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