• The Rochesterian in Your Inbox:

    Join 643 other subscribers

Would you want to cross this street? (Google Street View)

Would you want to cross this street? (Google Street View)

 

The Democrat and Chronicle asks if High Falls could be bolstered if and when Monroe Community College moves into Kodak’s State St. complex:

A real estate boon could follow.

“The idea that you would be able to park your car where you live and walk across the street to take a class and come back, we think it would probably influence the demand for housing,” said Carolyn Vitale, vice president of the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development.

(snip)

(Warren) Sackler says that the neighborhood’s virtual invisibility from State Street has always been an issue. When he was a partner at the Triphammer, he’d occasionally get Kodak employees who worked a block away, calling him to ask him where the restaurant was.

“Even to this day, people don’t know what’s back there,” said Sackler. “It’s difficult because today, there’s no bar or eatery on the corner (along State Street). If that were still a restaurant, at least people would come over to that corner.”

I agree with Sackler.

There are other issues preventing MCC students and staff from venturing to High Falls. State St. is not pedestrian-friendly or easy to cross. MCC would be surrounded by parking lots, which serve as a physical and psychological barrier. Drive in and drive out.

Perhaps the best evidence MCC won’t do much for High Falls is Frontier Field. The ballpark is a failure in terms of spurring development downtown.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Henrietta residents don’t want RIT students living in their neighborhood, even if they’ll be in a gated apartment complex.

– Rochester’s police chief wrote an editorial about four babies dying last month in unsafe sleep conditions, such as cosleeping. I did a story on these silent deaths back in 2007. Nothing has changed, and little public money is devoted to prevention.

Gabrielle Giffords wrote a powerful editorial about the gun control bill’s failure.

– Rochester still ranks 5th in the country in per capita patents.

The cupcake fad is waning!

A Brookings study looked at job sprawl. Nearly one-third of Rochester jobs are near the central business district:

Job Sprawl chart

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.

Sibley Building Rendering Monroe Community College is on the verge of purchasing twice as much space as it needs.

The county legislature will vote in a couple weeks on spending several million dollars to buy 561,951 square feet on Kodak’s State St. campus. MCC has admitted it needs only 275,000 square feet. The left over space equals two Pittsford Wegmans. MCC says it could develop the space at a later date, but financing isn’t a sure thing and the college will have to pay maintenance costs in the meantime. The first phase of the project alone will cost $72 million.

What’s more, MCC is also purchasing Kodak’s power facility at the State St. site. MCC hasn’t decided if it will sell back the power to Kodak or connect to the downtown power district. MCC would become a “lightly regulated utility,” according to a SUNY memo to the college. Why is the college getting into the energy business?

Another issue is Kodak may eventually abandon the State St. campus.

Finally, the Kodak site is removed from the core of downtown. It is separated from the bus station under construction, the library, the new RIT building, the Brockport building and the Eastman School of Music. It would be an isolated big box surrounded by a parking lot. Isn’t that what’s out in Brighton?

MCC’s current landlord laid out its case for the college remaining at Sibley in a letter given to legislators. One of the arguments is a Sibley rehab is millions of dollars cheaper.

Whatever you think of Sibley v. Kodak, there appear to be very serious financial implications to this move in the present and future.

Read the Winn letter and the SUNY memo below. (Links of the Day following.)

Links of the Day:

– Lt. Gov. Duffy said it would be a “travesty” if Lovely Warren runs against Tom Richards for mayor.

– Governor Cuomo doesn’t want lawmakers to politicize the casino expansion. This, coming from the man who rakes in cash from the gambling lobby.

– Buffalo’s HSBC building could become luxury apartments, offices and hotel rooms.

– Constellation Brands is in Department of Justice hot water.

– Bausch + Lomb’s CEO said the company is committed to Rochester and is in no hurry to sell its downtown office tower.

– A tradition continues. Kodak film was used for six of the Academy Awards Best Picture nominees.

– The Common Core curriculum doesn’t teach cursive and expects kids to be proficient in typing in fourth grade.

– I will be MC-ing the Friends of Strong Wine Tasting tomorrow (2/1). It’s a great and fun event.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Sometimes, there’s no conspiracy.

Mayor Tom Richards, wondering why COMIDA hadn’t quickly rubber stamped Sibley’s tax breaks, publicly accused Republican Monroe County leaders on Tuesday of stalling the deal. Richards said he was told by county insiders this was payback for his opposition to Monroe Community College’s desire to move out of Sibley to Kodak property.

That makes no sense for a few different reasons:

1. The Sibley deal isn’t contingent on MCC staying there.

2. The Sibley people had a meeting scheduled with COMIDA the next day. (The owners say the deal was never in jeopardy anyway.)

3. It’s not unreasonable or unprecedented for COMIDA to take a little time with such a deal. Taxpayers already took a $20 million haircut on this property.

4. Republicans don’t care what happens to MCC downtown.

Let’s examine that last point. Democrats believe the GOP secretly wants MCC’s proposed $72 million new digs at Kodak, complete with a power source, to be part of their fiefdom. But when have Republican elected officials expressed any kind of enthusiasm  for MCC vacating Sibley? County Executive Maggie Brooks, when asked about MCC’s move, says, “MCC has the right to choose where it wants to be.” That’s not the same as saying, “Yay, Kodak! Yay, MCC moving! Woohoo!” Her support has been lukewarm, at best.

Democrats don’t seem to understand they’re pretty close to winning the MCC fight and may have a secret ally in Monroe County. The county was instrumental in getting MCC to extend its lease at Sibley for another five years. That’s a long time. Over this period, the Sibley renovation and a changing atmosphere on Main St. will make it very hard for MCC to go anywhere. Furthermore, money for the new campus could dry up.

Former mayor Bob Duffy and now Mayor Richards don’t get that Brooks cares about downtown. She is the biggest champion in the county for MCC staying downtown.  A GOP source said the rest of the Republicans wouldn’t care if MCC packed up and moved back to Brighton.

Finally, all of this begs the question of why Richards knocked Brooks so publicly. It turns out the mayor was wrong. Either this was a genuine misunderstanding or he owed Louise Slaughter a favor. Richards doesn’t strike me as someone who plays politics, so I’m going with the former.

It’s good news Sibley is going forward, despite last minute – and unwarranted – drama.

Links of the Day:

– College at Brockport police officers have been worried about safety issues.

– The RPD struggles to find the resources to add foot patrols, which are popular among residents.

– New York congressional races could dictate outcome of who controls the House.

– Why are gas prices so high in Western New York?

Links of the Day:

– Only 35 percent of New York State students who graduate high school in four years are considered “college ready.” That means they scored 80 percent or higher on a Regents math test and 75 percent or higher on a Regents English test.

In the Rochester City School District, only 6 percent of graduates are college ready. When you factor in the graduation rate, the statistics show only 3 out of 100 students who enter high school will graduate on time and college ready four years later.

The SUNY system, stung by the enormous cost of remediation programs at community colleges, is now considering a test that would be administered to high school students their sophomore year to assess college preparedness. The Syracuse Post-Standard reports:

“If we could possibly administer something commonly across the state in the sophomore year, we would have all of the junior and senior year to work through improvement and remediation,” (SUNY Chancellor Nancy) Zimpher said.

The chancellor has identified the remediation issue as a key focus for SUNY this year. Statewide, 40 percent to 70 percent of students seeking a two-year associate’s degree arrive on campus needing to take at least one remedial course. Those students end up spending their time and money on classes that offer no college credits.

(snip)

Zimpher said SUNY spends $70 million a year on remediation at its community colleges. In addition, students spend 20 percent of their financial aid — or $93 million a year — on non-credit remedial classes. Nearly $40 million of that aid is in loans that students must repay.

At Monroe Community College, one in three students needs remedial classes.

Is another test to assess college readiness really necessary? What’s the role of the SAT? If students haven’t passed any Regents tests by sophomore year, that’s an obvious sign the student is not college ready. Also, perhaps the state should consider raising the bar to get a diploma or redefining what it considers college ready. Passing two Regents tests with middling scores hardly seems adequate.

– There’s a nationwide movement of undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows and daring immigration officials to deport them. The Post-Standard has a compelling story of one such man, beloved in his community.

– Landscapes drawn by an Attica inmate imprisoned for murder are featured in Golf Digest.

Should tenure for college professors be abolished?

– Scrap metal thieves are getting desperate, turning to public toilet parts in a Buffalo suburb.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Monroe Community College is exploring the idea of vacating the Sibley Building immediately. The school is looking at other sites where it can hold classes and asked Kodak about the possibility of moving in right now, instead of after renovations.

MCC thinks Winn Development, which plans to buy Sibley, wants too much money. Winn thinks it’s offering Sibley a deal. Winn officials say if MCC moves out now, the development of Sibley will proceed.

If MCC gets out of Sibley soon, there are some serious questions:

1. What is the cost of temporary space, including setting up classrooms, versus the cost of leasing at Sibley?

2. What happens if the county legislature doesn’t sign off on the purchase of the Kodak buildings? MCC would be effectively homeless downtown.

3. Is MCC trying to do an end-run around the legislature by getting into Kodak early under a lease?

4. What is MCC’s commitment to a downtown campus?

The board of trustees meets on Monday to make a decision. MCC officials have demonstrated they are seriously anti-Sibley. Here are a series of tweets from President Anne Kress today. The last one is priceless:

http://storify.com/rachbarnhart/new-story-1

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Monroe Community College continued its assault on downtown Rochester in the Democrat and Chronicle Sunday. The dean of the Damon City Campus, Emeterio Otero, had this to say:

“Just this morning, a faculty member complained they found feces and urine inside the building,” Otero said Tuesday. “It’s just medieval.”

“If you look to Midtown right now, and I know the city has plans for that, and hopefully it’ll be developed, but it’s still a hole. If you look to the left where the old Renaissance Square building was going to be — it’s a shambles right now. It’s not conducive to a college environment right now.”

Ouch.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

The paper looked into safety concerns around the Sibley Building, a chief factor in MCC’s decision to move to the Kodak complex. MCC said there were more than 8,000 police calls during an 11-month period. It turns out many of those calls were simply officers talking to dispatch. There were only 98 crime reports taken, most for minor offenses.

The crime issue is one of perception, but there’s still a real problem outside Sibley. The city has done a terrible job getting a handle on youth loitering and mayhem. The area will be markedly improved, however, with the development of Midtown, the bus terminal and rehabilitation of the Sibley Building itself.

As I’ve blogged about before, MCC has done real damage to downtown’s image. Instead of working with the city, it’s throwing up its hand and bolting from Main Street. I’m not sure I blame them, considering the strong feelings of staff and students, but it’s extremely disheartening to watch.

 

I’m wondering why Winn Development and the City of Rochester haven’t launched a full court press to woo Monroe Community College and the public.

Kodak took the media on a tour of its complex. There’s been no such tour at the Sibley Building.

Mayor Tom Richards, Sibley’s champion, doesn’t want us to focus on fights at the Liberty Pole and the destruction of Midtown. He wants us to focus on what Sibley will be in the future.

What is that exactly? And how much will it cost?

For the first time today, Winn Development shared its vision of the Sibley Building. The renderings are impressive and exciting. The plan calls for reconfiguring the Liberty Pole area and a rooftop garden. The company says it will spend $200 million on Sibley, with or without MCC. Having MCC probably moves along financing much more quickly. Not having MCC may drag out the development, further delaying the point when Sibley can get back on the tax rolls.

Winn also dropped a minor bomb today, saying it can upgrade Sibley for MCC for only $20 million. That would be the bare-bones option, but Winn’s point is that there is flexibility.

MCC is understandably outraged at having its rent substantially raised. The college also doesn’t like its lease options. But I can see the Winn’s side – to close on this purchase and plan for the future, the developer needs to lock in a tenant or figure something else out.

I’d like to learn more about Winn Development, its plans for Sibley and the costs involved.

About the Liberty Pole…

Two hundred teenagers brawled at the Liberty Pole today. Some will say this supports the college’s decision to move out of Sibley. I’m thinking it may also support the overhaul of the Sibley building.

The decline of the Liberty Pole rests on the administration of former Mayor Bob Duffy. The area was not a teenage hangout before Midtown closed. When it became a problem, former Chief David Moore said there was little police could do, because teenagers have the right to congregate. The city’s solution was to up a police trailer and portable toilets. The city simply couldn’t get a handle on the mayhem – and it is having major consequences in terms of ongoing violence and development of Main Street.

Links of the Day:

– (Updated) The incoming owners of the Sibley Building are putting the squeeze on Monroe Community College, reports the Democrat and Chronicle:

“In the coming month, it is necessary for a lease renewal to be agreed to among the parties,” said Gilbert J. Winn, managing principal of WinnCompanies.

If an agreement is not reached, he added, “as incoming owners we have a clear responsibility to act in the best long-term interests of the Sibley Building and would be forced to vacate the college this summer.”

I find it interesting that the owners of Sibley would strong-arm a publicly-funded entity, considering Sibley is $23 million in arrears on taxes and government loans. I don’t think that’s an irrelevant issue.

I’m not sure why MCC won’t just sign a lease there, however. What options does it have while waiting for the Kodak renovation? That’s a lingering question.

UPDATE – Talked to Winn, who said MCC has no sense of urgency. Winn also said company can renovate the building for much less money, “like if you have a home and just want to do the kitchen.”

– Starbucks is all well and good, but Rochester has a lot of locally-owned coffee shops.

– Mormons just want to be accepted, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll. I grew up with several Mormon families and it makes me sad to think they are fighting to be understood and welcomed into the mainstream.

– It would be a shame if the Academy Awards left Hollywood, according to people interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. The Oscars are considering Nokia Theatre over Kodak Theatre, which is smaller and has poor acoustics.

– New Yorkers are buying fewer vanity plates, probably because they’re too expensive.

– Marijuana doesn’t cause much damage to the lungs, a new study finds. Unless you’re a serious pothead.

I interviewed Rochester Police Chief Jim Sheppard today about officers and firefighters getting scammed by a Tennessee photography company. Members of local law enforcement agencies sat for portraits in 2010 that never arrived. Some people spent $100 or more on packages. The chief himself was among the victims.

The story raised questions about the judgment of local police and fire chiefs. It’s a little strange that an out-of-town company was hired for the work. It’s also weird anyone would try to scam cops.

After the interview, I asked the chief about safety outside MCC’s downtown campus at the Sibley Building on East Main Street. In a blow to downtown’s image, MCC opted to move to Kodak, citing safety concerns.

“Downtown is the safest part of the city,” Sheppard said. He said the department has done a lot to improve safety on Main Street. There are now officers assigned downtown and buses for high school students have been rerouted away from Main Street.

Ironically, less than an hour after I left, a 20-year-old man was stabbed right outside the doors of MCC’s Main Street entrance. The victim does not appear to be a student.

The stabbing happened right as MCC is trying to prove its case about the area’s safety. These incidents might be isolated, but they get publicity and make the city’s job of selling downtown much harder.

A few days ago, I was doing a live report across the street from the Liberty Pole. I saw a woman carrying a briefcase being escorted to a parking garage by the “red-shirts,” paid guides and security patrols funded by the downtown business district.

Has it come to this?

I hate when people say “perception is reality” when referring to the safety of downtown Rochester. It really isn’t. Statistically, downtown is the safest part of the city. That’s probably because no one is around after dark, but it’s still true.

I loathe admitting this, but statistics don’t matter so much right now. The city has a perception crisis on its hands, thanks to a few pretty bad realities.

First, Monroe Community College decided to move out of the Sibley Building. Safety was clearly a huge issue, with the college president citing police calls for service. (Of course Sibley has more calls for service; there are more people there. Also, there’s no way of knowing if those calls for service will follow MCC over to the new site.) Anne Kress also talked about women feeling unsafe and being groped and harassed near the Liberty Pole. That’s totally unacceptable and indeed not a safe environment.

When Bob Duffy was police chief, he closed the downtown police section through consolidation. Then as mayor, he closed Midtown Plaza, which turned the Liberty Pole into a hangout for teens and loiterers. The city’s solution was to put up an ugly police trailer and portable toilets. Police on horseback patrolled when school let out. Fighting among youth and loitering continued.

Now MCC has devastated the city’s image by so loudly proclaiming Main Street to be unsafe. MCC bluntly told the city perception is reality.

Second, Genesee Brewing Company CEO Rich Lozyniak doesn’t plan to open the brewery’s proposed visitors center and restaurant in the evening hours because of the neighborhood’s safety. The brewery is not exactly “downtown,” but it’s directly across from High Falls and just north of the Inner Loop. Lozyniak said two of his late-shift employees were mugged over the summer. He wasn’t taking a chance guests would be similarly accosted.

Lozyniak’s decision is understandable, but it’s frustrating to the city’s cheerleaders.

I haven’t seen this much angst about safety issues in the city since the decision to build the soccer stadium off Lyell Ave. That actually is a troubled neighborhood. In the years since, we haven’t heard of any soccer fans becoming crime victims. Yet there are people who still won’t go to games because of the stadium location and the perception of safety.

I’m not sure of a solution beyond development that brings lots of people to our center city, creating such diversity and activity, everyone is comfortable – and safe.

We should talk about Renaissance Square.

I join you in wishing we never, ever have to talk about the failed project again, but this week’s events make it necessary.

Renaissance Square would have combined a performing arts center, bus station and Monroe Community College campus on the northwest corner of Main and Clinton. A bunch of eyesore buildings would have been knocked down. The $230 million project was funded with the exception of a performing arts center.

The project was led by Republican Maggie Brooks. Democrats (and the public) never warmed up to it. When then-Mayor Robert Duffy finally became engaged with the details – after $24 million and years of planning – he had major reservations. Bickering over performing arts center funding and the size of the bus terminal ended up dooming the project.

Did I mention Renaissance Square was funded??? The bus company told the city if money for the theater never materialized, the city would get that parcel back for development. A clean shovel-ready site at Main and Clinton. (I’ve always believed a theater could be funded if the mayor and county executive truly championed it.)

But City Hall effectively killed Renaissance Square. Brooks could have continued negotiations with the city, but she’d had enough. She shares some blame for walking away, but it’s not like Duffy went running after her to salvage anything.  The whole thing left Senator Chuck Schumer, who fought for project funding, truly baffled.

Fast forward two years. The bus terminal will be breaking ground this spring in the same Renaissance Square location with essentially the same design.  MCC is saying “good riddance” to Main Street, putting in jeopardy plans to develop the Sibley Building. A performing arts center hasn’t raised any funds and would be more expensive to build at the preferred Midtown site. The eyesore block at Main and Clinton still stands, with no development proposals ostensibly in the works.

Killing Renaissance Square had major consequences. The biggest, we now see, is MCC’s departure from the heart of downtown. Unless developers come out of the woodwork to revitalize Main Street, the death of that project still looms large.