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City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

It’s easy to characterize the photonics headquarters dispute as local leaders fighting among themselves. But that’s not really accurate.

On Sibley Building side, you have Mayor Lovely Warren, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, Rochester Institute of Technology President William Destler, Senator Charles Schumer, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle and Wegman CEO Danny Wegman.

On the Legacy Tower side, you have Rochester Business Alliance CEO Robert Duffy and a bunch of CEOs whom I referred to in an earlier post as New Rump Group. Certainly, their companies have an impact. But since the average Rochesterian couldn’t name a single one, I would hardly call them “local leaders.” Not to mention, none of these guys has anything to do with this project. At all.

Therefore, it’s way more accurate to say local leaders, many of whom directly worked on the photonics plan, are fighting with Duffy.

It’s even more accurate to say the University of Rochester is fighting SUNY Polytechnic.

Here’s how sources are describing what’s going on: SUNY Poly wasn’t too happy when U of R announced support for the Sibley site. SUNY Poly sees itself as being in charge of photonics project. It claims it is the Department of Defense’s designee and put together Rochester’s winning (secret) application. SUNY Poly teamed up with Duffy to promote Legacy Tower. I’m sure Legacy is a very fine place, but did SUNY Poly even visit Sibley? Does anyone think 25,000 square feet of office space is so important to this project? One of the reasons SUNY Poly wanted Legacy is to stick it to U of R.

Meantime, U of R says it has a seat at the table. (Documents related to governance structure need to be made public ASAP.)

This is about power.

My last blog post, I thought this was about a group of presumptuous businessman trying to hook up a developer and wield influence. I was right that it’s a group of presumptuous businessmen. I was wrong in that it was only about real estate. The events of the last week showed this is bigger than office space.

Except for the head of a quasi-lobbying group, Rochester leaders are aligned. And they’re ready to take on Albany.

(Side note about Danny Wegman: He hasn’t explained why his name was on Duffy’s letter supporting Legacy one day and on another letter supporting Sibley the next day. I asked if he knew his name would be on the Duffy letter, and his reps didn’t answer. See Below.)

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Fishkill Prison Inmate Died After Fight With Officers: “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him.”

– Groceries, gas, guns & guitars at North Country store.

 

Sibley 220X165There’s a new RUMP Group in town. This time, the group of rich, older, powerful white men call themselves “Rochester Business Leaders Photonics Working Group.” The group includes Bob Duffy and Danny Wegman, as well as the CEOs of Paychex, Kodak, Home Properties and Pike.

None of them have any experience in photonics. But they do have experience in real estate. That’s why they feel they’re qualified to tell the Department of Defense that the photonics institute headquarters should be located at Legacy Tower, the former Bausch and Lomb building.

They do not think the headquarters should be located at the Sibley Building, despite the wishes of University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Senator Charles Schumer.

The group believes the Sibley Building will require too many infrastructure upgrades, while Legacy Tower is a turnkey operation. The group thinks the Sibley Building, which houses High Tech Rochester’s offices, is somehow not suited for photonics offices.

There’s no evidence to back up New RUMP Group’s claim. The SUNY people say it will take five months of planning to get the institute off the ground. That means we have no idea when the headquarters will need to open and the kind of space it will need. We have no idea if Legacy OR Sibley will be appropriate. We don’t know the cost of either space, in terms of rent or renovations.

Why would New RUMP Group come out in favor of Legacy Tower when they don’t know anything about the photonics institute’s needs or budget or timeline?

Money, of course.

Buckingham Properties must need the tenants at Legacy. Buckingham’s Ken Glazer was at the photonics announcement featuring Joe Biden. It didn’t take long for Glazer to figure out how to make money off the deal. Sibley is owned by out-of-towners and perhaps they didn’t get an invitation to New Rump Group.

It’s concerning these prominent business leaders would use their names for such naked favoritism. These men have essentially started an unnecessary public feud.

The Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster – a real group of people who actually work in the field – point out this fight doesn’t even matter.

The DoD’s designation and future interest in Rochester is unrelated to local development interests. The DoD wants integrated device development as soon as possible. This work can move forward without an administrative office.  It is unclear if it will stall if local interests refuse to coordinate and compromise.  Either way, because of the excellent working partnership so far, New York is leading the nation in an international competition fueled by billions in research dollars.  We have been designated and are the focus of international attention.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– So many opted out of NYS tests it casts doubt on reliability of scores, expert says.

ISIS and their sexual slaves.

– Warren Harding had love child, DNA confirms.

 

McFadden

Adam McFadden Facebook Page

 

Adam McFadden wasn’t the only person to question whether Bob Duffy’s appointment to the CEO position at the Rochester Business Alliance would get as much scrutiny as McFadden’s appointment to the Rochester Housing Authority.

Supporters of McFadden and Mayor Lovely Warren have repeatedly said black politicians get more heat in the media than white politicians. I vehemently disagree. Ask Maggie Brooks, whose husband is under indictment, if the media has been soft. If you don’t want the media breathing down your neck, don’t do questionable things. Better yet, don’t run for public office.

But while there are many difference between the RHA and RBA sagas, McFadden is right that the Duffy appointment should raise our collective eyebrows.

First, let’s talk about the differences.

RHA is a government entity, thus the public has a huge right to dissect its dealings. RBA is not, though it has close ties to government. At the RHA, someone was fired before McFadden could get the job. RHA insists Alex Castro was terminated because of wrongdoing. Until they spell out Castro’s failings, it looks as though Castro was pushed aside so McFadden could step in. Castro’s firing could be very costly to taxpayers.

Now let’s talk about the similarities.

1. Both of the appointments raise ethical issues.

As lieutenant governor, Duffy was in charge of the economic development councils, which awarded grants to the very businesses for whom he will now lobby. Duffy tells Gannett he recused himself. There’s also the matter of the Public Officer’s Law, which has varying interpretations of whether Duffy can lobby for two years after leaving office. Duffy says he’s cleared by JCOPE, the state’s ethics commission. Duffy should release that JCOPE decision, and if one is not in writing, he should get one in writing.

The Rochester Board of Ethics is looking into whether McFadden can serve on City Council and run the RHA. Council has very little to do with RHA, as the ethics board is discovering.

2. People lied.

George Moses, the chairman of the RHA board, lied to the media the day after Castro was fired, saying the board still had to interview candidates for interim director. He did not disclose that McFadden was hired at the same meeting Castro was fired.

Sandra Parker, whom Duffy is replacing, told me last year she was delaying her retirement because there was more she wanted to get done at RBA. She said she wasn’t involved in the search for a new CEO and didn’t know if Duffy was in the running. But yesterday she admitted she delayed her retirement so Duffy could get the job. Her statement calls into question whether Duffy really withdrew his name from consideration, as he asserted last year.

3. McFadden and Duffy both got the jobs because they hold elected office and have friends in high places. Putting aside whether they’re qualified, they got these top jobs because of who they know.

There’s no way McFadden, the head of a $1 million nonprofit, a man with no experience working in housing, would have been appointed to lead a $62 million agency if he was not a councilman with close ties to the mayor.

There’s no way anyone would delay their retirement for a year for someone who was not a friend. There’s no way a search committee would decide not to do any interviews for anyone other than the lieutenant governor, a former mayor who decided he didn’t like state politics and needed a job.

This last point is why we should care about both of these stories. The media – and the public – is a check on power. You can decide how much you care, but you can’t decide if we don’t tell you what’s going on.

Update: I deliberately did not discuss the qualifications of McFadden and Duffy to perform these jobs. But someone pointed out to me that I’m implying McFadden cannot do the job. I do not want my statement interpreted that way. I was only saying he got the job because of his connections, not that he isn’t capable of performing well in the post. McFadden has as many – if not more – credentials as other people placed into city and county management jobs over the years.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

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Links of the Day:

 

– Remember when the state promised no one would ever be stranded on the Thruway again? Yeah…

– What it’s like to be stuck on the Thruway for 24 hours.

– Ban the Box law went into effect this week in Rochester, but many employers were not aware.

– Blacks are arrested at far higher rates than whites in Monroe County.

– Turning Stone plans $100 million expansion, including upscale stores, movie theater and dining.

– Boston’s charter schools have high suspension rates.

– There’s a growing movement to make sure students accused of sexual assault have due process and representation.

The Rochester Police Department had a bad year in 2002. Four men died at the hands of police or in police custody – in one summer.

“It actually frightened me,” said former mayor William Johnson.

– Lawrence Rogers died after police restrained him at the Driving Park Wegmans. Rogers had been agitated and fought with police before his arrest. He died after being given a sedative at the hospital.

– Craig Heard was shot by two officers who had him cornered on a dead-end street off Park Ave. Police said the 14-year-old was trying to run them over with a stolen car. His family received a $300,000 settlement. (Their lawyer was current City Hall attorney T. Andrew Brown.)

– Shawn Dukes died in the back of a police van while handcuffed and unattended. He had a heart attack. His family was awarded a $500,000 settlement.

– Willie Carter was shot and killed on East Main Street after he stabbed his wife to death. Police said he was advancing on them with knives.

Why didn’t Rochester erupt with protests, as we are seeing in Ferguson?

“If we hadn’t made a diligent effort to establish community relations in advance, this city would have blown off as well,” said Johnson.

To understand why Rochester remained calm, you have to go back to 1992. That was the year five officers were on federal trial for civil rights violations. The police chief was convicted on embezzlement charges.

“The police dept was in a huge mess,” said Johnson. “When I became mayor it was clear I had to solve this problem.”

Johnson’s first task was to find a new police chief. He went down to North Carolina to interview Robert Warshaw. He also wanted to talk to citizens.

“The black people in town said to me, ‘Do not take our chief,'” said Johnson. “They told me about a case where there was a young black man who engaged in a serious act. He was on top of some building in town. The SWAT team was dispersed. In the past the SWAT team would have killed him. Chief Warshaw personally intervened, went up and talked him down. Finally they had a police chief and department that cared enough about their lives.”

Chief Warshaw and Mayor Johnson at opening of police substation in 1995.

Chief Warshaw and Mayor Johnson at opening of police substation in 1995.

Johnson hired Warshaw. He told Warshaw the culture in the police department had to change. Robert Duffy was his deputy chief. The city started the Neighbors Building Neighborhoods program and Neighborhood Empowerment Teams. Police officers had offices right in neighborhoods to deal with quality of life issues.

“We had police out in the community all the time and created dialogue,” said Johnson.

In 2002, Duffy was chief. After four police-involved deaths of black men in one summer, Johnson and Duffy sprung into action.

“We had to start calling on people that knew the work of the police department to keep things under the control,” said Johnson. “We had a few hotheads. Rev. Raymond Graves did his best to fan the flames. I said, ‘Reverend, I’m here now. Give us some credit.’ I just had to keep leaning on Rev. Graves to not escalate things.”

Johnson said he was under a lot of pressure to take some kind of action against the department, particularly Chief Duffy.

Then-Deputy Chief Robert Duffy talking to a citizen at City Hall in 1995.

Then-Deputy Chief Robert Duffy talking to a citizen at City Hall in 1995.

“If he had any other mayor than me as his boss…I don’t know many other mayors who would not have sacrificed their police chief if they had four black men killed,” Johnson said. “Politically, that was a hard thing for me to swallow. I had to keep saying I have confidence in Bob Duffy and confidence in his administration and mistakes were made. You have to be willing to admit that to people.”

The lesson here is simple.

“People have to believe you are being honest with them and they have to believe based on experience,” said Johnson. “You can’t start that day. You have to have a strong foundation built up.”

Johnson doesn’t see any evidence of that in Ferguson.

“There’s no trust between police and citizen,” he said.

Johnson, who did some work in Sanford after the death of Trayvon Martin, said citizens also play a role. He condemned the “criminal element taking advantage of the situation” by looting. But he said it’s concerning the town is majority black, but elected officials are mostly white.

“This community has to get its act together,” said Johnson. “They can’t keep complaining they are oppressed. They have the means to be engaged.”

All of this could have been avoided, Johnson said.

“What it takes is the awareness you’ve got a problem and the willingness to do something about it.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Amnesty International is sending a team to Ferguson, the first time the agency has made a deployment in the U.S.

– The father of the Amish girls feels sorry for their alleged kidnappers.

– Jim Kelly says no thank you to Jon Bon Jovi.

doesn’t pass the smell test.”

– Could Zephyr Teachout hurt Cuomo in the primary?

– One-third of people have nothing saved for retirement.

Nacationing.

– Rochester’s Adrian Jules dresses Jim Boeheim.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Skyline - featured 220X165Rochester is being left out in the cold.

Governor Andrew Cuomo went to Onondaga County on Wednesday to award $100 million in state money for waterfront development, which includes a $50 million performing arts center.

As Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and even Utica get millions of dollars from the state, Rochester doesn’t even get a mention in the State of the State Address.

As Greater Rochester Enterprise’s Mark Peterson said, “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Could it be that the governor is not happy with his number two, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who secretly applied to the top job at Rochester Business Alliance? Could it be our local elected officials are doing a poor job? What is it?

Keep in mind Rochester gets less state aid per capita that its Upstate counterparts. It’s also forced to give the City School District $119 million a year, more than Syracuse and Buffalo give their schools.

Let’s talk about a theater.

Syracuse gets money for a theater while our last two mayors haven’t been interested in such a project. “If the Rochester Broadway Theater League can raise money first, then we’ll help,” said Duffy and Tom Richards. That kind of attitude won’t get anything built. In order to build something with public and private dollars, you have to have an elected official as a champion. Mayor Lovely Warren has promised to be that champion for a performing arts center at Midtown. If she wants a theater downtown, she’ll get her state money for a theater downtown. RBTL’s current partner, Scott Congel at Medley Centre, does not have anyone fighting for him in Albany.

I like the idea of a downtown Rochester theater a lot better than the taxpayer-backed sports stadium projects for the Bills and SU. A theater would require less public money. Theater patrons spend substantial money in the community, at hotels and restaurants. The arts create a vibrancy in a community that sporting events do not.

Whatever dream project Rochester decides it wants, it seems now is the time to go after it, while Cuomo is in a generous mood.

Assuming he’s not mad at us.

4b51f4aa-f527-4184-b647-0a3fb726dc8cThe New York Times says Lovely Warren is part of a new wave of progressive mayors who want to address inequality:

Lovely A. Warren won election as mayor of Rochester last month with a campaign lamenting what she called the “two Rochesters,” challenged by crime and poverty, but also boasting prosperous neighborhoods.

onecityWhile the attention to this issue is extremely welcome, Warren won’t be the first mayor to talk about “two Rochesters.” Bob Duffy’s inauguration speech discussed the importance of creating “One City.” In fact, “One City” was incorporated into city marketing materials.

Here is an excerpt from Duffy’s 2006 speech, in which he talked about poverty and crime plaguing poor neighborhoods:

We are a community of great wealth and great poverty. Our future success depends on our ability to connect our great assets with our greatest needs. We are two cities today. In the future, we have to work and commit to be one. One city.

Hope – Unity – and Commitment

This city is my responsibility. It is your responsibility as well.

Duffy wanted to unite the “two Rochesters,” rich and poor, city and suburbs. Warren’s approach has been a bit more divisive. Her campaign said the city wasn’t doing enough for one Rochester, and doing too much for the other.

(Bill Johnson, Bob Duffy and Tom Richards all spent considerable tax dollars on housing, street maintenance and services in poor communities. It will be interesting to see how Warren’s approach differs.)

Duffy and Warren both pointed out the differences between the “two Rochesters.” But Warren issued a loud battle cry – and it was heard by voters.

 

Links of the Day:

 

There is a huge shortage of mental health professionals in the United States.

– A Syracuse hospital is greatly expanding its methadone clinic because of heroin and painkiller abuse.

– At what point are the giveaways to corporations so great the economic benefits of having them in your town are erased? See Lockport’s deal with Yahoo.

– Good for Atlanta’s mayor for refusing to subsidize a sports team’s stadium with dubious promises of economic development in return.

– Recreational pot will be legal in Colorado on January 1. The law is fascinating.

– “Medical abuse” prompted a Boston hospital to get custody of a girl – and keep her locked up for 10 months. Hard to believe so many people could fail this child.

– A “cookie lady” gets shut down and no one knows why. She suspects it has nothing to do with kid allergies.

– People getting Rochester logo tattoos. It’s a thing.

– Vanessa Williams approached a guy in a Sabres jersey during a trip to Egypt. She and the Buffalo man are now dating.

Skyline - featured 220X165With Tom Richards bowing out of the mayor’s race after his primary defeat, the Bob Duffy era has come to an end at City Hall.

What was the Duffy era, anyway?

Let’s look at the stuff that happened (and didn’t) over the eight years those gentlemen ran city government:

– Killing the fast ferry: Ten days into his administration, Duffy ended his predecessor’s pet project and Richards later engineered the sale of the boat.

– Tearing Down Midtown Plaza: Duffy took the struggling shopping mall through eminent domain, closed it and tore it down. The public price tag will top $100 million. The pace of the tear-down, rebuild and redevelopment has been glacial through the Duffy and Richards administrations. The decision could end up being a wonderful thing for downtown. The Seneca Building has been refurbished and Midtown Tower is next. The problem is there’s no plan for the remaining parcels.

– Killing Renaissance Square: Duffy’s hemming and hawing, and demands for last-minute changes sent the project into a tailspin. He never bought into the plan to build a performing arts center, MCC campus and bus terminal at Main and Clinton – even though much of the project was funded. Today, the bus station is under construction, MCC plans to ditch downtown (Big box Kodak complex doesn’t count), and the theater could go to the suburbs. Oh, and Main and Clinton is still a mess.

survillance-security-camera2– Red Light Cameras: They bring in millions of dollars to city coffers, along with the ire of thousands of citizens. They only marginally increase safety in a city with very, very, very few fatal accidents. (The speed limit is 30 miles per hour.)

– Reorganizing the fire department: Duffy reduced trucks and personnel. The union claims this has made it harder to respond to fires.

– Developers were friends: From the $1 land sale to Dutch Summers to build $200,000 condos on Plymouth to a Restore NY grant that paid one-third the cost of two East Ave. condos to a $20 million city loan for College Town developers – City Hall was super-friendly to developers. 

– Killing the High Falls laser light shows: Duffy also sold off the equipment, making the likelihood they’ll come back slim to none.

– Killing the East End Festivals: Richards and company allowed the snooty new East Ave. residents to throw their weight around. The festival came back for one night only this summer.

– Killing NET offices: The city used to have mini-City Halls in neighborhoods. Duffy consolidated them. They are no longer the neighborhood forces they once were.

– Ruining Party in the Park: It now charges admission and is held in a parking lot.

– Selling Hemlock & Canadice lakes: The state has promised to keep the area around the source of Rochester’s drinking water pristine. It was a nice cash windfall. But we lost control of this beautiful and vital resource.

– Brooks Landing and Corn Hill Landing: Wait, those started under former mayor Bill Johnson.

– West Main Street revitalization: Also started under Johnson.

– Jazz Fest: That started under Johnson, but grew with huge Duffy support.

– Put port development on hold: The developments planned for the port right now, including a marina, were planned under the Johnson administration. Duffy put the whole thing on hold, only to resurrect it years later, with some tweaks.

– Turning Mt. Hope into the new West Ridge Rd.: College Town is supposed to be like a village for students. Now it appears even more scary to cross. Access for pedestrians and bicycles was sacrificed for cars. I bet it will be as congested as ever, meaning this widening of the road will not have accomplished its goal of smoother traffic. (It never does, according to many non-DOT traffic experts.)

– Going to war with the school district (and then backing down): Duffy wanted mayoral control. Richards put a stop to such talk and decided working with the school district was best. (Warren will bring back the war with her charter school agenda.)

Here is a list of city projects under way and completed.

 

There was a change when Duffy took over City Hall. There was a corporate mentality. Citizens were referred to as customers. Men (yes, men) from the private sector were brought in to run the economic development and the law departments. Duffy sent the message that City Hall was in the “right” hands and the city was “back.”

Duffy fought the establishment to become mayor and quickly became the establishment. City Hall clammed up. Department heads were no longer free to take my phone calls. I couldn’t poke my head into the mayor’s office. There was a much tighter control on information. There was far more spin and messaging. The mayor often traveled with an entourage of department heads, security and communications staff.

Did Duffy and Richards bring more development into the city? It’s hard to say what would have happened anyway. The South Wedge experienced a renaissance all by itself. The downtown housing boom started during the Johnson years. In fact, cities and downtowns across the country are seeing renewed interest. The city’s population decline reversed during the ’00s; Johnson was mayor for much of that time.

Duffy, Richards and Johnson all left the city with a good credit rating. All three mayors warned of structural problems. All three seemed to manage it well.

Duffy will be remembered for three things: Killing the ferry, killing Renaissance Square and killing Midtown.

It will likely be Warren’s task to see what rises in their place.

State Capital BuildingLieutenant Governor Robert Duffy came in last place in a newspaper’s ranking of Albany power brokers.

City & State ranked Duffy 100th in its “Albany Power 100” list. Here’s what it said:

The former mayor of Rochester is in a largely symbolic role now, standing in for the governor at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and serving as Cuomo’s personal cheerleader. But he could be the next David Paterson. You never know.

Ouch. Mayor Tom Richards said the characterization is not fair, as Duffy has steered the Regional Economic Development Councils. Richards also said Duffy is very involved in helping Rochester in any way he can.

Guess who is near the top of the City & State list? Assemblyman Joe Morelle, now the assembly’s second-in-command:

He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but he’s become a favorite of the governor and Assembly members on both sides of the aisle. If Shelly ever calls it quits, Morelle would be the clear choice to be the next Speaker if he weren’t from upstate New York. Chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, he is a juggernaut in his area, even recently electing his son Joe Jr. to the county legislature.

Links of the Day:

The state is threatening to close a Buffalo charter school. This is the downside of experimenting with children’s education. When it doesn’t work, it’s very disruptive.

– When the president of the Auburn Teachers Association killed herself, the union found $808,000 missing.

-The Syracuse city school district wants to open a school for gifted students.

Remembering the days of the Kodak bonuses.

Is Xerox, which posted profits of $1.3 billion last year, getting a call center courtesy of taxpayers?

Xerox – after several weeks of mildly threatening to locate the call center elsewhere – decided to proceed with plans to renovate a portion of Building 200 in Webster. The call center would employ 500 people over two years and cost $4.3 million.

The company had already been awarded $271,000 in county sales tax breaks. But the state press release made clear what sealed the deal: a $1 million grant and $5 million in job creation tax credits.

If you do the math, $1 million plus $5 million minus $4.3 million means Xerox comes out ahead.

Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and County Executive Maggie Brooks seemed genuinely started when I pointed out the call center would essentially be free and questioned the accuracy of the state’s press release.

But both defended giving the project incentives.

“It’s not about giving anyone a free call center. It’s all about leveling the playing field for companies that want to stay here because they have a larger investment,” said Brooks.

“I can assure you that other governors in other states would be right there offering to build this,” said Duffy.

A Xerox spokesman disputed the idea the company would be getting a free call center. He tax credits are not cash and they are paid out after many years and only if Xerox creates and retains jobs. But the spokesman could not say exactly how much money the tax credits would be worth.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, also said this is not a free call center. He said tax credits are paid out over 10 years and Xerox must adhere to its job creation and investment agreement.

“Only after verifiable proof has been demonstrated will the company get the tax credits,” Shafran said. “The tax credits are paid off over a long term period, get paid off over 10 years.”

Shafran says it’s not fair to compare tax credits with Xerox’s $4.3 million investment. I disagree because Xerox may not have moved forward with the call center without the incentives. Tax credits are worth money, whether Xerox realizes that savings up front or down the road. The fact is the company could eventually recoup its $4.3 investment.

As for the jobs being created, Xerox couldn’t say how much they would pay. Innovation Trail points out call centers don’t pay a whole lot. Also, Xerox is being rewarded for creating 500 jobs after eliminating 500 local jobs in 2011. (Two-hundred-fifty were outsourced to another company, much to the consternation of those workers.)

Whether the state foots the bill for some or all of this project, it’s clear taxpayers are paying a lot so a multi-billion dollar corporation can rehab an existing building to create low-paying jobs.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

A fellow reporter asked Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy on Thursday about the billion dollars going to Buffalo for economic development. Rochesterians have been quite miffed. Here is his response:

We have some great football games this weekend and at the end of the first quarter you don’t declare a winner. We have, I believe the best governor in the country. We have one fourth of his term done. By my count about $200 million has been earmarked or on its way to Rochester in the last month or so.

Buffalo is the second largest city. Rochester is the third. The governor made a decision that put a stake in the ground. But what has happened in Buffalo, that investment, I would say if it’s as successful as I believe it will be, you’ll see the same things happen in Rochester and Syracuse.

And what I’ve told the governor is there’s this incredible Upstate competition with cities, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse. If we got the $1 billion, Buffalo would be up in arms. So I think you have that competitive issue.

Rochester is not forgotten. If the governor was here speaking, he would tell you how much is passed along and communicated about what goes on here and the needs. But in all honesty, I don’t argue with the decisions that were made. Our Regional Council here did an extraordinary job…They did not win. They did not win the top four, but the scoring was so close, anyone could have won. But there’s four more years…of that money coming.

Duffy was definitely defensive, but not overly so. Apparently, being the third-largest city behind Buffalo matters.

I was a little curious that the governor’s budget called the Buffalo initiative an attempt to form
“innovation clusters.” We have those in Rochester already and they sorely need funding. But it’s fair to say there’s still a lot of time in the Cuomo administration.

 

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.

20120108-125958.jpg

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Is Rochester a victim of its own PR?

We felt royally snubbed by the Regional Economic Development Councils and the State of the State gifting of $1 billion to Buffalo.

Ken Warner, who advocates for union jobs, told the Democrat and Chronicle:

“It just seems like Rochester is getting punished for doing a good job,” Warner said. “Not only did we get the booby prize (from the economic development council awards,) we’re getting money we were already getting anyway” for the 390 work.

(I suspected as much about the 390 money in a recent blog post.)

I’ve long felt local leaders inappropriately downplay crises.

When reporters ask Mayor Tom Richards if he’s worried about Kodak going belly up, he says,”I wish them well…we’ll carry on.” That kind of dismissive attitude masks very real consequences for the city if Kodak cannot emerge from bankruptcy in a strong position. The company owns a ton of property, employs thousands of people and is part of the community identity.

Sandy Parker of the Rochester Business Alliance has also downplayed Kodak’s woes, saying her conversations with Perez gave her faith the company will not go bankrupt.

Rochesterians themselves don’t help their cause, tending to ignore the poverty of the inner city. Except when it comes to schools, downtown, and occasionally crime, a lot of people look the other way.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy astutely observed in the D&C:

“Rochester is not forgotten. We are not being penalized for our success at all. We are being recognized,” he continued, noting that the same people who touted the jobs report and other good news were among the first to criticize. “We can’t have it both ways.”

We can’t have it both ways. We want our local leaders to be cheerleaders, but we also want them to be honest.

Photo Credit: City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Is Rochester the redheaded stepchild of Albany?

First, we received tens of millions of dollars less than our counterparts in Regional Economic Development funding. Now we find out in the State of the State Address the City of Buffalo is getting $1 billion in funding for economic development. That’s billion with a “B.” Rochester didn’t even get a shout-out during the speech.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Buffalo is “in crisis.” Rochester isn’t?

There’s no question our region has lower unemployment and a long-proven ability to rebound from the dramatic downsizing of our large companies. (How ironic that the governor was making his address while reports of Kodak’s impending bankruptcy broke.)

But if we’re going to compare cities, Buffalo and Rochester have virtually identical poverty rates. The median income hovers around $30,000 with one-third of residents living in poverty. The June high school graduation rates don’t top 50 percent.

I’m not terribly familiar with downtown Buffalo, but I can’t imagine Rochester’s downtown is better. Our Main Street is pockmarked with vacancies and a giant hole in the ground. (Has Cuomo learned about Midtown yet?)

Whatever regional success we’re experiencing, it hasn’t trickled down in any giant way to the urban core.

Let’s also remember the City of Rochester faces state-imposed burdens its neighbors do not share. Rochester is required by state law to pay its school district more than Buffalo and Syracuse combined. It also gets less state aid per capita than Buffalo and Syracuse.

Sandy Parker of the Rochester Business Alliance said in a statement, “I am deeply disappointed that Rochester and the Finger Lakes were again overlooked by the powers in Albany…The long-held view in Albany that Rochester can take care of itself is unfair- and punitive.”

The absence of any mention of the Flower City is all the more astounding because our former mayor was at the governor’s side. Does Cuomo think Duffy is still in charge of Rochester and taking care of our problems?

I’m heartened the governor thinks urban issues are important. So is Rochester.

More Links of the Day:

The third Kodak director has resigned in a week, Reuters reports. Laura Tyson is a professor and White House advisor. Excerpt:

Tyson, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is a professor at the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
She has also served as a member of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and in the 1990s advised the Clinton administration on the economy.

Kodak shares closed at 65 cents today. It’s high in 2011 was $5.85.

– The Rochester Business Journal reports 2012 will be a decisive year for Kodak. Excerpt:

For Rochester, much is at stake. Although Kodak’s local employment has plunged roughly 88 percent-or more than 53,000 jobs-since it peaked in the early 1980s, some 7,000 residents still earn a living there. And thousands of Kodak retirees also have much on the line.

In Colorado, Kodak leveled four buildings on its Windsor campus, the Windsor Beacon reports. Two hundred workers remain at the campus.

City Newspaper might have the line of the day in a blog post questioning Bob Duffy’s effectiveness as mayor:

I think Duffy’s belief in his own core goodness cast a weird spell on the city.

I believe the jury is still out on his tenure. Midtown will end up being his legacy and we don’t know how that’s going to turn out.

– A Rochester woman was interviewed for a story in the Washington Post about the “White Girl Problems” Twitter hashtag, which is coming out in book form. Excerpt:

A whole online community has sprung up to vent. Now there’s @JewBoyProblems, @PostGradProblems and @HipsterProblems, to name a few. Hyperion is releasing a book next month —“White Girl Problems” — and there have been talks with television executives about developing a series.

It has been a hit with out-of-work college graduates. Stephanie Williams, 24, of Rochester, N.Y., recently left her job at a public relations firm and moved back in with her parents. She says it’s comforting to connect with others on Twitter who share her problems adjusting to postgraduate life.

“This is possibly the first time where I don’t feel like I have control over the direction of my life,” Williams said. “And I’m going through this crisis on Twitter with other people.”

Locally, a “Pittsford Problems” hashtag made the rounds a couple weeks ago.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported today Assemblyman David Gantt would reintroduce his legislation giving Rochester’s mayor control of the school district.

This is not a surprise, as it has already passed the assembly. The bill has powerful allies in Gantt, Assemblyman Joe Morelle, Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and the business community. But the state senate is a lot trickier, as senators Joe Robach and Jim Alesi have expressed strong reservations.

Meanwhile, a lot has changed in the two years since then-Mayor Duffy campaigned for control of schools.

  • We have a new mayor who may not want the job as badly as his predecessor. Tom Richards  never talks about mayoral control unless prompted and doesn’t do so with any depth. While Richards has expressed support for mayoral control, I find it hard to believe Albany would hand over control of a $700-million-a-year, 32,000-student district to a man who lacks any outward passion for taking the reigns. There’s still time for Richards to show he wants control of the district. So far, he hasn’t laid out any vision.
  • Opposition to mayoral control has grown among area residents. The 2011 Voice of the Voter poll shows 50 percent of respondents oppose and 38 percent support mayoral control. In the 2010 poll, only 30 percent opposed mayoral control.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s record on education has been knocked in polls and gains in test scores under his leadership were nearly wiped out.
  • The Rochester City School District is no longer run by mayoral-control-friendly Jean-Claude Brizard.  The district is in a state of relative calm compared to the turmoil of the last few years. Is it time to rock the apple cart as the school board searches for a new leader – one who may already be in the position? Maybe it’s the perfect time, if you want to install the mayor as chief.

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.