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Filling In: Midtown… Parcel 5

November 6th, 2014

Let's take a look the City's RFP for Midtown Parcel 5...
By Matthew Denker

As some of you may or may not know, the city recently released a Request For Proposals (RFP) external link for the redevelopment of another piece of the Midtown site. Parcel 5 external link, the site in question, is the very long block from Main St to Elm St and between the Windstream building to the west and 1 East Avenue (Bank of America) to the east. Let’s go back to our trusty Midtown site plan for a visual…

Old Midtown Site Plan.
We’ll actually come back to this site plan in a moment. For now, I know what everyone is thinking, I’m going to show you what I think should be on the site, and then we can argue over my aesthetic choices or limited budget for renders. Well, not this time.

I will end with a few recommendations for the site, but in reality, I want to talk a little bit about the city’s RFP. Not only is it a somewhat interesting setup (they’re trying to actually get fair market value for the land, which prevents small developers from bidding), but it also contains a number of interesting tips about the future direction of the Midtown site – some good and some bad.

With that in mind, let’s look at each part of the RFP (there are 8) and hit the highlights.

View of Midtown Parcel 5 from the southwest corner. Windstream building to the west, Sibley building to the North.

Part 1: Purpose

This part, as described in the title, gives the purpose for issuing the RFP. It describes the actual addresses of the site (275 and 279 East Main St) and the basic size (1.1 acre). Already, though, we see the city working hard to enforce a number of challenging, and potentially competing ideas.

While they hope to increase the tax base and create the optimal (not described) mix of uses on the site, they also want to provide revenue to the city by selling the real estate and create construction jobs and contracting opportunities for a variety of disadvantaged business groups. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it creates a set of challenges that can only be overcome by larger, more established developers.

As a future concern, it worries me that limits like this will sneak into RFPs for the Inner Loop land and deep six the idea of having small developers purchase pieces of the new land. It would be better to reserve some pieces of land for disadvantaged business or offer incentives for partnering with disadvantaged businesses.

Part 2: Overview

This section describes all of the money that has been poured into Midtown by various players. It is written as though the developers proposing won’t already know about these things. I wonder if this is being pitched to larger national developers who may not be intimately aware of Rochester’s recent history. I look forward to seeing who submits.

Part 3: Site Description

Nothing too exciting here other than a small engineering challenge in the corner of the site that is home to the service tunnel intended to be used for deliveries to this building. There are also links to the various environmental reports regarding the cleanup that was done at the site. Oh, and the city is asking for $1,050,000 for the land. Good luck with that! They sold 88 Elm for one third of that, and it’s already an 11 story building that just needs to be refitted.

Part 4: Proposal Submission Requirements

This section is pretty dry, but there are a few key things I’d like to point out.

First, the city seems to strongly favor commercial (in the form of office) development for this site. I think this is a mistake. Office vacancies downtown are somewhere in the 15%+ range, last I checked, while residential vacancies downtown were hovering around 3.5%. Considering 5% is a healthy vacancy rate for both markets, it’s clear which is more in demand and should be built.

Second, there are both disadvantaged subcontracting goals (20%) and workforce hiring goals of 20% minority and 6.9% women by total employment hours. While putting in goals for disadvantaged businesses is laudable, many times the goals represent added costs with little benefit to a prime contractor. This can increase development costs for no particularly good reason. Further, the only major MBE construction firm I know in Rochester happens to be the one tearing down the church on West Main. So there’s that.

Finally, the city says it will favor ‘green building methods’ but sets no particular LEED goals, nor, other than the rather vague ‘preference will be given’ statement, does it assign any tangible benefit to meeting such goals.

Part 5: Evaluation Criteria

Not much to see here. The city does not provide an actual scoring rubric and instead went with a more esoteric set of items to target. I’ve seen worse.

Part 6: Schedule

Q&A for developers is on 11/7 at 10:30 AM in City hall, Room 223B if any of you are interested. Proposals are due 11/26 by 4 PM, which is maybe 5% better than making a proposal due at 6 PM on Christmas Eve. Ok, maybe 4.25% better. Hope you didn’t have plans for the week of Thanksgiving. The public notification of the proposal is then ACTUALLY scheduled for Christmas Eve so no one notices.

There’s 6 months of negotiation, the sale of the land should happen next december, and construction is planned to begin January 2016. If you’re curious why this seems dragged out, it’s so the Gannett Building can be built next year before construction starts here. Look for this project to lag any amount the other one does.

Part 7: Rights Reserved

This is a bunch of legalese about not tricking the city into giving you the land. Play fair, people.

Part 8: Additional Resources/Attachments

This is the fun stuff I’ve been waiting to talk about this entire time!

Midtown Parcel 5 Site layout.
First, we have the parcel. It’s unclear to me when all of this was re-subdivided why this didn’t end up as a single property and address, but maybe one of the people at the city who read this blog can say.

And here’s where it gets good. Let’s take a look at the Midtown Rising plan shown in the proposal…

Midtown Site Plan.

Woah! Ok, so first, this plan confirms the removal of Atlas Street for surface parking.

It appears Broad St., despite getting an island, will still not be pedestrian friendly.

This plan also shows Site 6 as a continuation of the park, as opposed to a building to frame the park. Hopefully anything that happens like this is only temporary, as having more park behind the amphitheatre is a bad idea. It will not see the same sort of use as the park in front. I guess only time will tell.

The next few attachments aren’t terribly interesting. Some of them cover the zoning downtown, which have a variety of odd regulations, none of which will be followed here (lot coverage, a ‘crown,’ etc.). This building should have 100% lot coverage and 0 surface parking, but who knows?

And with that we come to the final attachment. New renders of the Gannett Building. Jackpot. See, it does pay to stick through 61 long, somewhat tedious pages! Or maybe it pays for you for me to do it so you don’t have to. No matter. Without further adieu…

New Gannett Building from the west.
New Gannett Building from Main Street looking west.

New Gannett Building from the east.
And from the east.

These renderings seem to put a lid on the idea of a 4th floor being added later. The overhangs will make that more difficult than it will ever be worth.

Beyond the RFP

So the final thing I want to cover is a little bit about what I would like to see at the site. Any potential proposers reading this are welcome to use the ideas or call me crazy. Whichever you prefer, really.

First, I think the site should be bifurcated north-south. I’d like to see a pedestrian street put in the middle of the site running east-west and connecting Cortland St and the new eastern road on the site. I think this area should be relatively narrow and with outdoor seating lining it for retail and cafe purposes. It could be partially covered, ala North End Way in Battery Park City or open like Extra Place, also in NYC.

North End Way - Battery Park City, NY

Extra Place, New York City.
The two buildings would then be square, and could be built with really attractive proportions. I think the building facing Main St should be a cube, approximately 5-6 stories tall, and then the building in the middle of the site should be about 3 times the height of the Main St one.

I think it’s likely that the entire site will be extremely mixed use. It will have the square footage for a reasonably sized hotel, some office space, and at least a few hundred apartments.

I’d like to see the adoption of something modern with some color for accent, and there are any number of buildings in a place like Vancouver to look at for inspiration…

Apartment Building in Vancouver, BC
I’d like to think whoever puts together a proposal for this site will take the opportunity to think outside the box – but I am terrified the winning proposal will be another Fortress of BCBS due to market forces.

Let’s hope instead for something more avant-garde for a city that could really use it.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014 at 1:03 am and is filed under Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Filling In: Midtown… Parcel 5”

  1. Ben says:

    Completely agree that it would be nice to see a decent-sized(10+ story) mixed use building go on that site to make up for the incredibly underwhelming Windstream and D&C buildings, it would be great to have that many people living in such a small area downtown with the Midtown Tower right next door. If I had to wager though, I’d place money on parcel 5 becoming the future home of a certain politician’s pet project, a new performing arts center. Hope I’m wrong.

  2. jimmy says:

    I hate to be negative, but it’s such a shame they took off the top 4 floors of the seneca building.

  3. Martin Edic says:

    Nice job as always Matthew. One typo- the caption under the first Gannett rendering should should say ‘from the west’, not ‘looking west’. Minor quibble.
    I hope they go with this look and the glass curtain wall along Main. We have far too many pseudo-19th century facades on new buildings in this town. We have enough actual 19th century buildings for that!.
    I’m guessing the uptake on this RFP will be very light until we see how well the Towers folks do in attracting retail. That is what is going to determine the desirability of the Midtown site. With hundreds of new residential units opening there in the next 18 months the fabric is already changing. It gets a lot easier to get market value after you have an actual market!

  4. John Smith says:

    Why not embrace the concept of a double skinned vertical city and build a scaled down version of the shanghai tower that fits a city the size of Rochester.

    Residential towers are easier to fill up than commercial, primarily because there’s less people in it.

    Unless someone is going to approach the city with a high density project, I say leave the space as a shovel ready placeholder “park” even if it takes 20 years to fill.

  5. mdenker says:

    Hi all!

    1.) I don’t think it’d be going out to bid if it were going to end up with a performing arts center. There’s almost no plausible way whatsoever to write out numbers with a performing arts center that will create a legit looking proposal. I could be wrong though, maybe someone will come along with a copy of the proposal for the Symphony House in Philly: http://www.centercitycondos.com/new_construction/symphony_house.html.

    2.) Yes. I think it’s outrageous the top of the Seneca building wasn’t converted to apartments with the bottom floors staying office.

    3.) Thank you for catching the typo! Hopefully we can get that fixed. Unfortunately, the RFP is, currently, now or never. Maybe this plays into the idea that no one will bid and a performing arts center will get built. Who knows?

    4.) For reference: http://du.gensler.com/vol5/shanghai-tower/. This isn’t my cup of tea designwise, but I can see the appeal. While I would like to see a very high density project here, Rochester is not hurting for ‘arable’ land downtown, and if something 4 stories goes in here, it’s unfortunate, but whatever. The number of ‘shovel-ready’ sites downtown that would support a tower is absurd.

  6. Geoff says:

    Regarding the vacancies, do you envision a strong shift once the 330 combined residential units between the Sibley and Midtown project open up?

  7. ACW says:

    Speaking of the possible downtown performing arts center, I found this nugget in the staff report for the upcoming City Planning Commission meeting: the Christian Science Church on East Avenue wants to become an opera house!

    Here’s the link: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=8589963198&libID=8589963183

  8. jimmy says:

    Actually, we need to be honest with ourselves here. The D&C proposal is absolutely pathetic. They need to go back to the drawing board, and start from scratch. What is the point of making this new building look like an annex of the windstream building? Does the D&C not understand the principles of what makes a city walkable? Have they put any real thought into this? Is $25 million small enough to decide not put any creativity in their building design? I feel like this is the D&C’s last chance to make a grand contribution to this city. So this is their design? They want to show off their wealth in this fashion, on main st. for everyone to see? Their proposed design makes it one of those buildings that you don’t care to see demolished in the near future for something new. D&C, team up with buckingham or morgan and put some height or beauty on that parcel, or don’t build anything at all. Main St. used to be the place where Rochester and it’s companies showed off their wealth and prosperity. A little creativity for $25 or so million, is that to much to ask?

  9. Martin Edic says:

    The Democrat is a financial mess so I think it’s amazing they are building anything at all. They could have done what Frontier is doing- abandon downtown headquarters for a nondescript suburban office park.
    The days of new tall buildings downtown in Rochester are over for the foreseeable future.

  10. This is a tough one for me. In many ways, I agree. They could, and should, be building themselves a much more interesting building. But I am also sympathetic to the idea that they probably would leave if forced to build something more extravagant. It would be all to easy to play Webster or some other suburb for a big tax break to move there. It’s better that they are staying downtown, and as I pointed out previously, there’s no lack of developable land downtown to put towers on later.

    I’d really like to make the days of new tall buildings in Rochester much sooner than everyone thinks. I’ll certainly make sure the readers of this site get a front row seat if and when it happens.

  11. RE: vacancies – I really don’t. The 2014 downtown market report came out recently (warning PDF: http://www.rochesterdowntown.com/wp_rddc/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/MARKET-REPORT-Publisher-Version-April-2014.pdf), and it shows 3,500 units downtown. 330 is a 10% increase. I find it hard to believe that most of these units go empty, but even if they only hit the 80% occupancy that is necessary to break even on the projects, there will be 3,800 units with about 5% vacancy. This is still a perfectly healthy market. Clearly this graph (http://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/files/qtr314/rvr314.png) from the census is only by region, but downtown Rochester is killing all those numbers, and the average landlord in the US is not losing their shirts. I know I’m not. So with that in mind, I really think that Downtown Rochester could absorb a much larger amount of units than it is now. Just think, between RIT and UofR alone about 3,500 kids graduate each year. If only 10% of them stayed in town, this would fill every one of those apartments each year. We’re not talking about capturing the lion’s share of anything to create real growth.

  12. Small update. I really should have had a rendering of the original Labella plan as maybe “what not to build.” http://rochester.twcnews.com/content/news/496041/developers-make-pitch-for-city-theatre-site/?ap=1&MP

  13. Martin Edic says:

    Arnie Rothschild (RBTL) has repeatedly claimed he could raise the money for a performing arts center but nothing has materialized in spite of floating a new plan every year. I like Arnie but this ain’t happening!
    And yes Matthew, that rendering was butt ugly.

  14. Madi says:

    Awesome summary of the RFP, thanks for sharing. I am going to be starting out my career in Rochester after interning there last summer. It is really exciting to hear about all of the development downtown.

    Park Ave/East Ave neighborhoods are saturated with people wanting to live there. (Side rant: prices have been driven up so high, and they divide these 100+ year old houses into 200 square foot rooms and call them livable studios.) Why are people willing to live sub-standard? Walkable streets, shops, cafes, festivals, bars, music, culture and environment. As you approach the inner loop, you can’t safely walk there anymore, some brave souls ride their bikes. (Btw this mass of people are mostly young people who are going to be deciding whether they want to start their families downtown, or drift into the suburbs or elsewhere in a few years!)

    I think multi-purpose building development and walkable/bikeable streets are essential. I love your idea of partially covered walkways. I also think adding green areas and atriums like the B&L building would add character and functionality.

    Buckingham seems like they are doing great things for downtown development. Also I don’t remember where I found it, but I saw the city’s plans on completely redesigning the inner loop with traffic circles and more walkable spaces.

    It seems like there is a critical opportunity to make the city livable, walkable, and desirable for business and growth. While it certainly helps, strictly commercial development is only going to get the city so far. I think mixed use and bringing some of the culture found in Park/East neighborhoods is what is going to make their development efforts successful.

    I’m no expert on city planning, but I would love to make Rochester my home. For the long term though, it is going to depend a lot on whether I see if this city has a future.

  15. Martin Edic says:

    Madi, I’m glad you are choosing to live here after graduation. I think you will be witnessing a transformation of the central city in your first few years here and it is based on multi-use development. Over 350 new apartments near Midtown alone in the next 18 months.
    I walk around downtown at all hours of the day and night and have never felt unsafe. The only exception is Main Street in the afternoon when the high school kids are getting rowdy but that ends on the 28th with the opening of the transit center (it will be interesting to see how they handle security in there!). However I am male and know this makes a difference. But I see many single females riding bikes, walking and jogging so I really don’t feel it is unsafe. The actual least safe area in Rochester for women is the Park Ave area.
    These changes are going to force a lot of the crappy landlords you mention out of business. They’ve milked those apartments for years without doing any improvements but I think you are going to see that change as expectations rise.

  16. Michael says:

    The big thing I am worried about is the RBTL packing up and moving to the suburbs if they don’t get what they want downtown. The last thing we need is the RBTL pulling those crowds out of the city.

    A performing arts center would add to the site, keep the RBTL downtown and keep the people coming downtown for shows.

    I Thought there was something going on about the state kicking in 200 million to build it there possibly?

  17. Madi says:

    Martin, you’re right, I never felt unsafe when in the city itself. Just to clarify, going into the city from Monroe & S Goodman to the inner loop to actually get to the city is when it felt unsafe to me.

    I feel like people are optimistic which is fantastic. Looking forward to living there!

  18. Andrew says:

    Matthew,

    LOVE the covered pedestrian street idea. Perfect for crappy weather days like today. Good work as always! I’m a 20-something looking for my first place downtown and I can’t wait for all of the new projects to finish.

  19. Thank you, Andrew. What I wouldn’t give to be a 20-something looking for my first place again! I wish you all the best with the search. Keep us updated where you land.

  20. Andrew says:

    Hey Matthew, I ended up renting a whole 3-bedroom house in the Park/Goodman area with a couple of friends. While I understand the reasoning for breaking up these houses into multiple apartments, sometimes it’s a shame, since it was extremely difficult to find what we were looking for. Couldn’t have found a better spot for the price though.

  21. Love it over there and can’t blame you. I lived at 15 Edgerton for a few years while I was in Grad School. I love all of Rochester, but I might love that area more (even if I am also a huge Corn Hill fan and will be moving there). It’s incredibly walkable.


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