pointing out the video via Twitter.) Note the Midtown and CollegeTown developments.

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.