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Business owners near College Town, a $100 million redevelopment under construction at the intersection of Mt. Hope and Elmwood avenues, are taking a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats attitude toward the project and have few complaints about how its planning has gone so far.
“The best thing for competition is competition,” says Robert St. George, co-owner of Bunga Burger Bar, which opened nearly a year ago at 1370 Mt. Hope Ave., across from the future urban village. With housing, lodging, retail and dining planned for the site, the development seems likely to be the “next big thing in Rochester,” he adds.
Eugene O’Donovan, owner of Yotality Frozen Yogurt, agrees. The company opened its eighth store last month at 1380 Mt. Hope Ave.
“The fact that College Town is coming on stream and there’s a significant investment being made in that area was very much a factor in us wanting to open there,” says O’Donovan, founder of Montana Mills Bread Co. Inc., which was sold to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. in 2003.
“I think the (neighborhood’s) infrastructure has improved significantly, and certainly it’s a work in progress,” O’Donovan adds. “But I think we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will ultimately be a great development for the whole area.”
Percolating since 2008, College Town aims to transform 14 acres owned by the University of Rochester into a 500,000-square-foot mixed-use development that will serve as a gateway to UR’s River Campus and medical center. Gilbane Development Co. of Rhode Island and Fairmount Properties LLC of Cleveland are developers for the project, which is expected to create at least 1,200 construction and service jobs.
Plans call for UR to continue to own the College Town acreage and lease it long-term to the partnership College Town LLC, which will manage the development.
In 2012, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that he had secured a $20 million loan for College Town from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, avoiding a delay in breaking ground. The federal loan, made to the city of Rochester, will be repaid over 20 years at an interest rate of 1 percent or less, using various property tax revenues.
Another key piece of financing was settled last year when the state awarded the project $4 million as part of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council’s initiatives.
Retailers lined up for the site include Barnes & Noble, which will operate as UR’s official campus bookstore and serve the general public; the Creator’s Hands, a Rochester-based arts, crafts, home decor and gift shop; and Constantino’s Market, a Cleveland-based grocer that will open a 20,000-square-foot store.
Other parts of the project involve lodging and housing. A five-story Hilton Garden Inn at the University of Rochester, with an upscale restaurant and bar, ballroom and conference center, and pool and fitness center, is in the pipeline, as are 150 apartment units.
Food-service businesses slated for the property include a Corner Bakery Cafe, Saxby’s Coffee, Panini’s Bar and Grill, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Flight Wine Bar and Insomnia Cookies, a 40-store chain that delivers cookies and milk until 3 a.m.
O’Donovan says he is not worried about the large number of College Town tenants that will offer food and drink. Foot traffic will likely increase on the east side of Mt. Hope Avenue, where Yotality is located, when the development opens because despite the popularity of online shopping, upscale brick-and-mortar lifestyle centers still hold enormous appeal for consumers, he says.
Richard Rowe, owner of Rowe Photo, Audio and Video at 1737 Mt. Hope Ave., also expects College Town to be a boon for all of the stakeholders.
“I see it as a fellow business (owner), and I also see it as a neighbor because I also live in the neighborhood,” says Rowe, whose family roots in the camera business stretch back to 1898. “And you know, I guess some business people would say, ‘Oh, gee, you know it’s going to be competition because they’re going to bring in other businesses.’ To my way of thinking, the more the merrier, and … they are developing a site that has really been kind of blighted over a lot of years. They’re bring-
ing some excitement to the neighborhood.”
UR has long been a positive force in the Rochester area, but at times it has operated “in the shadows,” Rowe says. That is now changing, and the development will
be “not only an economic driver, but it’s going to be more of a social driver too,” he says.
“I mean, we’re talking about the ability—in the College Town proper area, in the center—to host … a farmer market and other community events, whether they’re musical or entertainment, that will tie in the sociability, I’d guess you say, of the neighborhood.”
Throughout the project’s planning, Gilbane and Fairmount have been easy to work with, says Daniel Hurley, president of the Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood Association. The developers did not resist making changes to initial designs for the property’s buildings, based on the association’s feedback.
Having a grocer at College Town will be the biggest plus for the neighborhood, Hurley says.
“We haven’t had a grocery store here since Wegmans closed down in the neighborhood (in 2003),” he says.
Though College Town is still under construction and the ribbon-cutting date has not been set, street improvements by the city of Rochester already have eased the flow of traffic in the area. A new center median restricting left turns out of businesses, for instance, has made the area safer for drivers, Hurley says. Celebration Drive, a new street through the center of College Town that connects Mt. Hope with East Drive, also was a welcome addition.
The road construction hurt Bunga Burger Bar last summer, but business has since rebounded, St. George says. Various parking options planned for College Town, as well as increased foot traffic from the development’s apartments, bode well for the restaurant.
“And don’t forget you have the biggest employer in Rochester right there,” he says.
Pedestrian friendliness will be a key component of the site, says Karl Schuler, president of Taylor, the Builders, which is responsible for construction of two buildings at College Town.
“When you’re walking down the city sidewalk, you’re going to be at the businesses’ front door,” he says.
Adds Schuler: “Not a lot of people have done a lot of these projects. (This) type of mixed use, where bringing back residential over business, is (an example of) what’s old is new again. I mean, if you look at small-town Upstate New York, whether you go to Canandaigua or Oneonta or Ithaca, that’s the way they all used to be.”
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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