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Democrat and Chronicle reporter Tom Tobin wrote a column comparing the Hyatt debacle of the 1980s to the Medley Centre mess. His point was that it will take a group effort and community will to turn the project around.

Stalled Hyatt, 1986

Stalled Hyatt, 1986

I have some problems with the comparison. The Hyatt was a scar on the city’s skyline, a major community embarrassment. If Medley Centre was operating as a mall, it would still be a big-box monstrosity along the highway. If you think Medley is an eyesore, you think all malls are eyesores. (They are, but that’s a different discussion.) Medley doesn’t impact the entire region the way the Hyatt did. Medley is not in our faces in the same dramatic way.

Tobin quotes one of the business leaders who eventually saved the Hyatt: Tom Wilmot. The mall magnate reminisces about an old breakfast club of prominent businessmen that stepped up the plate to save the Hyatt project. “We did the work and construction stayed on a pretty normal schedule,” the D&C quoted Wilmot.

There is supreme irony in quoting Wilmot as a problem-solver for the Hyatt  and suggesting he has advice to save Medley.

THERE WOULD BE NO MEDLEY MESS WITHOUT WILMOT. His company, Wilmorite, built Medley Centre, which was then called Irondequoit Mall. The overbuilding of his malls led to the situation we are in today with Medley Centre. Wilmorite also helped to create another mall mess: More than any other local developer, Wilmorite suburbanized shopping, which killed Midtown Plaza.

Sibley 220X165MEDLEY IS WILMOT’S SIBLEY PROJECT. Around the same time Wilmot was saving the Hyatt, he bought the Sibley building. When it became clear his company’s revitalization wasn’t a success (Wilmot wanted a casino and hotel), he stopped paying on his PILOT and stopped paying other city fees. The city ended up taking a $20 million haircut. SOUND FAMILIAR?

Medley FeaturedDespite not following through on his Sibley obligation, Wilmot was not villainized by politicians or the public in the same manner as Medley owner Scott Congel. Unlike Congel, Wilmot is a longtime member of Rochester’s elite with deep connections. The son of Assemblyman Joe Morelle, Joe Morelle, Jr. is a county lawmaker who works for Wilmorite. (That brings up a possible conflict for the Morelles from a political standpoint, as a redeveloped Medley could compete with Wilmorite’s malls. The elder Morelle is a major critic of Congel.)

Yes, there are lessons from the Hyatt, ones Wilmot didn’t heed when he owned a building across the street. But here’s the huge difference: When it came to Sibley and Medley, there was absolutely no urgency and few people believed they could be saved. Wilmot and Congel took full advantage.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The median home price in Rochester rose 5.3 percent last year, compared to 1.6 percent in the county as a whole.

– Wal-Mart is funneling money to charter schools.

– I did a report on charter schools and how they are struggling for space. It’s clear we are building two school systems, at tremendous cost to taxpayers.

– A former Supreme Court justice says marijuana should be legalized.

– Montreal will let bars serve until 5:30 a.m., under new proposal.

The insane, demeaning life of an NFL cheerleader.

– I didn’t realize there’s more than one way to pronounce Syracuse.

Sibley 220X165A divided City Council approved a lease for a police substation inside the Sibley Building. The 10-year lease will cost nearly $1 million. The city will also spend about $200,000 furnishing the space. Forty officers – not a small number – will staff the station.

Less than 10 years ago, downtown had a police station. It was shuttered when the department, led by former Police Chief Bob Duffy, reorganized into east and west sections. I don’t know what the department was paying for its old substation lease, but I’m guessing the one in the Sibley Building is more money. Certainly acquiring the furniture is an added cost.

The Sibley substation is a recognition downtown has its own policing needs. It’s a unique mix of visitors, commuters, transit riders, entertainment, residents, businesses and government. Even though downtown is among the safest places in the city, it’s important for people to feel safe, as it’s the center of the city. It’s the symbol of Rochester.

The Sibley substation is also the beginning of the recognition the two-section policing model hasn’t worked out. The chief has said he wants to move toward a quadrant system, with a downtown section in the middle. It won’t be cheap, as the Sibley lease shows.

Links of the Day:

– Avon is now the third New York State town to have its fracking ban upheld in court.

– A retired Pittsford teacher urges parents to opt out of state tests.

– A man jailed 22 years in a New York City rabbi’s killing is about to be freed. His conviction was the result  of liars and shoddy police work.

– Does phasing in the minimum wage really help workers? The Albany Times Union writes, “A deal among state leaders would force workers to wait until 2016 for a wage that isn’t particularly adequate in 2013.”

– With no assault weapons ban on the horizon, what does the president say to Newtown families now?

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?

Winn Rendering

The finalization of the sale of the Sibley building- in the works for several years – is excellent news for the development of downtown Rochester.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Winn Development out of Boston plans to invest $100 million to $150 million over the next decade to revitalize the property. Plans include putting in apartments, retail and offices. An outline submitted to Monroe Community College called for 25 units a floor in the tower. The company has a track record of renovating historic building and turning them into desirable properties.

Getting Sibley back on the tax rolls and filled with life will do wonders for Main St. Within a couple years, the Liberty Pole won’t be a giant bus stop. Maybe MCC will decide to stick around.

But the sale is not without controversy. Winn is buying the property for $5 million. That money will go to paying some of the back taxes and loans owed to the city and others. Owner Rochwil, a subsidiary of Wilmorite, won’t see a dime of the sale price and will still be on the hook for $19.9 million.

Man repairing clock tower, 1910

The city’s press release says:

The current owner of the Sibley building, Rochwil, will not be released from all outstanding obligations totaling approximately $19.9 million,…While Rochwil will not be released from the Float Loan obligation or delinquent PILOT obligations, it is not anticipated that Rochwil will have assets to satisfy these obligations.

In other words Rochwil, a.k.a Wilmorite, gets out of jail free.

1939

City officials and Tom Wilmot, head of Wilmorite, have said the building lost money over the years and no one was profiting while the taxes went unpaid. Wilmot has said he lost money on the deal. The city chose not to foreclose on Sibley, believing its development chances were better if it stayed private and at least Wilmorite was keeping the lights on. Wilmot has said he tried to make a go of it (casino, anyone?) and things just didn’t work out.

As for not dragging Wilmorite into court, the city has said the company was allowed to form an LLC that was largely protected in the event of default. They say Wilmorite’s original purchase deal was set up that way in the Ryan administration.

A Republican source told me, “If Tom Wilmot had been a Republican backer, the headlines would scream what an insider deal he got. The city just took a $19.9 million haircut.”

Armstice Day

Wilmot is a supporter of Democratic candidates and many suspect the city’s gone easy on him. Critics say Wilmot was taking in cash from MCC, a public institution, while not paying taxes. It’s probably time to file a Freedom of Information request for all the rent MCC paid to Rochwil since 1992. Then you’d have to figure out how much was invested to turn the department store into classrooms and how much it costs to maintain a (largely vacant) building.

Was the Rochwil chapter of Sibley’s history a scandal or a sign of the sad state of developing downtown? We need to get answers to those questions. In the meantime, the new chapter should be exciting.

Update: I went on a tour today. 9/6-RB

 

Links of the Day:

– Is there some kind of huge black market for stolen bicycles?

– A Rochester couple exchanged marriage vows at a historic State Fair exhibit.

– Vernon Downs isn’t handicapped accessible. Fans of Bruce Springsteen helped a guy out.

– I can always tell when I’m a passenger in a car driven by someone who’s baked. Some people argue stoned drivers are better. I think they’re spacey and slow.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Links of the Day:

– The city is beginning to close the books on the latest sad chapter in the Sibley Building’s history. The mayor submitted legislation to City Council asking it to pay off the remaining balance of the current owner’s $3,177,345 HUD loan. The money would come from the city’s insurance reserve fund.

The city loaned the money to Rochwil, a subsidiary of Wilmorite, in the 1990s to help finance the redevelopment of the property after the department store closed. The total cost of the project was $26.1 million.

Rochwil was not able to revitalize Sibley and stopped making loan payments in 1998. It also stopped paying its PILOT agreement. Rochwil now owes the city more than $22 million.

Mayor Tom Richards has said the city won’t recoup its losses for several reasons. Rochwil is a limited liability company, so good luck collecting. The city has never foreclosed on the building because that would ADD to taxpayer expense of keeping it up. Finally, the building isn’t worth the amount of money owed.

The community has been angered by a rich corporation’s refusal to pay its obligations. Wilmorite will tell you it lost money over the past decades on Sibley. The project shows the risks involved of government loaning private entities money and the challenges of reviving downtowns.

The payoff of the HUD loan is a first step in getting the building sold to Winn Development out of Boston. Winn plans to turn much of the tower into housing. The city is still in negotiations with Winn over the city’s liens on the property. Expect further legislation from the mayor soon that will finally close the Wilmorite chapter.

– School #12 parents are boycotting next week’s state field tests. The PTA sent form letters home to parents asking the principal to opt their children out.

Home prices are up in the Rochester region, but growth is slowing.

– Former Rochester superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard is at the center of a big battle between the Chicago teachers union and the mayor. Residents are sympathetic to the union, but a lot of outside “reform groups” with big money have jumped into the fray.

– Does anyone think you can buy a real Coach bag at the Rochester Public Market? There are questions about the use of federal resources to nab a Greece couple selling knockoff goods.

– Frontier and Windstream are among the telcos not snapping up broadband customers at the same rate as cable companies.

– New York State is selling trains it bought as part of a high speed rail project – in the 1970s.

Links of the Day:

– New York City released more than 870,000 photographs from its municipal archives, putting them in an online database. The Atlantic compiled some favorites, including this one:

New York City Municipal Archives

;

Did you know Rochester also has an extensive online database of historical photographs? It’s hosted by the library system. You can get lost searching for landmarks. Check out these images of the Sibley Building. (I suggest doing your own search and browsing the 1940’s window displays, including Toyland!)

Armistice Day

;

1939

;

Kids talking to Santa, 1914

;

Man repairing clock tower, 1910

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– Governor Andrew Cuomo likes to call everything he does “historic.”

– Upstate New York is its own state, according to an “invisible boundary map” of American culture.

Researchers looked at cell phone communication, where people relocate, how they vote and what sports team they watch to create the map. They also looked at whether we say “pop” or “soda.” (We are in pop-land.)

For the most part, Upstate is its own territory. Quick, someone tell Joe Robach!

– Corn Hill Landing sits on the site of an old metal factory.

This is why we care about the talking pineapple.

Buffalo has no fashion sense.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Links of the Day:

– The city released a summary of the mayor’s budget forums, attended by 170 people. Many complained about the back taxes owed by Wilmorite on the Sibley building:

Address the Sibley’s/Wilmorite tax delinquency.

“Collect property taxes owed to the City (Sibley’s).” (Edgerton)

“Wilmorite should not be able to walk away from paying taxes ($22m) – not being held accountable.” (Edgerton)

“Foreclose on Sibley’s.” (Adams)

“Collect unpaid City taxes from owners such as Wilmorite, Sibley’s etc.” (Cobbs Hill)

This issue will come to a head very soon. The company about to buy Sibley recently withdrew an application to COMIDA for tax breaks on the renovation. Mayor Tom Richards said that’s because “We want to get it all done at once.” He’s referring to a resolution on the sale, new tax breaks and old back taxes. The city isn’t likely going to get a lot of money out of the deal.

Participants also asked the city to stop subsidizing commercial developments through tax breaks and charge for parking at Ontario Beach Park, as well as Durand-Eastman. People were not enthusiastic about purchases for new surveillance cameras and asked the city to delay work in the port marina and Erie Harbor promenade. People do not want cuts to public safety.

– Some residents in Penfield are fighting a group home for veterans. “What if they snap?”

– No Child Left Behind mandates tutoring services for failing students. But the standards are lax, students aren’t getting the services and the services aren’t very good. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are wasted on the effort.

– The exploding deer population has become a problem in the City of Syracuse.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Nearly eight years after dismantling the downtown patrol section, the city is bringing one back.

The city dissolved the downtown police force when it went to east-west patrol divisions.

Since then, the city closed Midtown Plaza and the City School District increasingly relied on public buses, leading to problems of teen loitering at the Liberty Pole.

The city tried to address the issues by increasing the number of officers on foot and horseback downtown. It even put a big, ugly police trailer at the Liberty Pole. But the problems continued.

Although downtown is statistically the safest area of the city, it has suffered from a perception problem. Fifty thousand people work downtown and countless more visit downtown attractions.

There’s something about having a dedicated police station that makes people feel secure.  PAETEC actually demanded a police substation in the headquarters it once planned to build.

Perhaps the experience over the last eight years shows there’s something to be said for having an actual physical office with a dedicated staff downtown. Police Chief Jim Sheppard announced today a substation staffed by 30 officers is going into the Sibley Building.

The move probably won’t be enough to keep Monroe Community College from wanting to bolt. But it could be a way to entice others to locate on Main Street. And knowing there’s a police station nearby could deter the nuisance issues MCC is fleeing.

Links of the Day:

Apparently, criminals and loiterers don’t care for classical music. Cities across the country are playing Beethoven, Bach and Handel in trouble spots. They’re finding the music works! Minneapolis is the latest to try it at a train station:

The “classical music strategy” began last summer after complaints that the station had become “a haven for rowdy teens and vagrants.” The idea is that potential criminals find classical music so detestable that they won’t hang around the station long enough to realize their criminal potential.

<snip>

Still the theory behind the idea is a strong one. It reaches back to the famous “broken window” experiment in psychology — named for how quickly cars get stripped when a window is shattered — and the notion that a culture of order and maintenance dissuades reckless and criminal behavior.

I have long said this would be a great idea at the Liberty Pole. Every time I brought it up to various city officials, I got nothing but laughter. It’s worth a shot.

– Speaking of the Liberty Pole, check out this stunning picture from RochesterSubway.com of the Sibley Building from the 1930s.

– If you can’t beat ’em join ’em. Hilton High students are allowed to use cell phones in class – as part of lesson plans!

– It’s not a good idea to put video cameras in a locker room, even if you are Oak Hill Country Club.

– Too soon? Some are wondering if Billy Crystal will joke about Kodak Theatre’s woes at the Oscars.

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:

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.

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.