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University of RochesterThe University of Rochester wants to create a second photonics institute.


Once you’ve stopped laughing, read on to hear why this second institute is probably needed more than the first one.

Word of a second photonics institute called Lightscale Research Institute, was revealed in a widely circulated email sent out by U of R photonics gurus to local people in the industry. No one appears to be authorized to talk about Lightscale on the record, so here is what I’ve been able to piece together in talks with sources.

The first institute – the AIM Photonics Institute that brought Vice President Joe Biden here – will have more than $600 million in funding. But only $130 million of that money is coming to Rochester, sources say. Fifteen million dollars is coming from the Department of Defense, $80 million is going to the U of R and $35 million is going to Rochester Institute of Technology.

AIM Photonics is a national effort, but that effort is too restrictive to exploit Rochester’s true potential in photonics. AIM can only do integrated photonics, which is the use of optical fibers to move data at high rates of speed. In addition to AIM’s narrow focus, it’s a federal effort, which means it doesn’t have a singular focus on creating jobs in Rochester.

(A huge irony is that Rochester’s colleges and industries don’t even specialize in integrated photonics. But it’s not a stretch to make the leap, especially with SUNY Polytechnic as a partner. “We have transferrable skills,” one source said.)

Here’s where Lightscale comes in. This second photonics institute is hoping Rochester wins the $500 million Upstate Hunger Games competition, and it gets a $100 million cut. Unlike AIM, Lightscale would have a broad focus on many different kinds of photonics, including optics, lasers and imaging. It would have a regional focus and would create regional jobs.

Kodak was good at systems. Kodak could make components, such as lenses, but its bread and butter was cameras. AIM is components. Lightscale is systems. Lightscale is the stuff Rochester is really good at doing. Lightscale is the stuff that makes systems closer to consumers – next generation platform, 3D systems, virtual reality, etc. The closer you get to consumers, the more jobs you create. “It’s moving up the value chain,” as one source put it.

Does AIM have the potential to create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs in Rochester, as SUNY Polytechnic head Dr. Alain Kaloyeros suggested?  The odds are way better working with Lightscale, sources say. AIM’s focus is too narrow and it’s mission is national.

That’s the reasoning behind Lightscale, a second photonics institute. That’s why University of Rochester went ballistic when Kaloyeros tried to take over the whole AIM project. U of R has its own photonics vision – and it might be a heck of lot bigger than anyone realized.


Below is the email describing Lightscale from U of R’s Paul Ballentine and Mark Bocko.

Dear Friends,

As you probably know by now, on July 27th Vice President Biden came to Rochester to announce our region has been chosen as the home to the national Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI).  This is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  This event was the culmination of over three years of hard work and careful planning to: (a) have the U.S. government identify photonics as a topic for an NNMI Institute AND (b) make sure that institute is headquartered in Rochester.  An early step toward this achievement was taken on December 17, 2012 when over 100 key stakeholders gathered joined CEIS at the UR Alumni Center for a full day of discussions on what an NNMI institute for photonics should look like. At the time, we called the proposed institute POMATech (Photonics and Optics MAnufacturing TECHnology).  The idea was to have an institute that covered a range of optics, photonics, and imaging technologies – one that would leverage the wide range of skills and resources in our community.  As it turned out, the original proposal by the Obama administration to have NIST fund the institutes and allow proposing entities recommend the topics was not funded. Instead, individual agencies have been funding NNMI Institutes for topics of their choosing.  After over two years of lobbying by the Rochester photonics community, our congressional delegation, RRPC, the Optical Society of America, SPIE, the National Photonics Initiative, and many other individuals and organizations, the Department of Defense issued a call for proposals in 2014 for an NNMI Institute for integrated photonics.  This was one of the six areas we discussed in the 12/12 workshop.

The New York proposal for the IP-IMI won out over proposals from Central Florida and Southern California.  The New York institute, called AIM Photonics, will be led by the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Other participating universities include  MIT, the University of Arizona, and UC Santa Barbara. Participating companies include Intel, IBM, and many others.  Over 20 Rochester area optics and photonics companies are also supporting the institute.  The DOD is providing $110M in funding over five years and New York State is providing $250M of matching funds.  The total funding, including matching grants from other states and company contributions is over $600 million.  Of that total, $130M will be spent in the Rochester area. Rochester was chosen as the headquarters for AIM Photonics based on the region¹s strengths in both the technical, educational, and business aspects of photonics.  In addition to the headquarters, Rochester will be the center of the packaging and sensor efforts of AIM Photonics.  Rochester will also play leading roles in education, workforce training, and design automation.

The NNMI award is only part of the progress we have made in getting federal support for the region¹s photonics industry.  Over the past 3 years, Rochester has been awarded grants for all four of President Obama¹s manufacturing jobs initiatives:  The Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (CEIS), the Advanced Manufacturing Technology program (CEIS), the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program (the City of Rochester)) and the NNMI program (AIM Photonics).  All four of these are based on optics, photonics, and imaging.  This is a tremendous achievement for the region, and one in which we should share a sense of community pride.  We are also fortunate that New York State continues to support CEIS as the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) for optics, photonics, and imaging.  These are important parts of the  effort to re establish Rochester as the leading center for optics, photonics, and imaging in the world.

Our work is not done.  CEIS is currently working with the Rochester photonics community to establish a second major photonics institute in Rochester.  This proposed Institute, called the Lightscale Research Institute, will be part of the region¹s proposal for one of the $500M Upstate New York Revitalization Initiative (URI) grants.  Why two institutes?  LRI will differ from AIM Photonics in two important ways.  First, the focus of LRI will be on a broad range of light-based technologies other than integrated photonics, including advanced optics, lasers, and  imaging/multimedia platforms.  AIM Photonics is restricted to integrated photonics by the DOD.  Second, LRI will be a NY State institute while AIM Photonics is a federal institute.  There will be different fiduciary responsibilities for public funds.  AIM Photonics, while heavily subsidized by New York State, will be a federal institute.  LRI will be more focused on regional economic development, although it will benefit the entire optics industry and have national and international participation by companies that are committed to invest in the Rochester region.

While we greatly appreciate the attention photonics is getting, it is important to work closely with those who have created these opportunities.  The strategies required to turn these developments into real economic growth are complex.  We all need to work together in a coordinated, comprehensive, and consistent way if we want to control our own destiny and turn these public investments into real economic growth,

A lot of people have contributed to these efforts and are continuing to do so. In particular Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has been a strong and steady supporter of the Rochester optics, photonics, and imaging industry for decades and provided the original impetus for this activity.  And Jay Eastman has been involved from the start and has volunteered a considerable amount of his time over the last 3 years.  Jay continues to play a leading role in the effort to rebuild the Rochester photonics industry through his role as co-chair of the Optics and Photonics Work Group of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

AIM Photonics and LRI (if funded) will be pillars upon which a healthy optics, photonics, and imaging industry in Rochester can grow.  The real goal of these efforts is to see substantial private investment leading to the incubation, growth, and attraction of optics, photonics, and imaging companies.  These companies will provide well paying jobs and help address the poverty situation in the Rochester region.

We appreciate your continued support in this effort.  If you have any questions or would like to become more involved, please don¹t hesitate to call or send us at CEIS or send us an email.


Mark Bocko, Director

Paul Ballentine, Executive Director

The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences
University of Rochester

University of RochesterCan you say sticker shock?

University of Rochester announced what it will cost undergraduates to attend next academic year. Tuition, room and board will be $59,788. That’s a 60 percent jump over the cost to attend 10 years ago. If UR had pegged tuition to inflation, tuition, room and board would be more like $46,000 today.

Apparently, UR is consciously slowing the rate of increases. Tuition is going up 3.5 percent at UR. Last year’s 3.9 percent hike was touted as the lowest in a decade. This follows a trend nationwide among private and public colleges.

The College Board reports only about one-third of students pay the full price, with no financial aid. The College report expressed concern government aid is not keeping up with increases in prices for many students. What’s more, when adjusted for inflation, family incomes have declined over the past decade.

Some argue sticker prices are not a reason for concern, as there’s a lot of help for lower-income students. Others argue colleges have not been spending tuition money wisely.

Despite the tremendous cost, students and families are still making the college investment, even if it means going into steep debt. The payoff for having a college degree is still there. Pew Research found college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 earn $17,500 more than those with only a high school degree.



Links of the Day:


– The Democrat and Chronicle did a great story on the madness of busing kids to school, all in the name of “school choice.” The process is futile, because virtually all of the schools have high concentrations of poverty. Furthermore, parents are now using school choice as a means to prevent their children from having to walk to school. All of this is costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, while polluting the air and costing children precious time they could use for studying, play and activities. Parents also can’t make it into school for conferences and other events.

(I walked to School #7 with every other kid in the neighborhood. We walked by ourselves through rain, sleet and snow. It was a great experience.)

– I’m guessing this is what we can expect from the Seneca Nation in Monroe County: A “middling casino” like the one they built in Buffalo that doesn’t live up to its promises.

– Police store data from license plate scanners, including your whereabouts. An Onondaga Sheriff’s deputy said, “I can see how it would be creepy…”

– Are dog parks safe for dogs? A Syracuse woman’s dog was killed.

– The Syracuse University basketball team is worth $21 million, up 10 percent over last year.

– When streets had life. Remembering Rochester’s Front Street.

Rendering of College Town

Rendering of College Town


University of Rochester undergrads think College Town is too far. The Campus Times reports:

Although students have voiced concerns about College Town’s distance from campus and the possibility of construction delays, developers are confident in the project’s success.


The bookstore’s distance from campus is also concerning for students.

“I’m not looking forward to the fact that it’s 15 minutes away, and it’s going to be freezing outside,” Stolove said. “So the only way is going to be to use the bus schedule.”


…there will be changes to the transportation system: a new bike trail and shuttles to and from College Town to lessen any inconvenience the distance from the bookstore may cause students.

(City of Rochester Economic Development Specialist) McCarthy also noted that students aren’t visiting the bookstore on a daily basis.

“The bookstore typically has cyclical heavy use at the beginning and ends of semesters, rather than providing a day-to-day service,” he said. “Also, walking is good for us.”

Cry me a river.

College Town is one mile from the heart of campus. At Cornell, my dorm was 1.5 miles from Ithaca’s College Town. It was a walk over steep hills. U of R students have it pretty easy. There are still dining halls, food stands and convenience stores right on campus for students.

But College Town isn’t just for U of R undergrads. It’s also for the 12,000 people who work at the medical center, which is much closer. And, it’s for the larger Rochester community, whose taxpayers are giving and loaning this project millions of dollars.

A little walk – along flat terrain – won’t hurt the undergrads. They won’t remember what it was like before they had more amenities. They won’t want to.


Links of the Day:


– What really happened with Wegmans and the Teamsters? The workers lost their guaranteed pensions under the threat of losing their jobs. 

– Senator Michael Nozzolio and his law firm, Harris Beach, are again under scrutiny, thanks to the Moreland Commission. Harris Beach is fighting the commission’s request to get more information about clients that do business with government. Check out this 2004 story about Nozzolio, the firm and pay-to-play questions.

– Have you ever heard of the “Regents Research Fund?” This group of privately-employed and funded people advises the State Education Department. Yes, they have the “reform” agenda.

– New York’s move to computerized testing could exacerbate the gulf between haves and have-nots.

– Common Core really is a curriculum – and New York tax dollars could be supplying the nation with material.

– Fewer flights, higher airfares out of Rochester and airports across the country.

Rochester’s food trucks are in limbo.

– Former Rochester news anchor Kyle Clark, now in Denver, goes off on viewers who send in pictures of snow-covered patio furniture.

Rendering of College Town

Rendering of College Town


College Town is taking shape. At a groundbreaking ceremony this week, the list of tenants was named:

  • 150 apartments
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill,
  • Corner Bakery and Cafe
  • Flight Wine Bar
  • Benucci’s
  • Saxby’s Coffee & Yogurtland
  • Flower City Provisions
  • Hilton Garden Inn & Conference Center

The $100 million project will also have a 1,560-space parking garage.

The project got a $20 million government loan, to paid back with money that would have gone to the city’s property taxes. It also benefits from $17 million in infrastructure improvements and a $4 million state grant.

The project claims it will generate $49 million in sales and income taxes over the next 10 years. That kind of math assumes we weren’t going to go out and spend our money elsewhere in the community. It assumes the 320 workers wouldn’t have found other low-paying retail jobs. Retail is not good economic development.

The number to look it as how much College Town will be paying in property taxes. Its PILOT calls for $4.8 million over the next 10 years. Not enough for the city to recoup its investment over that time period. (At the end of those 10 years, the roads will probably need repaving, too.) Meantime, the city is crying to Albany that it can’t raise enough revenue in property taxes.

I truly believe this project will be wonderful for the University of Rochester and Mt. Hope neighborhood. But given the fact the retail space is already leased out by tenants catering to a well-to-do crowd, it’s hard to believe this project couldn’t have happened on its own without such heavy taxpayer investment.

Links of the Day:


– Many students struggled with the new state tests and couldn’t finish.

A Buffalo suburb gets hip to public transit.

Just call it “The Wire: Albany Edition.”

– In Gloversville, Sno Cone Joe is charged with stalking Mr. Ding-A-Ling.

– I was a guest on The Wease Show and talked about the other side of the Spider-Man shoot. Listen here.

University of RochesterThe University of Rochester announced tuition levels for the 2013-14 school year. It will cost $57,644, including room and board for undergraduates. The university said this was the lowest tuition increase in a decade – 3.9 percent.

In 2003-04, the cost was $35,670. That means UR’s tuition has gone up 62 percent in the last 10 years.

At UR and other institutions across the country, tuition increases have outpaced inflation. The College Board found tuition increases were an average of 2.4 percent  per year above inflation over the last decade at private nonprofit four-year colleges. Tuition and fees rose 5.2 percent per year beyond inflation at public, four-year schools.

Even though many students get financial aid and do not pay the full sticker price, many also are saddled with loans to make up the difference.

Colleges have blamed shrinking state and federal aid. There are also competitive pressures to attract the best faculty and students and to build better campuses. Colleges have to keep up with technology. Worker health care and insurance is also expensive. Critics say bloated bureaucracies and inefficient operations play a role. Others say nonprofit status of universities limits incentives to cut costs. 

Whatever the reasons, it’s hard to imagine these prices are sustainable.

Links of the Day: 

– SUNY Buffalo’s dramatic medical school expansion won’t come with a dramatic expansion of parking. The college is forcing people to find alternate means of getting to work. Now the city is seeing development along rail lines! The University of Rochester should take note – nothing like this will come of an expansion of Route 390. See my previous blog post on UR’s failure to address worker transit.

“Whites are far more likely to shoot themselves, and African Americans are far more likely to be shot by someone else.”

– Rock-climbing is coming to an old Buffalo grain silo.

– New York keeps handing out consolidation study grants to villages and school districts that don’t really want to consolidate.

– Many people do not know the $25 admission price at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is only “recommended.”

University of Rochester


People who live in the neighborhood surrounding the University of Rochester are fed up with commuters parking along their streets. The Democrat and Chronicle reports:

“It’s kind of a free-for-all over there,” said Bob Good, past president of the neighborhood association and currently a member of the group’s parking committee.

“Certain streets can get very crowded. They will park right up by people’s driveways. It’s difficult for snowplows. It’s difficult for garbage pickup.”


“It’s not going to get easier,” (City Engineer Jim) McIntosh said, given the growth of UR, the area’s largest employer. “(And) I think they realize they can’t build garages to get themselves out of this problem. They are going to have to get people to think of using other modes of transportation.”

Here are reasons more garages and parking lots will not and should not solve UR’s parking crunch:

1. They’re ugly.

2. They take up valuable land, which drives up the price of surrounding land. They limit the college’s land use options.

3. Garages are very expensive to build and maintain. Some studies estimate one space costs $10,000 to $25,000.

4. They encourage driving to work, which only makes the congestion and parking crunch worse.

5. Encouraging more cars means more headaches for bicyclists and pedestrians.

What should be done instead?

Make as many UR workers as possible leave their cars at home. This can be done by designing convenient bus routes and making them free to riders. RGRTA and the college are already working on such a design, but the UR should be taking a much more active leadership role.

(It’s a shame College Town scrapped a bus station and will include a massive garage. It’s also a shame the UR has been a chief proponent of the 390 redesign, which will create a special university exit that will only serve to bring more cars to campus.)

Other things that can be done to alleviate the demand for cars is build more dense housing in the vicinity of the college and improve the city’s bike infrastructure. The UR already utilizes off-site shuttle bus services and encourages carpooling.

Finally, the city can restrict parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

But I live in the suburbs and need to be able to drive to my job at the college!

There will (should?) come a point where the UR says, “I’m sorry, but you cannot have a space on campus.”

That puts the burden on the worker to either find another job or find another way to get to work. Maybe the worker will discover a park and ride that’s convenient. Maybe RGRTA will design a route that frequently comes up a main thoroughfare in his town. Maybe the worker will decide he has to move closer to his employer because his car-dependent life isn’t sustainable anymore.

In cities across the country, taking alternate transportation to work is a way of life. The workers don’t have a choice. Driving to work isn’t a right. And in UR’s case, which keeps adding to its 20,000-strong workforce, it might not be the right thing to do for much longer.

West side of downtown Rochester is mostly parking lots.

West side of downtown Rochester is mostly parking lots. Building more parking lots created excess supply, marred the landscape and did not create development.


Links of the Day:

– Neighbors worry about the impact of a proposed apartment complex on Park Avenue on parking. Their concerns are debunked in this blog post.

– A Boston developer wants approval to build apartment housing without parking.

– University of Rochester researchers figured out a way to make mice smarter. They injected them with human brain cells, which raises some ethical issues.

– Rochester has one of the lowest percentages of federal workers in the country.

– Got caught? Charges are pending in Western New York’s first criminal prosecution of milk smashing.

Would you take the bus to work if it was easier? How about free?

People don’t use public transit because it takes too long to reach a destination, they have to transfer buses, the times are not convenient or the bus stops are not near their homes. People also like to run errands before and after work. Those are all very legitimate reasons not to take the bus.

But not everyone can feasibly drive to work at the University of Rochester. It has more than 20,000 workers and it’s growing. Parking is finite. Roads are jammed. Not everyone has a vehicle. Not everyone wants a vehicle. Gas is expensive. It hurts the environment.

The College Town project on Mt. Hope Ave. was supposed to have a transit center. But it was scrapped. Meanwhile the college is pushing for its own personal $100 million exit ramp on 390. Given that heaps of (unnecessary?) tax dollars are going into College Town, I called the transportation priorities a travesty.

My faith has been somewhat restored, although I still think the onramp project is ridiculous. The U of R and RGRTA are partnering to get more workers to take the bus. I did this story for 13WHAM:

“We’re partnering with them to make the destinations easier to get to and to make a way to view public transportation much more attractive,” said RGRTA CEO Bill Carpenter.

RGRTA visited the University of Washington in Seattle, which pays for workers to use the bus. RGRTA and the U of R are studying where workers live and where routes make the most sense. It’s possible some routes could bypass the downtown transfer point.


“What we will be doing is making it easier for them, whether it’s how our routes are designed or how the fare is paid,” said Carpenter. “We like people to get to work. We’re going to try to make it more convenient. We will make it more convenient for them.”

This is a positive development. It make sense to make public transit more user friendly for the area’s largest employer. Not everyone will choose to take the bus. But there could be an arterial in the city or suburbs where it makes sense for RGRTA to run a direct route to the college. At this point, the entities are figuring out demand. It’s a smart way to approach how to service the customer.

The University of Rochester, city and state are pushing to spend more than $100 million to add a new interchange on Route 390 at Kendrick Road. The project would also make improvements to the congested Routes 15 and 15A.

The University of Rochester claims it cannot grow and add jobs without its own on-ramp.

There’s a guy who wrote a book called “Walkable City” who slams these kinds of arguments.

Jeff Speck calls traffic studies “bull—-” and talks at length about the phenomenon of induced demand. If you expand roads, more people will drive on them and you’re left with even worse congestion:

Induced demand is the name for what happens when increasing the supply of roadways lowers the time cost of driving, causing more people to drive, and obliterating any reductions in congestion.


I was delighted to read the following recently, in Newsweek, hardly an esoteric publication: “demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm the new supply; today engineers acknowledge that building new roads usually makes traffic worse.”


…you are paying to drive whether you drive or not, in which the more you drive, the less each mile costs, and in which the greatest constraint to driving, then, is congestion. While the cost of the trip will rarely keep us home, the threat of being stuck in traffic often will, at least in our larger cities. Congestion saves fuel because people hate to waste their time being miserable.

Speck isn’t necessarily arguing congestion is a good thing. Rather, he’s saying it’s silly to keep spending tax dollars to encourage more driving and create more congestion. The way to relieve congestion is something no one likes to talk about – public transit.

Meanwhile, the U of R scuttled the bus station component of the College Town project, even though in a recent Rochester Business Journal article, RGRTA said the college is its number one destination. The U of R and the college are still working on a transit plan.

Maybe that should be the priority, not an exit that will likely not alleviate traffic and could make it worse.

Links of the Day:

– RG&E and NYSEG were ripped by the state for managing on the fly and cutting staff.

– The gambling lobby is taking advantage of Hurricane Sandy and telling state officials casinos can help fill state coffers again.

– Say Yes, the organization that offers free college tuition to Syracuse and Buffalo students, often exaggerates its claims of success.

Hotels, some in historic buildings, sprout up in downtown Buffalo.

– The strongest housing markets are in walkable urban areas.

November 19 is World Toilet Day.

In questioning the heaps of tax dollars going to University of Rochester’s College Town project, I’ve pointed out the Mt. Hope Ave. corridor is not distressed. Typically, you think of HUD loans and grants going to support places that are economically challenged.

Census data for 2010 shows us the area is doing far better than the rest of the city. In several census tracts surrounding the project, unemployment ranges from 4.8 percent to 11.5 percent unemployment. Median household income falls between $27,018 to $51,875. Poverty rates fall between 20.3 percent and 38 percent. (Keep in mind, there’s a heavy student population.) The average home lists for more than $100,000.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the river in several census tracts surrounding the Brooks Landing project, unemployment is between 17 percent and 23 percent. Median household income is between $14,022 and $29,422. The poverty rate falls between 37.5 percent and 50.4 percent. The median sale price for homes is under $65,000. In the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood, homes sell for less than $40,000.

The Brooks Landing project has also received substantial tax incentives and other support. There’s no question the Plymouth Ave. corridor is benefiting, as the college’s success is finally crossing the river. It took a boost from government and the college to make that happen.

But Mt. Hope Ave. doesn’t need a boost. It’s an extremely busy commercial corridor in a neighborhood with high property values and low unemployment. The College Town developers are getting a $20 million loan, to be paid back with their property taxes, as sweet a deal as we’ve seen in ages. If I’m the landlord of Bruegger’s, Starbucks, Chipotle and McDonald’s across the street, I’d be banging on City Hall’s door’s asking for the same deal to level the playing field.

I bet College Town will be great for the college and the city. I’m just at a loss to explain why taxpayers are paying one-third of this $100 million behemoth.

Links of the Day: 

– This cafe and deli seems like a great addition to Plymouth Ave. I walk the corridor often and it’s great to see vacant storefronts getting rehabbed.

– Wegmans is building a cheese-aging facility in Chili.

Will apple cider hit $8 a gallon?

– College rankings are a racket with implications beyond simple prestige.

“You, American Airlines, should no longer be flying across the Atlantic.”

Taxpayers are pouring gobs of money into the University of Rochester’s College Town project, which will consist of a huge number of parking spaces and no transit center.

The Democrat and Chronicle reports taxpayers will shell out $30.7 million of the $100 million project featuring apartments, a hotel and retail. That includes a $20 million federal loan that will be paid back primarily with the development’s property taxes. It also includes infrastructure improvements and a $4 million state grant the project suddenly “needs.”

I’ve long questioned why taxpayers are paying one-third of the cost of College Town. While I believe this will be an incredible addition to the corridor, this is not an economically distressed area. It’s going on prime real estate in a nice neighborhood right next to a rich college. Fifty-percent of the retail space is already leased, meaning there’s already demand for this site. This is not the kind of development that needed such an extensive push from government.

Now that the city is so deep into this project, it should have demanded a transit facility. Plans call for a 1,525-space parking garage. Meanwhile, an $8.3 million transit center with 10 to 12 bus bays was scuttled because it didn’t “fit the developers’ needs,” according to RGRTA’s CEO.

This is a travesty. The U of R is the area’s largest employer and taxpayers are footing the bill to bring ever more cars to the area without any kind of plan to encourage public transit.   We’re paying to install a new exit on Route 390, expand Mt. Hope Ave. and subsidize parking for students and staff at College Town. None of these measures will make traffic flow more smoothly. They’ll just bring more and more cars. The least the city and the college could have done was install some bus bays.

U of R President Joel Seligman called the approval of the $20 million federal loan for the College Town project a “red letter day” for the city because of its economic development potential. The D&C reports:

The economic benefits of College Town, according to its developers, include 985 construction jobs and 582 permanent jobs. College Town is projected to have an annual payroll of $26.4 million, with 275 of those jobs being in retail businesses and 250 being office jobs, some with UR. Annual sales would be an estimated $30.2 million.

The U of R jobs likely would have been created anyway. If you divide the 275 retail jobs by $30.7 million, that’s $111,636 tax dollars per job. It will take a retail worker four years to make up the money. Subsidizing retail jobs is simply bad for taxpayers.

If we’re going to essentially pay developers to build in our city, we should focus on projects that generate immediate property tax revenue, create well-paying jobs and encourage public transit. This one fails on all counts.

Links of the Day:

– The Wall Street Journal reports Antonio Perez clung to inkjet printers in the early days of the company’s bankruptcy.

– Crime-ridden Camden, N.J. is dissolving its police forcein a bid to fight crime.

– Broadcasting car chases live on TV is nothing but “mayhem porn” and has no news value.

The cheating scandal at Harvard has prompted prestigious schools around the country to review their plagiarism policies and “honor codes.” More than 100 students are accused of plagiarizing or collaborating on a take-home test.

University of Rochester student newspaper Campus Times reported more students are being reported for cheating. Sixty-two students were referred for hearings last school year, up from 20 the year before. This could be the result of more vigilance or more students cutting corners:

But the reasons for this remain unclear. (Professor Beth) Jorgensen does not believe that cheating at UR is more of an issue than it is at other institutions.

“We’re not outliers,” she explained. “I wouldn’t guess that UR sees more cheating than less competitive schools.”


Jorgensen is looking to address what she sees as the problem with the physical conditions for exams. Large settings create the erroneous belief that more cheating is going on than really is and the feeling that students must cheat to “measure up” to fellow students, Jorgensen said.


Economics Professor Michael Rizzo, who has been teaching at UR for five years, said that he thinks that there is “not a culture here that respects not cheating” and that he “didn’t realize cheating was as bad as it was.”


Last fall, one student was expelled and two were suspended during the spring 2012 term for cheating on one of his introductory economics exams.

Plagiarism, the act of copying another’s work without attribution, is clearly a huge no-no. Plagiarism has been around since the beginning of time, but there’s a feeling the Internet is encouraging it. (Plagiarists should really discover hyperlinking.) The New York Times reports:

The Internet has changed attitudes, as a world of instant downloading, searching, cutting and pasting has loosened some ideas of ownership and authorship. An increased emphasis on having students work in teams may also have played a role.


Numerous projects and research studies have shown that frequently reinforcing standards, to both students and teachers, can lessen cheating. But experts say most schools fail to do so.


Experts say that along with students, schools and technology, parents are also to blame…

“We have a culture now where we have real trouble accepting that our kids make mistakes and fail, and when they do, we tend to blame someone else,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, author of “Creating the Ethical Academy,” and director of the academic integrity office at the University of California at San Diego. “Thirty, 40 years ago, the parent would come in and grab the kid by the ear, yell at him and drag him home.”

As for collaborating with peers on a take-home test, some are not convinced that’s cheating. A Slate columnist writes:

What’s the point of prohibiting students from working together? If the students in “Introduction to Congress” act as these test rules demand when they move into the workforce, they’ll be fired. Outside of academia, teamwork is the rule….In this case, it’s the test’s design, rather than the students’ conduct, that we should criticize.

Are today’s college students really less ethical than previous generations? Technology makes it easier for them to plagiarize and collaborate, but it also makes it more likely they’ll get caught.

Links of the Day:

– Chicago teachers union delegates rejected a tentative contract deal and will not be back to work on Monday.

– Teachers no longer want to mentor student teachers because of the new evaluations. I know a teacher who is so stressed about implementing the new core curriculum, she “has nothing for the student teacher to do yet.”

– How much do local teachers earn? Check out this map of teacher pay across the U.S.

– I like this column criticizing Rochester for issuing camera-generated rolling-stop-right-on-red tickets.

– Get ready for more Toronto “home games” for the Buffalo Bills.

– An interesting team of investors – many with sports ties – is trying to take Syracuse’s hometown hot dog national.

I’m in shock the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council listed the College Town project as one of 10 priorities for state funding. The council is requesting $4 million for the $90 million development on 16 acres along Mt. Hope Ave.

The proposal says 50 percent of the retail space of the soon-to-be-built apartment, office and hotel complex has already been rented. Agreements between the college and the developers have been signed. A groundbreaking is set for November. This is a highly desirable location.


Don’t forget, the city offered to loan the project $20 million and let the developer pay it back using money that would have gone for property taxes. Tax dollars are also paying for $17 million in infrastructure improvements to the area.

U of R president Joel Seligman is co-chair of the council and three of the top priority projects are for the University of Rochester, including College Town. Since U of R is the area’s largest employer and an educational institution, I suppose that’s to be expected. But College Town, as great as this will be for the city, doesn’t strike me as a project needing a lift.

Midtown Tower is also listed as a top priority. The council is requesting $4 million. For some reason, this went from a $72 million to a $15 million rehab. I’m confused.

The priority projects:

  • Eastman Business Park
  • University of Rochester Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation (supercomputer)
  • Golisano Institute of Sustainability at RIT
  • Pathstone Finger Lakes Enterprise Fund (fund to aid small businesses)
  • Midtown Tower
  • College Town
  • Multiple Pathways to Middle Skills Jobs (MCC)
  • Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative
  • Science Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (Genesee County proposed nanotech park)
  • Seneca AgBio Green Energy Park

The Regional Economic Development Council system pits regions around the state against each other in a competition for funding. Rochester didn’t make out very well last time. The Finger Lakes council is hoping this list gets more notice.

A University of Rochester researcher found ordering food online makes you fat. Ryan McDevitt, of the Simon Graduate School of Business, looked at a North Carolina pizza shop. People may feel less inhibited when ordering online, so they order more complicated and caloric items. Extra cheese, please!

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“They have the same choices as before, but they’re removing the social transaction costs,” said Mr. McDevitt. “From my own personal experience, I feel more comfortable ordering something online than at the counter.”

He mentioned how customers ordering at Starbucks might be less inclined to make elaborate drink orders as they peek over their shoulder at the line of people behind them, or how women have taken to reading racy content like “Fifty Shades of Grey” on e-readers, which provide anonymity .

Comparing pizza topping choices to “Fifty Shades of Grey?” McDevitt’s paper makes the link:

…because the potential embarrassment experienced from a purchasing a pizza is comparatively limited, an even more dramatic shift in the sales distribution seems likely for more sensitive products when consumers become able to transact anonymously.

Links of the Day:

– Wegmans has a new canned mushroom supplier. The chain used to get them from China, but now goes with a supplier in Pennsylvania.

New York State gets a “D+” on public access to information.

Rochester’s Hudson Ave. used to be Polish Town.

Billy Fuccillo is alive and well and not in jail.

Do you need a visa to come to the United States? Consider investing in Rochester projects developers can’t fund on their own.

Eager to help build student housing for the University of Rochester, the mayor is asking city council to approve a $900,000 loan for The Flats. It would be a $20 million high rise apartment building on the riverfront.

That’s up from the $750,000 city loan the mayor originally proposed to finance the project. The city would get money for the loan in part from the sale of property on Lattimore to the  U of R.

Here’s the kicker. City council legislation revealed the developer plans to get $12 million in funding from EB-5 visas. The Democrat and Chronicle explains how it works:

The program, possibly being used for the first time in Rochester, is one of several employer-based immigration options. It gives preference to these foreign investors, though other programs give higher favor to immigrants with special or unique job skills.

Immigrants invest at least $500,000 in a new or troubled U.S. venture that generates 10 new jobs, or in a regional center (Buffalo has one). They are granted conditional permanent residence for two years and then can petition for full citizenship.

This could be a very good project for the 19th Ward and the city. But the complicated nature of this deal and others shows how terribly hard it is to get anything financed and built in this town.

Something else in the legislation stood out. City council is being asked to approve the $900,000 loan on short notice to meet the “2013 deadline required” by the U of R. If the college wanted this so badly, why not put its own money into the deal? On both sides of the river now, city taxpayers are on the hook for big college development deals. And the deals are getting more complicated.

City of Rochester, Communication Bureau


Gibbs St. is the heart of the Jazz Festival. For nine days, the city closes the small stretch between E. Main St. and East Ave. There’s a stage, tables and chairs and vendors.

Why not permanently close that block of Gibbs to traffic?

“I would be all for it,” said Mike Calabrese, owner of Java’s. “It’s such a special street.”

Think about it.

The city could put up a small stage. Have benches and tables and chairs. Perhaps put in cobblestone and some grass. It wouldn’t take much to give Gibbs St. a courtyard feel, because it’s so small. I bet it would be packed every night.

Closing downtown thoroughfares to traffic doesn’t always work. Buffalo’s Main Street pedestrian mall is considered a failure. But Gibbs is so compact, it could be very successful.

The city would only lose a couple dozen parking spaces and there’s a garage less than a block away. Calabrese said his morning coffee rush might suffer a bit, but he’d make up the business from the new visitors.

Calabrese said the University of Rochester owns much of the property on the block and has talked for many years about making it a pedestrian-only street. He said bus access for big events is an issue, but Main St. can certainly accommodate a number of large vehicles.

“They keep talking about it, but it never happens,” Calabrese said.

Maybe now is the time.

– Links of the Day:

– A second footbridge over the Genesee River connecting the University of Rochester and the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood will open in late June.

The “Rails-to-Trails” bridge is a piece of the old Erie Lackawanna railroad that was built in 1890. It will be part of the Genesee Riverway Trail. Converting it to a pedestrian bridge cost about $1.5 million.

The bridge is opening at a time when U of R-related development on the west side of the river is growing. A big riverfront apartment building will complete Brooks Landing. A few restaurants have opened.

While the U of R is supportive of the bridge, the Campus Times quotes a college official who doesn’t appear to think the bridge will lead to more students living on the west side or going downtown. His comments raise questions about will use the bridge:

“There is very little housing in the immediate vicinity of the west side of the bridge,” (Vice-President Richard Pfifer) said. “Crossing the Ford Street bridge to the north or the pedestrian bridge or Elmwood Bridge to the south offers very direct access to the River Campus and in each case those bridges are in closer proximity to housing that may be available. Accordingly, I doubt that the new bridge will have a significant increase on housing decisions.”

For similar reasons, Pifer added that he does not believe that the bridge will change the number of students who go downtown.

“Whether one crosses the new Rails-to-Trails bridge and uses the path on the west side of the river or uses the path on the east side of the river and crosses the Ford Street bridge, the distance to downtown is the same,” he said.

The article also cited safety concerns, saying the city wouldn’t allow a Blue Light security phone. City engineer Tom Hack told me that’s not true. Hack also said the bridge will be an important connector of the river trail of the east and west sides of the river. He believes people will use the bridge.

Perhaps the way to think about this bridge is as part of a recreation trail, rather than a utilitarian crossing.

Ecopy Rochester. According to RochesterSubway.com, the city bulldozed a community garden located on a vacant lot. It will be replanted this Sunday and the founder is looking for volunteers.

– Are job fairs worth the effort? The Buffalo News reports…maybe not.

– Poor swans. Someone destroyed the eggs of a Central New York swan family.

Slactivists are a thing now.

Rochester’s City Council insisted the College Town project include affordable housing in exchange for a $20 million taxpayer-backed loan. President Lovely Warren said developers wanting public money should make sure their projects are open to all.

Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association leaders were livid. Richard Rowe, owner of Rowe’s Photo, wrote to City Council:

Our community does not lack “affordable housing,” however “affordable” is defined. Our community already cares for citizens in need and we are also blessed with good housing inventory at low prices, compared to other cities.

Whenever we encumber an investment with the words “affordable,” “low income,” “subsidized” and/or “controlled,” somebody is leaving money on the table and someone else is paying for the privilege.

Only 10 of the 150 apartments at College Town will be for low to moderate income residents. The Urban Land Institute says moderate income is usually defined as 80 to 120 percent of an area’s median income and low income is defined as 50 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Will these 10 units threaten the project’s viability and be a scourge on the neighborhood?

Mixed-income housing developments are now the norm. The days of herding low-income residents into “projects” are over. Cities are tearing down “projects,” which were often places filled with crime and hopelessness. Concentrating poverty has consequences, especially for schools and children.

The old housing project on Mt. Hope Avenue was torn down and replaced by Erie Harbor, where rents are quite high. Only 27 of the 131 apartments are set aside as affordable units, but the manager said they are not for “low income” families. The Hamilton high rise next door serves the poorest residents. The Erie Harbor apartments are renting fast, proving that having an affordable component doesn’t stop high-income residents from moving in.

Living in a city means living with people from all walks of life.

The Urban Land Institute wrote a paper called Mixed-Income Housing: Myth and Fact. Here is an excerpt:

…mixing incomes has become a popular way to supply affordable housing options, increase absorption in large planned developments, revitalize urban neighborhoods, and decrease the concentration of poverty in publicly assisted housing. When located close to job centers and services, mixed-income housing provides more than just another housing product—it also activates smart growth principles by reducing travel times and congestion.

A friend said to me, “If I’m paying $1,000 a month, why should the guy in the next apartment over be paying only $600?”

The answer is the guy makes a lot less money and probably doesn’t have as nice an apartment. The guy likely has a job and his tax dollars also helped finance the project. My friend’s attitude also assumes there is something special about these apartments. The only thing special about them is the location, which may have been inaccessible to poorer residents.

Staggered rents already exist throughout the city with the Section 8 program, which typically limits rent to 30 percent of a resident’s income. These lower-income residents just aren’t near you – until now.

Links of the Day:

– The University of Rochester is at the forefront of stem cell research – and the work benefits our local economy. The information was included in a report by the Associated Medical Schools of New York and it detailed the benefits of the $600 million NYSTEM program, the second-largest government-financed stem cell program in the country.

The U of R has stem cell programs in cardiovascular, neurological and musculoskeletal diseases, cancer and bone repair. The college has created 50 jobs with the help of $18 million in NYSTEM funding. The U of R has $80 million in overall funding commitments for stem cell research.

What’s more, the U of R is building a facility to test stem cell products on people. It will be the only one of its kind Upstate and biotech companies are interested in using the facility.

AMSNY says stem cell research can not only save lives, but lower health care costs.

The report was written to encourage the state not to cut stem cell research funding, which is used to leverage federal grants:

“Any further reductions in funding for the state’s stem cell program will worsen the “brain drain” and diminish the work that has been done to expand the stem cell workforce pipeline and make the recruitment of talented junior scientists more difficult as the appearance of research and career advancement opportunities becomes uncertain or unstable in the state.”

– Clean Sweep is possibly one of Bob Duffy’s greatest achievements as mayor.

Building Rochester’s subway was a messy affair.

The Henrietta post office has a 92-year-old supervisor!

Links of the Day:

The headline reads “Providence drowns while Brown thrives.”

Providence faces a huge budget deficit and the prospect of cutting services, while its local colleges are booming. The mayor wants to extract increased payments in lieu of taxes  from the nonprofit schools.

Rochester faces the same situation, except our city officials aren’t eager to make the University of Rochester pay more. If the main U of R campus, not including the medical school, were fully assessed, the college would pay more than $3 million a year. Instead, the city charges the school user fees for snow removal and other services that amounted to less than $200,000 in 2006.

The U of R’s massive economic impact tends to blunt any criticism the institution should pay more. But that massive economic impact is not exactly keeping the city afloat. When Kodak was the largest employer, the city was able to reap the benefits of the company’s building boom through property taxes. The U of R is about to build a $180 million hospital and the city won’t get a nickel. The city has to pray U of R workers buy houses in the city.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner got Syracuse University to cough up an extra $500,000 a year. Syracuse officials are also looking long and hard at requests for tax breaks for university-related private development. Rochester is doing the opposite.

Cities around the country are having this conversation. I think Rochester should, too.

– The news media keeps using the same pictures of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Are the images prejudicial?

– It’s a tough time to be a local TV sportscaster. Fortunately, this trend hasn’t taken hold in Rochester to a large degree.

Why the heck does Monroe Community College need holding cells?

Links of the Day:

– A developer wants to open a book store and retail shops on university-owned property near a college campus. The property is tax exempt and city officials are excited about getting it on the tax rolls again. The property is not in a distressed neighborhood. But the developer says it needs a hefty tax break to move forward.

This is what is happening at both the University of Rochester and Syracuse University.

The U of R wants to develop property on Mt. Hope Avenue. Its chosen developer has asked the city for a $20 million loan. But this isn’t just any loan. The city would borrow the money from the federal government and pay back the loan with a yet-to-be-determined portion of the developer’s payment in lieu of taxes. This is a fancy way of simply giving the developer money. Instead of paying a full load of taxes, the developer would be paying off construction costs.

Instead of sitting down with City Council – and the public – to explain what’s going on, the mayor dropped the bomb in the monthly legislation packet. He is postponing the measure to give himself more time to explain why he thinks it’s necessary.

The Syracuse University project is similar, though smaller in scope. A developer wants a 30-year tax break that would amount to an 83 percent reduction of his property tax bill. The project is surrounded by businesses who pay their full share. Officials in Syracuse are debating whether to approve the deal, according to the Post-Standard:

Critics, including former city Assessor John Gamage, say that’s an excessive break for development in an area of the city that is commercially desirable. No other project except the Carousel Center mall has been given a 30-year tax break.

”I feel very strongly that it’s a very bad giveaway,” Gamage said. “It’s just outrageous, in my opinion, and it’s a step in the wrong direction.”


Councilor Pat Hogan said he was skeptical about the need for a lengthy tax exemption on University Hill. PILOTs should be reserved for use on difficult projects, he said.

“How can you not make money on this?” Hogan said.

(Developer Tom) Valenti, a former partner at The Pyramid Cos., agreed that University Hill is attractive to developers.

“But most of that land is owned by tax-exempt institutions,” he said. “If the city’s concern is that so much of its tax base is tied up in tax-exempt land, then isn’t this a great way to unlock that value?”

Developers smell the desperation of cities and have been trained to threaten projects unless they get what they want. They usually do. The rest of us pay.

– A High Falls gorge wall is unstable. This is upsetting and could have consequences for the festival site and the view.

– A political analyst said Kathleen Hochul will have to pull a “Houdini act” if she wants to stay in Congress. The Buffalo News has a great write-up of how redistricting affects Western New York.

– Syracuse and Buffalo are among the top 50 cities for bed bugs.