By a margin of just 15 responses, a majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say Monroe Community College should take another look at the Sibley Building for its permanent downtown campus.
An affiliate of Boston-based Winn Development LLC completed its acquisition last Friday of the historic building in downtown Rochester. Winn plans to spend $100 million to $150 million over 10 years to completely renovate the 1,085,000-square-foot, 12-story building.
The building’s anchor tenant is MCC’s Damon City Campus, which occupies roughly 25 percent of its rentable space. MCC agreed to a five-year lease extension this spring.
The Winn acquisition comes only weeks before the Monroe County Legislature is expected to vote on a bond-issue resolution supporting MCC’s plan to relocate its city campus to property now owned by Eastman Kodak Co. on State Street and Morrie Silver Way.
MCC officials say the Kodak property gives the college space needed to grow, is the least expensive option and has fewer safety concerns. In addition, MCC would own the property, as opposed to leasing.
Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards wants MCC to remain at the Sibley Building. He has argued that “there needs to be a true downtown MCC campus, and by far the best location for the students and for the community is the Sibley’s site.” He also has said that Kodak’s bankruptcy proceedings could trip up MCC’s planned relocation.
Roughly 600 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 19.
Should MCC take another look at the Sibley Building for its permanent downtown campus?
I think having the MCC campus in the Sibley Building would make more sense. They are already there, and they would be right in the heart of downtown and be able to connect to all kinds of things in that area, most of which would be within walking distance. The Kodak building is too far away from much of anything. Plus, who knows what will end up happening with the Kodak building as they go through their transition from bankruptcy?
How long (do) we have to “study and take one more look” at these issues? It’s time to let those in charge decide what is best. MCC has done an excellent job with educating young people. They have competent leadership and a competent board of trustees. Stop the interference and let them make their decisions and move forward. Like the “fiscal cliff,” kicking the can down the road down one more time only creates greater uncertainty and stalls much-needed progress. Time to move on.
—Tom Nientimp, Victor
I agree with MCC that the Sibley Building is not suitable for their downtown campus. If it’s going to take 10 years to renovate the building, then MCC can take another look at the campus at that time. But to stay in the building now, when it is clearly not meeting the needs of MCC students, just does not make good business sense. Personally, I wanted to take an evening class at MCC’s downtown campus but declined to do so for the main reason that I did not want to go to that downtown location. And I do work downtown!
Mayor Richards is correct; downtown needs MCC, and Kodak’s bankruptcy issues are far from resolved. Let’s pull together for the betterment of Rochester, not the betterment of special interest groups.
In theory, the presence of the campus and the thousands of students it potentially brings to the city center should be a boon to redevelopment of retail and service businesses there. In practice, this has not been the case thus far, nor will it be until people see that the city has gotten serious about taking the streets in that area back from the miscreants who currently own them.
—Scott Winner, former city resident
The Kodak site has so much going for it—especially plenty of parking and enough space to design an indoor/outdoor urban center with the High Falls area nearby. Create a campus feeling. Redo some bus routes to make it accessible to all. An MCC campus there would be a great addition to our urban center. The Sibley site, besides being extremely unattractive inside, would not be owned by MCC and seems like it would forever be financially entwined in some new revitalize/refinanced downtown scheme. MCC need stability and permanence. Tap the urban planning and design students in the graduate program at UB nearby for some contemporary urban creative thinking!
Downtown Rochester needs to have a youthful presence. A school will bring in that youth. The one item that will have to be addressed, however, will be free or close-to-free parking for students of the school. Students going to MCC are on tighter budgets on the whole; many of them are self-supporting as well, so if they have to pay $50 to $60 per month to park, that is not a benefit. So there is a strong need to provide that. Developing a way to keep students downtown around the campus is also paramount. In addition, security must be state-of-the-art and high-level, especially in the evening hours. Mediocre security was one of the downfalls of Midtown Plaza.
—David Muench, Hamill Associates Insurance
I was downtown earlier this year for a seminar in a local hotel. The downtown area is not really a place you want to be in, unless you have to be there—let alone being there at night. Given a choice of the Sibley’s Building or Kodak, I’d take the Kodak site, nearer to High Falls, in a second.
Why does MCC need a downtown campus at all? They already have a huge campus about five miles away. This is yet another huge waste of taxpayers’ money, at a time (when New York) is teetering on the brink of insolvency due to unpaid pension obligations. At some point we’ve just got to say “no” to every big-ticket expansion of government. All the claims of “investing in our future” are so much pap. How about investing in our present by not spending money we don’t have?
MCC should focus on what's best for the students. The location of the Sibley building, close to mass transit and centrally located downtown, is a big plus. With the new bus terminal just across the street, it most likely would give students one less transfer. A very large percentage of MCC students are city residents, so focus on the needs and desires of the clients. The MCC campus in the heart of downtown also may just create the critical mass needed to help the center of the city grow and flourish, and that would be a good thing for everyone.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
My answer is based on the assumption that the MCC officials assigned to site evaluations have already done their due diligence with comparing the two sites in question. Based on what has been mentioned in the many newspaper articles about this subject, I believe my assumption is factual.
MCC has determined that the former Kodak property is the best location for its Damon City Campus. The college bases its decision on appropriate facts; why argue with that? Don't look to MCC to "save" the former Sibley building.
—Deborah Emerson, executive director, Central NY Library Resources Council
The Sibley building provided a wonderful venue for shopping when it was open. With the exodus of multi-floor department stores into suburban malls, it would be refreshing to see the Sibley building dedicated, at least in part, to shopping. The needs of those who work and live in Rochester are not being met by stores within the city—another Wegmans like the one that was in Midtown Plaza, and department stores selling household goods, clothing, electronics, etc. Could be welcome.
The decision on where to locate the MCC campus will have impact on the city for many years to come. It is vitally important to make the correct choice by looking to the future. Education is a key component to the revitalization of the Rochester city core. The Rochester Educational Opportunity Center has a wonderful facility at 161 Chestnut St. and it would be grand to build upon their example.
Absolutely, Sibley is a better place for MCC. Who knows what the status of the Kodak site will be in the next few years.
—Rich Calabrese Jr.
MCC is a serious educational alternative/opportunity for its students and our community. Who do you want running a serious educational alternative/opportunity—the college trustees or the politicians? Further, who is the college for—the students to learn, or the politicians who want to use it as a redevelopment vehicle?
It seems to me that downtown is the optimal location given its close access to the neighboring bus terminal. I remain skeptical about the city's deal with Winn. Smells a little like Irondequoit Mall.
—J.P. Gleason, C.F.R.E. Principal E.D.A./Gleason Fund Raising Consultants
The City of Rochester has found a buyer for the Sibley Bldg that is willing to invest 50 million dollars renovating and improving the structure. RTS has implemented a bus routing plan that reduces congestion in the area. MCC should reconsider its decision not to use the structure.
For heaven's sake, this matter is settled. Richards is grasping at straws trying to salvage failed pipe dreams. A "true" downtown campus should be collegiate in appearance, safe, secure, have room to grow and allow college students to come and go in relative comfort. Kodak property offers space, fewer dollars for renovations, free parking, the expectation of safety and the aura of a campus. I've taught at the Sibley building, had to use the garage and never felt comfortable exiting in the evenings. MCC has done a heroic job of making the environment conducive for learning but the area is so fragile with Midtown gone, unstable environment outside the doors and in the garage. Time to move on.
—Carol G. Mcmanus, Carol G. Mcmanus Consulting, LLC
A successful downtown needs density, and the MCC student body could provide that. It would also certainly spawn additional businesses to serve that significant additional population in our Center City every day. I'm sure it would even give rise to some student housing which would put more people downtown 24/7. We need a vibrant downtown, and 343 State St. is not downtown.
MCC has an opportunity to be part of the revitalization of the city center, or they can contribute to further decline by moving out. Security is a manageable concern, which will become less problematic as the downtown area is developed. Perhaps the Kodak property can be used for parking, with shuttle service.
I don't know what the economics of the project are, but assuming that the cost of renovation is approximately equal, I'd argue for the center city location. MCC serves all of Monroe County residents, as does the city of Rochester. We need viable, meaningful establishments in the city. Kodak's properties can be repurposed for a dozen other uses, keep MCC in Rochester.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
I don't see why they have to move. The current building is never operating at capacity and is in good shape with ample parking. Doesn't sound like an economical thing to do and definitely does not consider the taxpayers interests.
With the new owners in place, there may be a different offer made to MCC, one which would be of more benefit to them than the Kodak building. Take a look!
11/23/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.