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Kodak properties favored for MCC campus in the city

Rochester Business Journal
December 16, 2011

By 62 percent to 38 percent, respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll prefer properties at State Street and Morrie Silver Way to the Sibley Building for a new permanent downtown Monroe Community College campus.
  
Last weekend, the MCC board of trustees recommended locating the college's planned $72 million permanent downtown campus on properties owned by Eastman Kodak Co. adjacent to the company's headquarters tower.
  
MCC officials said the board's recommendation meets criteria that students, faculty and staff have identified as important in the campus search, including accessible parking and public transportation, proximity to cultural offerings and neighborhood amenities, public safety, gathering areas and space to sustain a growing enrollment.
  
Four connected buildings at Kodak would provide a total of 560,000 square feet. In addition, college officials said, MCC leases space in the Sibley Building. An extended stay there would be excessively costly to taxpayers.
  
The board's search for a downtown campus site began in 2009. Expanding MCC's Brighton campus is not feasible because it does not have the capacity to accommodate the relocation of the downtown campus, officials said.
  
Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards plans to keep advocating for the Sibley site. He contends it would create a true downtown MCC campus. He points out that students there would be better served by the new Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority transit center and by being within walking distance of the region's largest concentration of cultural, entertainment and commercial activity.
  
Nearly 690 readers participated in this week's poll, which was conducted Dec. 12 and 13.

Which location do you prefer for a permanent downtown campus for MCC?
Eastman Kodak Co. facilities on State Street and Morrie Silver Way: 62%
The Sibley Building: 38%

Here are some comments from readers:

The Eastman Kodak location is in a much better area of downtown, and a much safer area. I would much rather go there to take a class than the current location. MCC would also do much better and get more business in that better, safer location. There’s too much riff-raff near the Main-Clinton area.
—Natalie Summers

Shouldn’t a “downtown campus” be downtown? Convenient to bus lines (not requiring a transfer to get to it)? Why do we have to participate in the dismemberment and liquidation of Kodak?
—Paul Haney

The Kodak buildings may appear to be the best option for MCC students, all else being equal, but all else is not equal. Locating the campus at the Sibley Building would greatly enhance the center city environment and help the recent growth trends to continue. It’s extremely near-sighted of the MCC board to choose the Kodak site without taking into account the benefits of the Sibley site outside the classroom walls.
—Matthew D. Wilson

Sigh! I have long emotional ties to the Sibley’s Tower—memories of Christmas and the Magic Corridor, working in the tower for several years, shopping in Sibley’s as an adult. Unfortunately, that Sibley’s Tower is long gone. What remains is still a beautiful old building that is primarily empty with a steam heating system that ensures those on upper floors will freeze on wintry Monday mornings. Surrounding it are a police substation and too many people with nothing to do. As much as I would like to see the tower “saved,” moving MCC to the State Street Kodak building makes sense for so many reasons: ample parking, a safer area and more up-to-date facilities. So sorry, Sibley’s Tower!
—Linda Gallagher, MVP Health Care

If we all sit back and look at the big picture, the Kodak facility is a great choice for a downtown campus. It will provide parking free to more than 3,000 students and not clog downtown garages. It will attract students from all over Monroe County with its accessibility. It is great flexible space for a college such as MCC. At the same time, let’s not be too quick to say the Sibley’s building needs MCC. It does not. The Sibley Building has such great potential—especially as the Midtown property takes shape. It would be great to tie together the East End with the Sibley Building and Midtown area. Most people don’t realize that they are only three blocks apart. Perhaps a Sibley-Eastman campus—using the Sibley Building for additional dorm space for the Eastman School of Music and using open space in Sibley’s for services for students and downtown offices—coffee shops, snack shops (a mini-College Town for Eastman Music students). Should a performing arts center come into the Midtown area, I am sure the Eastman School would welcome an opportunity to utilize this space too. Let’s take a step back, take a deep breath and realize there is more to Sibley’s than an MCC campus.
—Nancy Rencis

A fresh start for the downtown campus of MCC at Eastman Kodak’s State St. facilities is the right move. The Sibley Building location is wrought with controversy, whether it is the long-past-due back taxes unpaid by Wilmorite or the ongoing malevolent activity that occurs on a daily basis in front of the building. A change is in order. In making the move, I hope that the safety and security of the student body is a higher priority than it appears to be currently at the Sibley Building.
—Paul Hohensee, Webster

I prefer the expansion of the Brighton campus with the implementation of a shuttle service between several downtown and suburban locations. Let’s be honest: Students travel all over the world to obtain an education. Why can’t city students take a bus to attend college classes? The University of Rochester Red Line shuttle has worked wonderfully for both the city and the university. If the city administration thought it was so important to have the MCC campus downtown, why did it pull out of the Renaissance Square project and exclude MCC from the Midtown site, at the request of Paetec? If the city administration wants to be part of the decision-making process, it should become a financial partner as well. Let’s give city students the opportunity of enjoying all the wonderful facilities that the MCC Brighton Campus has to offer. Let’s not segregate city students in a downtown location.
—Michael J. Lebowitz, real estate broker

For the city to have killed Renaissance Square and then say the MCC campus should be at Sibley’s so it will be near the RTS station sets a new standard for chutzpah. The city’s track record for development includes High Falls, the fast ferry, killing Renaissance Square and Paetec. With that history, I’d say look at what City Hall wants and do the exact opposite.
—Bob Sarbane, consultant

Great selection! First, parking availability (if you doubt the importance of this, check out the 38 acres of parking for MCC at the Brighton campus, verified with Pictometry imagery). Second, age of facilities—decades newer, constructed for commercial space, modern utilities. 3. Clarity of who stands to benefit from the real estate sale—no ambiguity or hidden real estate interests present with the Kodak site.
—Dave Kennedy, Webster

Why has the city of Rochester allowed the Wilmorite subsidiary RochWil Associates to become delinquent in taxes and loans to the tune of $21 million? Why should MCC be paying rent to a corporation that that does not pay its taxes, yet the principals continue to make political contributions? This is disgusting.
—Richard Schauseil

Proximity to center of town, and a marginally safer area.
—David Lorenzo

Nothing so speaks of a educational environment than the Kodak building, its location shielded and set aside from potential crime and business interests bent on exploiting the students and faculty. Let a college campus be a college campus, not some center of human mass exposed daily to the inherent influences of any urban existence.
—Bruno Sniders, Webster

Although I am not convinced that the Eastman site will be the best interest of everyone involved, we have already seen that the Sibley Building didn't work. State Street is underutilized and perhaps more college age kids will bring some energy to the area, and provide some independent business with an opportunity to make some money.
—Joe Wierzbowski, Plymouth Photo Studio

It's a no-brainer—the Kodak facility is a much better location, and everyone knows it. Richards needs to stop putting the renovation of the Sibley building above the needs of the students, and do the right thing and accept the MCC Trustees' recommendation.
—Rick Corey, Penfield

I think Center City is the best place for a college campus. It brings a young set of people to the middle of the city. Youth brings more energy. Having that energy-dead center allows for development around it. Bringing housing and easy parking options also can keep the younger set downtown. Instead of complaining of a parking problem, make a solution for it. Develop it, make it easy make it affordable, especially for students. The nonmonetary benefit of having younger people there (and it is a continuing young population that keeps coming year after year) is invaluable. Think vibrancy. While I wish the area around State Street/High Falls would be utilized, that particular area would make the campus detached from the city itself (blocked by the railroad, the river, the Inner Loop expressway (which should not be filled in by the way). I think that a campus directly downtown would lend to the City Center being more vibrant and alive.
—David Muench, Pittsford

Kodak site offers parking, an environment away from the drugs and violence of downtown, and not nearly as much delay on reviews and approvals from politicians.
—Bill Mrkvicka

When I came to Rochester to attend RIT the entire school was located on the edge of the downtown business district. The dorms, academic areas, gym and many of the cafes, restaurants, taverns, banks, theaters and specialty retail shops catered to students needs. If 490 hadn’t bisected the campus, what would downtown look like today? MCC just built a number of new dorms at the Brighton Campus. If MCC were to locate the new campus in the Sibley building, additional dorms space could be created in some of the vacant portions of the tower. That alone would change the downtown area into a youth centric, vibrant focal point. I can’t think of anything better for a student than commuting via elevator to class. I can envision a computer center and bookstore, restaurants and cafes on the first floor. Close proximity to the central library, East End attractions, Blue Cross Arena would be located in one concentrated area. I can also envision part of the underground garage under the old midtown complex providing parking and even a bridge across Main Street into the Sibley building. It’s possible if we take a long view. It would be a shame if the MCC Board bought the Kodak property, which may be, in the future more suitable for light industrial or commercial use requiring expansion, and generate tax revenue. The Kodak property is cut off from downtown by the Inner Loop and railroad. Upon reflection, public safety concerns also exist in the area surrounding Kodak Office complex. Much of the negative perception of downtown can be addressed by a police substation and greater attention to improved security. We need to build a critical mass of activity downtown before expanding any major development beyond the inner loop. There is an opportunity here for Mayor Richards to demonstrate his political and leadership chops by collaborating with MCC and the County to work out an attractive deal. Perhaps tap into additional state, federal and private money to make the Sibley site the most attractive alternative.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

As a city resident, I fully support Mayor Richards’ lobbying efforts for the Sibley Building to become the permanent home of MCC. The majority suburban-dwelling MCC board members are using the all-too-familiar fear-inducing rallying cry of "downtown is dangerous." This is Suburban Racist code for: "Black People and Poor People are Downtown, and we don't want to have to rub elbows with THOSE kinds of people." This is myth. I have lived in, worked in and enjoyed the city, including downtown, all my adult life. I have never been attacked, groped, raped, had my home or vehicle broken into or had any bad thing happen to me in 40 years. The truth is, there is NO ONE downtown. It's vacant. What this ultimately comes down to is MONEY. That the suburban-dwelling wealthy developers stand to gain the biggest advantage by cutting deals and rehabbing the Kodak buildings would be my guess for their choice.
—Eve Elzenga, Rochester resident, Eve Elzenga Design 

Does the county really have $72 million to spend? Or the state? Is it mandatory that MCC expands?
—Dan Schreiber 

12/15/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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