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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.

18 Responses to College Town Travesty

  1. Here is your answer to the why: U of R President Joel Seligman. Somehow this guy has become a rockstar, on economic development committees for the state, weighing in on City Schools/Mayoral Control, etc. The bamboozling of the City again by someone who really shouldn’t be listened to but because he rolls in the same circles as the rest of the Eastside Mafia that finances the Democrats he gets what he wants. City Council is a pathetic shell of a governing body that rolls over for these blue bloods at one turn and for Gantt at the other, never thinking for themselves and of course blaming city employees for every budget woe.

  2. You forgot a few things. I belive this land was given to the UR over time and it will be prop. tax free for years with that BENE going to the Developer and the UR who will collect the rent. The retailers won’t see it. The Developer chosen by the UR is from Cleveland as no Roch area Developer had the UR’s “vision”. The UR with 2B in endowments and annual Revene in the 2to3 Billon range has recieved more tax dollars than any area State School over the last 4yrs. And AREA Mom And Pop business’s and landlords will compete now with the UR and City tax free status. THEY and the DEMS will then be picking the winners in the area private business. Just like Obama. This is a bigger waste than the Fast Ferry. Why won’t a TV station or news paper report the FULL truth on it? Area taxpayers are givig again to the UR if we like it or not.

  3. Great blog. This is a huge project….why does it generate little public enthusiasm? The answer….because of the points you make. With the demise of Kodak, the U of R has become the biggest employer in the region. This gives them “power” within the political circle. With this power SHOULD come responsibility. Unfortunately, the liberal mind does not work from a perspective of the collective good. It works from a ” we know better than you ” perspective. They obviously believe this project is good for the community. It is a done deal no matter how much it costs and no matter if it becomes a failure. We are stuck with it. Let it go…..the Democrats have spoken. Just my thoughts…..

    • March 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm a pedestrian responds:

      How is that a reflection on the liberal mind? It’s the conservative mind that refuses to fund mass transit and to acknowledge global warming and most prefers public expenditure that benefits the already wealthy, all things this project exemplifies. I saw the writeup on this project in Rochester Review and was appalled at the car-centric orientation. Thanks to this blog for giving more background. I am just surprised to hear liberals being blamed. At least we agree that the project seems to have severe defects.

  4. And yet again the northwest side of the city gets screwed there are never any “projects” that are out there to help fix up the lyell ave area.

  5. September 30, 2012 at 5:06 am CoolGrrl28 responds:

    Chris: I agree. Our neighborhood (Lyell-Otis) keeps trying to make improvements, but it is a struggle. We’d love it if more folks would be willing to lend their efforts/talents to the cause! Join us anytime! Thanks! http://www.lyellotis.com

  6. September 30, 2012 at 5:09 am CoolGrrl28 responds:

    So sorry, *Cris*! Automatic spell-check…

  7. May I suggest that if the Lyell-Otis group wants more from their city government to support their neighborhood improvements, that the Association, encourage, endorse and back Republican candidates for a change. Your government will never be responsive if only one party is running the show as DEMs only have run the city for 20+yrs now. City DEMs love the UR and vice/verse. Where do you think they will spend their (YOUR) money? A REP in the CIty council and schoold board, would question. raise objections, edorse other ideas, and bring a check and balance to City council and school boards. But the city people would never consider a REP, so the people in the city have the govt and schools they voted for.

  8. Seligman is doing such a great job on the Kodak Board of Directors. I’m just dying for that one-on-one interview with the local news media (any of them) where he justifies keeping Perez employed. Maybe Seligman can tell everyone how Simon School principles are being put to good use at Kodak. Not.

  9. October 1, 2012 at 6:46 am Derek Sanderson responds:

    If Seligman is on the Kodak Board of Directors, he shouldn’t be giving advice to anybody about how to run something.

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  11. October 1, 2012 at 9:52 am Orielly responds:

    Kodak’s even further decline has elevated the UR’s status and importance in the area. Seligman leading this area’s Economic Council puts his UR projects first on the list for the state taxpayers to fund UR (a private school) improvements. Seems like two major conflicts of interest to me. No wonder Perez is still the CEO.

  12. Orielly, Enough REP/DEM talk. The two-party system is a joke.

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  15. To me this should not have received public funding as it is not in the public’s interest. Currently UofR students must go off campus to Brighton and Henrietta to serve many of their needs. With this, dollars that were going to local businesses are instead going to stay within this self-contained community.

    Short term it will create jobs but long term this “city within a city” will harm the rest of the city.

  16. Pingback: a travesty indeed. | RocBuilt

  17. September 20, 2014 at 11:08 am Adam Rene responds:

    This article is a couple of years old but I had an interesting conversation with a woman I later found out was a Lovely Warren appointee whose responsibility is to oversee projects like College Town. I met her at an alumni networking event at the UofR campus. First, let me say I love the school and am proud to call it my alma mater. I am also a city resident which I am also very proud of.

    I questioned her point blank why our city tax dollars were being used to fund a project for the county’s largest employer and a school with an endowment approaching $2B. I asked why not just cut taxes for all city residents. Her answer, “why would we want to do that, we rely on tax revenue to fund these projects”. This culture of transfer payments, social and corporate welfare is so ingrained it seems. Later, I reflected on what a cozy relationship she must have conducting “oversight” of the project and attending networking events and rubbing shoulders with the administration.

    It must be that cutting taxes is not popular because:

    1. Then what would all of the people employeed to administer and “oversee” these transfer payments do for a living?
    2. There is immense concentration of power that comes with holding the public purse strings.
    3. While cutting taxes may result in a mildly joyous “finally!” feeling from city residents it would inflict much pain on the elected officials later down the road when they may have a legitimate need to raise taxes.
    4. All government both local, state, and federal operates on a spend it or lose it philosophy. If you do not spend all of the budget for one year then your chances of “ratcheting” up that budget in subsequent years goes out the window.

    I am sure there are more reasons…I admit I am not a student of history of Rochester but it seems to me the private sector in large part built the town. Then, state and local politics strangled it. Why they think government spending will revitalize the town is beyond me. Government has its place and there are certainly projects worth funding on the public dime if it serves the public good for the majority of the electorate. Everything else is simply transfer payments from the middle class to fund social and corporate welfare. It must end.

    Rachel, keep shining the spotlight on these projects. Journalism has an immense responsibility and potential to do good in our town and country!

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