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39 Responses to “How Public/Private Investment Downtown Helps the Entire City”

  1. Jason Partyka says:

    To be honest, I think the argument oversimplifies the Green Candidates criticism and the situation in general.

    It’s understandable that governments may need to negotiate on things like taxes. At the end the day a developed property can expect to bring in X amount of revenue and after Y amount of expenses generate Z amount of profit.

    Local governments also incur expenses supporting the developed property. Those expenses include water, sewer, roads, police & fire protection, and maintenance of the surrounding area and the community in general.

    It’s only fair that government be compensated for these expenses out of the Z amount of profit generated by the development, because without those services the development would not be successful.

    Current officials have been poor negotiators for their government’s fair share of that Z amount of profit. It’d be one thing if the developers of these properties were making modest living, but they are generating real wealth from these properties. Wealth that in many cases is being exported from the region.

    To be frank, I think we can get a better deal. $1 sale prices and 20 years of tax breaks is giving away the store. To be honest, with some of the giveaways I almost think it would be better for the city financially if those lots just remained blighted.

    We need people who are advocates for the common working people of our region. Not wealthy people who appear to be helping their wealthy friends.

  2. Louise Wu says:

    It’s a nice pro-business article. They pay flacks to write this stuff. And, of course, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The city has many publicly funded and built architectural projects through its history that served, and continue to serve, the public well. Much of what we have and all use would not have been built had it not been done publicly. I’m not even an architect, a developer, or a former CEO mayor, yet I know that. The transfer of public assets to private hands has gotten out of control here. The big business giveaway in this city needs to end. The man/woman on the street knows that.

  3. Carlos Mercado says:

    Very compelling and excellent points made.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Jobs that hire local workers in construction are not happening. To meet Comida’s requirements for “local labor” they are required to recruit from an area that covers 9 counties. Construction Companies also get around requirements to hire local people by saying there are no qualified persons. Buckingham Properties have previously become decertified for tax breaks from NYS for not investing their own money and in not creating the one job required to receive their $400,000 tax break.


    Benefits of COMIDA Assistance (from their website grow monroe)

    Tax-exempt interest rate.
    Sales tax exemption on construction materials and equipment.
    Mortgage tax exemption.
    Property tax abatement.
    Eligible Recipients

    For-profit companies that seek to save costs in order to make projects more feasible. Projects are usually owner-occupied, but can be developer-owned where COMIDA benefits are passed onto the project occupant(s). If a project is partially occupied, then partial benefits can be obtained for the occupied portion. There is no size limit by number of employees or sales volume as an eligibility criteria. Retail projects are not eligible for assistance unless they meet the exception criteria as established by New York State law.

    All-Local Labor Requirement

    In the absence of a waiver permitting otherwise, every project seeking COMIDA assistance must use all local labor for the construction of new, expanded or renovated facilities. “Local” is defined as residing in Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, orYates Counties. Certain JobsPlus and all Enhanced JobsPlus projects have an additional all local suppliers requirement. To request an exemption from the All-local labor requirement,click here.

    Tax breaks and laws are complex but Alex White does a good job of explaining how it works.


  5. Mike says:

    Spot on! Thank you for another great post. I’ve been promoting the simple task of smart development to fellow old time Rochester residents and your work paints the picture so well.

  6. Alex White says:

    As the Green Party Candidate for Mayor mentioned in this article I think it is appropriate to examine this article a little carefully. Martin’s argument for downtown development is based upon 3 points: this increase the tax base, private developers finish their projects, and some business owner will move jobs here if the place looks nice.

    The problem with these projects and tax base is that they are not needed. Presently Rochester has more than 2 million square feet of vacant commercial space downtown. Rochester also has at least 2800 vacant houses, and plenty of vacant manufacturing space. To put more space on to a glutted market decreases the value of all other space on the market. This is particularly true as the tax breaks and newness of the space allow the new project to lure away tenants. These tax breaks also come with a large amount of initial investment by the city. With the tax breaks the return on the investment is very small and it usually takes 20-100 years to repay our investment. Further many of these projects get additional tax breaks when the first set expire.

    It is a virtue to finish a project but private projects do not have a perfect record. Let us not forget the fiasco of the Sibley Building and how is the redevelopment of Tent City going. Of course the real problem is that if the project does not have any virtue then finishing it also has no virtue.

    Finally there is the hypothetical businessman who will love the look of the new city. This is a dream which Martin hopes will happen but the businessman will probably be staying at the Airport, Staybridge or in Henrietta somewhere. Further business owners make decisions made on facts not some look.

    The real problem with this argue is that there is a limit to the amount of money we have to invest in our city. The whole idea of building buildings with the hope this will attract jobs will always be worse than just creating jobs. We can invest in new businesses or in these buildings and I think that the buildings are a worst idea.

  7. Christopher Brandt says:

    Great, brief, article. Here’s hoping Mayor Richards maintains his office or that some of this thinking percolates into the Warren administration.

  8. Martin Edic says:

    I’m quite amazed by the furor being raised by the Green Party people here and on Facebook where I’m being accused of being a paid flack. I’m a long time downtown and Rochester resident who has renovated houses in the roughest part of town while living there. I’m a writer and I do marketing for tech companies, none of which are based in Rochester. The idea that downtown should be left in a blighted state blows my mind.
    Just creating jobs Alex? How many have you created? Seriously, its not easy.

  9. DJ says:

    Good article. I think it’s important to show all sides and your expertise shows the business side that lots of people don’t get to see. Thanks for contributing.

  10. jimmy says:

    Hi Mr. White! I hope you win. People, if you vote for Richards, It will be a waste of a vote

  11. Jason Partyka says:

    Everybody wants to see downtown and the entire city revitalized, but not at the cost of property deals that result in a net transfer of wealth to outside of the city.

    Elected officials have to look at their regions holistically.

    The city of Rochester has X amount of tax dollars to spend every year. We can spend that on schools, social services, infrastructure development, 4th of July fireworks, whatever.

    Obviously we have to prioritize our spending, we can’t let money slip away.

    Lets say we want to decide whether to spend money on schools or infrastructure development.

    Now if we spend money on infrastructure development and that allows developers to create a project that pays the cost of that infrastructure back in taxes (and maybe a little more) that’s great!

    But if taxes that could have been spent on our schools ends up as profit for an outside developer (who in turn create wealthy schools in their own communities). That’s no good.

    Now if developers are honest and open about their costs, their profits, etc and we make an informed decision for a long term investment, that’s cool.

    That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening thouugh. Year after year developers get money for their projects and year after year the City’s budget gets smaller and smaller.

    If these kind of giveaways really produce a long term profit, show me the money. Show me a public-private development that received huge tax breaks but is now paying dividends. Just one. Can anybody show me one?

    If not, these types of deals have got to stop.

  12. Martin Edic says:

    Most of the private projects I mention are locally owned. The exception is Winn at Sibley’s and they are investing a ton of money in Rochester and creating a lot of local jobs. I don’t see why out of town ownership is a big deal. If every owner had to be local this place would be a ghost town.

  13. Damian K says:

    I heard the Green Party candidate on WXXI last weekend and he had some great points. I think you oversimplified his point or didn’t fully appreciate them. A lot of his points were that the private developers were already there, and that those developers are just milking bad policies from COMIDA and the City that use tax payer moneys badly. This is not a new argument. COMIDA gets a lot of complaints in the suburbs for the say policies. For example when they gave Xerox millions in breaks.

    Additionally the tax breaks that the city and county give these business means that money isn’t available for road repairs or schools.

  14. Jason Partyka says:

    If the Rochester economy had a lot of money coming in from out of town, then money going out wouldn’t be that big of a deal. When the world bought all of its cameras from us, that fueled the economy enough to have outside developers come in and do things.

    Some of the tax deals do seem fair to. Personally I think the Capron Loft arrangement is fine (Alex will disagree with me). If a property is not generating any tax revenue, lowering the taxes to 10% and then stepping it up 10% a year seems fine.

    A (much larger) deal like College Town’s is absurd though. The backers of that development had plenty of cash to bankroll it. But instead they received a $20 million loan and the city will use the taxes it collects from the development to pay back the loan.

    The developers get to keep their liquidity in interest bearing investments and the profits from the new development. They get wealthier, we get zip.

    How about College Town gets a $10 million loan and the city gets at least half the tax money it’s entitled to. Is that really asking a lot to expect developers who can pay for the whole thing to at least pay for half of it?

  15. Alex White says:

    Martin I am not attacking you and I apologize for any supporters who are. This is the argument I have been trying to have for four years and it is not a simple one. In economic terms the idea being used here is an airplane there. The idea is that if we gather enough investment then the economy will take off by itself. Unfortunately this did now work in the 1960’s in Africa or South America and it seems dubious to believe it will work here because the tax breaks given to one end up with higher taxes for others who do not invest. We are just choosing winners and losers and not very well at that.

    Rochester does have businesses looking to expand, like Big Sky Technologies which could use less than half a million to expand and they can not get it but Buckingham gets millions. Yet Big Sky if successful will create careers. There are also lots of smart people with good ideas being held back by a shortage of capital.

    Finally giving a tax break to Buckingham Properties does not increase spending in Rochester as much of the savings go out of town. Meanwhile our consumer driven economy would multiply money spent on local businesses.

    Finally if Rochester was more successful they Downtown would develop without needing incentives! So the goal should be to reduce poverty from 31.5% as that is the reason most businesses will not invest in Rochester.

  16. DJ says:

    I think a good point that’s come out of this discussion is that the city may be giving away the farm for free or at least for too little. Every deal is a bargain, and bargains are struck using leverage on each side.

    The extremes are undesirable. Offering zero incentives thus leaving lots empty, or Completely selling out to the corporations with no strings attached are both undesirable.

    The terms of each deal are largely dictated by economic forces. It’s not a matter of simply demanding more. The market dictates the terms and the developer will walk away if it isn’t getting a fair deal. Those in power do need to be watched for fraud & favoritism but other than doing due diligence it’s fruitless to think the City can simply demand better terms from developers.

    The leverage the city does possess and may be under-utilizing is control over design. The benefits of a project are a huge part of the benefit or harm it does to the city. This is the current fight with City Gate and it should be part of the fight with every deal the City involves itself in.

    It is a FACT that the design & detail of buildings, streets, parks, etc. play a role in the vibrancy or lack thereof in a City. When buildings can last for 150 years I think it’s a worth-while cause to throw some of our bargaining chips towards influencing design.

  17. Louise Wu says:

    Yes, postulating that Martin may have some involvement with big business definitely qualifies as an egregious attack. Mea Culpa. We now know that Martin is pro business of his own volition. A dedicated volunteer to the effort of promoting a business status quo which has enjoyed lavish government support for decades. Alex and Jason have done an exemplary job of explaining the sizable blind spots in Martin’s article. Thank you both for taking the time to do so.

  18. Martin Edic says:

    After 20 years of zero progress downtown we have a huge amount of new construction and repurposing of empty buildings going on. How can you argue that the public moneys spent are not creating something valuable? We’re witnessing an entire vital heart of our city coming back to life.
    As for Big Sky Technology, whatever that is, I can only say this: I teach technology startups and their funding comes from the private sector not the government. Alex’s statement regarding fairness is simply ridiculous. And as for not meaning to attack me I think having your fellow Green insinuate that I am a ‘paid flack’ constitutes an attack.
    The good news is that there is zero chance that relentlessly negative politicians calling themselves Green will get elected.
    I wrote a positive piece about downtown development that mentioned the Green party and I got an onslaught of negativity. You might want to look at the anger you’re displaying. It doesn’t get anything done. And you have done nothing that I can see to help this city. Not a single thing. Politicians that win run on accomplishments. What are yours?

  19. Concerned Citizen says:

    People are entitled to state their thoughts. You accuse people of being Green Supporters and some may be. Some may just be people who care about the deals being made that bankrupt our city.

    As far as you being a paid hack, maybe. Your website says that you are in the business of promoting ideas and businesses.


  20. Martin Edic says:

    Dear Concerned Citizen,
    You hide behind a pseudonym. I don’t. Your comments are worthless as a result. Making a living is not being a ‘paid hack’.
    People who comment on public websites without using their actual identity are cowards. So don’t criticize what you are unwilling to do yourself.

  21. Alex White says:

    Martin I do not understand why you are getting so upset. I do not know who is calling you names but this is not worth getting all stressed out over. We will have to agree to disagree on development and wait to see if all this investment in downtown reduces poverty, increases employment, and improves our schools. We will have to see if all this spending and tax breaks improves our revenue streams or leads Rochester down the road to bankruptcy. Perhaps you are right and the future is rosy, but I doubt it. Many other cities have tried to build their way out of problems, like Cleveland in the 1980’s or Detroit in the last 10 years, and most have failed. This seems like we are gambling with out future and the lives of thousands of Rochstarians are at stake.

  22. Louise Wu says:

    Steady on Martin. Sorry you got your feelings hurt. My opinions are my own and not those of the local Green Party. I am a Green, but I speak for no one but myself. You’ve garnered a lot of attention for yourself with your article. You should be pleased by that. All the best.

  23. Martin Edic says:

    Not hurt, more like surprised by the tone. And by the fact a mayoral candidate has nothing better to do a few days before an election. Have great weekend everyone!

  24. Louise Wu says:

    In a Facebook discussion from a reposting of your article you decried the lack of response from the Green candidates. So which is your preference? Seriously, be well in all your pursuits.

  25. Cowardly Concerned Citizen says:

    Alex White responding to a comment is a better use of his time. Warren used her time going down to a sporting event and throwing out a puck for the tv coverage. Warren’s ads say surreptitiously that she wants mayoral control of schools. She wants God in government, in schools and that will bring an end to teenage pregnancy. White’s ideas are good and innovative. The problem with the Dems are that their are too many debts to pay and too many ties to bigger fish in the hierarchy. Do we want a person in office who may be a puppet to the puppetmaster?

  26. ELF says:

    Rochester Subway is a popular blog that reaches a huge audience. Responding to a post is a very good use of a mayoral candidate’s time. For one thing, it demonstrates that he’s aware of how what his constituents are saying.

  27. Martin Edic says:

    With respect to Mike G., this post may reach 500 people. A tiny fraction will read a comment or two. So spending time responding at length here is a foolish at best use of time. It is this kind of logic that is why no one is going to vote for a Green candidate in Rochester, regardless of their positions. He needs to be out knocking on doors and talking to a lot of people who may disagree with him, not sitting at a computer and writing blog comments. You don’t see Lovely Warren weighing in here…
    And I saw him at the Market this morning trying to talk to people. Too little too late.

  28. Concerned Citizen says:


    Looks like the Evil Alliance may cause some concerns with Dems according to YNN

    Word of Maggie Brooks’ endorsement of Lovely Warren spread like wildfire Friday, and one Monroe County Legislator blasted Warren for accepting Brooks’ backing.

    In an email with the subject line “Disgusting News,” Monroe County Legislator Paul Haney held nothing back. Haney sent the email to more than 50 fellow Democrats Friday, and one of them forwarded the email to YNN.

    YNN spoke briefly with Haney, who declined an on-camera interview, but said he stands by what he wrote.

    It was no doubt a surprise when Republican County Executive Maggie Brooks endorsed the Democratic candidate for Rochester mayor, Lovely Warren. Side by side they stood, with Brooks calling it “a personal statement of support.”

    After hearing the news, Legislator Haney said he couldn’t keep silent. In an email, Haney said for Warren to stand with someone who he claims spent 10 years working to crush the Democrats in the legislature is “disgusting and appalling.”

    Haney also questioned why Brooks, who he says cut funding for indigent burials and refused to spend adequate money so lower income residents could afford day care, would buddy up with Warren.

    The three paragraph attack didn’t stop there. Haney’s sharp criticism went on to say:

    Maggie Brooks, around whom the smell of governmental corruption is so strong that it has attracted the State Attorney General

    to create a special Grand Jury that is rumored to be considering the indictment of her husband is now paired with a Democratic candidate?

    The smell of this “deal” exceeds anything that the old Emerson Street landfill or the Van Lare Sewerage Treatment plant ever produced.
    Democratic Chair Joe Morelle said he was not consulted or made aware of the endorsement prior to the press conference.

    Both Brooks and Warren declined to comment on Haney’s email. During Friday’s press conference, Brooks and Warren said it was about unification and moving forward but Haney says “some God awful deal was made” and said people should be judged by their friends.

  29. Charles says:

    I applaud Rochester Subway again. Terrific and powerful site. While the articles and debate are good, I think the passion from all sides are going to be the straw that stirs the drink. It’s this underbelly and fabric of society that has the power to change Rochester more than some of the physical changes we are debating on.

    As far as the article goes: Here are my simple points.
    1. For every dollar used to prop up “big” businesses and equal amount should be used to prop up “small” businesses.
    2. This amount should be predetermined
    3. All development should coincide with the Comprehensive Master Plan for the City
    4. Any project receiving tax dollars should be open to review from the public and addressed, not just worked around.
    5. Past, incentive based projects should be reviewed and examined on how they fared so we have research and not assumption on how this will “work out”

    Thanks again Mike for the website and hard work, Next election is Yours.

  30. Thanks, Alex, for responding with such respect for other viewpoints, redirecting the conversation time and again to your very real concerns and proposals. Martin, your hostile dismissal of Green Rochester – the only party talking about residents’ needs and naming the game – is uncomfortable and ugly. (One person made an assumption about your motives. Every other comment dealt with issues, simply disagreeing with you.) Am I wrong in thinking you are a supporter of the return Richards movement? The mayor who not only ignores the issues of vast illegal foreclosures and land seizures in our community, concerns about city alliances with corrupt banks, ever-expanding police violence in minority neighborhoods and support for an impotent police chief? THAT mayor? His backroom deals and more-of-the-same arrangements with ruthless developers are at the core of the problems you say you want addressed. Only the Greens have offered energetic assessment of our age-old problems. Give me the sort of inventive redress Alex proposes, like that of Green mayor Gail McLaughlin, of Richmond CA, restoring neighborhoods instead of funding short-sighted commercial exploitation. (http://www.npr.org/2013/09/12/221636531/calif-city-proposes-unique-plan-to-avoid-foreclosures). What we’ve been doing leaves our city neighborhoods isolated and helacious, feeding nothing but private prisons. Rebuild our neighborhoods. Green, not the machine.

  31. Louise Wu says:

    Martin continues to be so upset about my initial comment here, and pretty much everywhere else, that I’m starting to wonder if he’s mad that he doesn’t have a paid writing gig from the fat cats? The man just went into orbit over it. He’s gone after me everywhere he’s seen me in social media. Must be some truth to what I said, because he just can’t leave it alone.

    Katherine, of course, always has something excellent to say. She gets right to the heart of the matter. I love the principled and thoughtful people like her in this community. Feel the same way about the great people on the Green slate. You’ll find them on Row F on the ballot.

  32. Louise Wu says:

    But you are right, Martin can spend all his time complaining about what one little old grey-haired housewife said instead of explaining the huge omissions in his article that others have pointed out here.

  33. Martin Edic says:

    Ugly, corrupt, illegal…these are a stream of negative responses with zero facts or new ideas attached to them. Katherine, you and I have known each other for a long time and you know I’m not these things. I have a genuine love for this city and all its neighborhoods and citizens. I was not paid to write this. I have seen no specific ideas or plans to achieve the goals you claim the Greens have espoused. Why don’t you guys write something specific without these paranoid rants about the inner city?
    It seems that if I write something you disagree with I am supposed to be fine with personal attacks and allegations that have no basis. Everything I’m seeing from the Greens is based on negativity which only begets more negativity. As Buddha said, the only thing that stops hatred is love. Not seeing any attempt at that here.
    I’m done with this- and yes, I’m voting for Richards but I’m fine with Lovely Warren as mayor. Both are positive outcomes.

  34. “…you know I’m not these things.”
    No one called YOU any of those things, Martin.
    Do you really know nothing of the illegal banking practices that have taken our neighbors down, the very ones that Attorney General Schneiderman has attacked with such energy? Or the ILLEGAL robopractices by the Stephen J. Baum practice that have decimated our neighborhoods? (He’s now driven out of business, provisionally, largely from the efforts of such groups as Take Back the Land, Empire Justice, Schneiderman’s office and other housing activists.) This City, under Richards’ orders and with the approval of Warren, refused to stop the RPD from leading nightmarish evictions of our families from homes ripped out from under them using these ILLEGAL practices. The administration works with the appalling foreclosure factory, American Tax Funding, to devastate neighborhoods using ILLEGAL practices. (Syracuse determined they operated far outside the law and withdrew all their housing from the eviction-for-profit practice.) This city banks with Citibank, least responsive to the call for mortgage reparation of all the many foreclosure factories, and neither Richards nor Warren have shown the slightest interest in the implications of that. You do not have to look long or too far to find illegal and inhumane exploitation of the poor for the benefit of the rich has developed under the Richards administration. Only the Greens address them.

  35. Occupy City Hall says:

    The City Council President along with City Council and the Mayor have consistently financed big developers to the detriment of taxpayers. These wealthy developers have benefitted from these unholy alliances with politicians. Lovely Warren states on her website that she helped bring the Fastrac Gas Station to Main Street. She is David Gannt’s Chief of Staff. She says she worked with the neighborhood residents in the meetings to discuss the Fastrac proposal and so did I. My memory is of the neighborhood residents saying they did not want that to represent the gateway to their neighborhood. They also stated that the Delta Sonic was already in the neighborhood. Now since David Gantt is the self proclaimed Mayor of Lyndhurst Street and has tenants in his rental property those may be the residents that Ms. Warren worked with. The lot that Fastrac now occupies was too small for the designated purpose but a variance was given. The property which was sold to Fastrac was owned by David Gantt. Seems like some strings may have been pulled in different offices to create a perfect storm that brought about Fastrac.

  36. Occupy City Hall says:

    Links to Property Records Monroe County concerning Fastrac Gas Station

    Originally owned by The People of NYS State
    Sold to David Gantt for $150,000

    Sold to Rochester 101 LLC for $590,000

  37. Alex White says:

    Martin, I do not remember saying anything negative at all about you just disagreeing with your argument. The reason for this is that the development you keep talking about is geared towards those that do not live in the city yet is paid for by those that do. The downtown buildings make those that commute feel happy and creates a safe zone for visitors, it does little for the citizens. This is development for others and it is surrounded on three sides by poverty, failing schools, and misery. Yet, we keep giving more and more. My plan was to support the people of Rochester with services they need and to then help these people create the small businesses and institutions which will help reduce poverty. This is the idea of a city for the citizens. What we are building right now is a third world tourist destination with a nice section surrounded by slums and I think we the people paying for it deserve better.

  38. Matthew Denker says:

    This article and comment thread are intense. In any event, Rochester lacks the local banking structure necessary to support robust, small-scale development. This is an issue I have been struggling with personally over the course of the past few years. Without a doubt, this is a place government could step in and provide a real service.

    The issue, or one of the issues, anyway, is largely the expense of overhead. It is almost always easier to handle the giving of a single large pile of cash to a single developer than it is to give small piles of cash to a bunch of developers. There are also infinitely more opportunities for failure that will get attacked no matter how small. Plenty of small businesses fail and it’s not news. Small government failures count just as much as big ones, because it’s easy to claim it’s waste.

    Anyway, I really applaud the charisma in this discussion, even if I think it might be far too personal at times. Thank you all for the contributions. I certainly think I’ve learned a lot.

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