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Meticulous planning lies at core of new development

Just as the city of Rochester and Monroe County are focused on economic development opportunities, so are towns and villages. And the volume of activity at this micro level is high, town and village administrators say.
“There’s definitely a science to economic development,” reports Kal Wysokowski, executive director of Fairport’s Industrial Development Agency and office of community and economic development.
Local officials carefully evaluate options as they mull growth for their towns and villages, whether it involves closely inspecting design plans or using a collaborative approach. Their challenge is balancing the needs of the community-expanding and improving it while preserving the village or town’s charm.
Wysokowski says that village administrators rely heavily on feedback from residents while moving forward to upgrade the community.
“In June 2007 we conducted a study of our residents as part of our comprehensive plan update,” she says, noting a 35 percent response rate.
At the top of residents’ wish list was the introduction of a grocery store, and two such properties have opened in town during the past few months.
“We also received numerous requests for more diversified dining options and we have been able to attract new restaurants, including one that serves Mexican food and another that is an Irish pub,” Wysokowski adds.
She reports that the occupancy rate among village commercial ventures is high-currently roughly 95 percent-but the challenge lies elsewhere.
“Our greatest challenge is in finding the best fit long-term for the community,” Wysokowski says. “We constantly try to work with building owners and tenants so that owners don’t just take the first tenants that show up.”
A huge and growing opportunity for Fairport centers on its canalside location. Increasingly, boaters are taking advantage of village commercial offerings as they traverse the Erie Canal.
Currently, the village owns 40 docking sites for boaters, as well as bathroom and shower facilities. Last year, the village tallied 2,500 boat nights among its visitors, Wysokowski says.
Those visitors ate in local restaurants, purchased goods at nearby shops, watched movies and concerts along the shore and, no doubt, spread the word about Fairport’s attractions to others, Wysokowski says.
The possibilities are endless, she says. Current discussions include those with a builder to develop a mixed-use property that potentially would marry a wine bar and gourmet pizza restaurant with on-site townhouses or condominiums. Also, Wysokowski would like to see more clothing shops and specialty restaurants featuring Thai or vegetarian cuisine.
“We have several underdeveloped parcels along the canal that need some attention,” she says. “We’re excited about the future, but we also want to make sure that we strike the right balance of business ventures.”
Pittsford also approaches economic development in a careful, methodical way, reports William Carpenter, town supervisor. He says his town has a “zero budget” for economic development.
Only 2 percent of the land in the town of Pittsford is zoned for commercial use, and all development proposals are carefully assessed.
“Our overall growth philosophy is to look for the right mix and to ask ourselves whether new development will round out the area,” Carpenter says. “It’s important that any new ventures have the right use and the right architecture, without decreasing the value of home properties.”
In recent years, he says the town of Pittsford has paid particularly keen attention to development along Monroe Avenue. That corridor attracts 30,000 vehicles daily.
“If you look back at Pittsford Plaza in 1995, the property was half empty,” he says. “Today, it is thriving with an excellent mix of properties.”
Business proposals are meticulously evaluated. For example, Boston Market Corp. several years ago approached the town about building a restaurant near Pittsford Plaza.
“Unfortunately, the design of the building just didn’t fit our needs,” Carpenter says. “By contrast, Wendy’s is a good example of a business design that fit with our overall Monroe Avenue scheme.”
Carpenter and other town officials and planning boards are in constant contact with real estate developers about possible development opportunities. A small hardware store or an office supply shop would round out the town’s offerings, he says.
“The key to economic development is to do it carefully,” Carpenter says. “If everyone’s property values grow, then we all win.”
The town of Webster also approaches economic development with all parties’ interests in mind, says Ronald Nesbitt, town supervisor.
“As we build, we also want to keep the rural character of this area, so that our grandkids will know what bunnies and deer look like,” he says.
Commercially, Webster Town Center, which houses several retail operations, is thriving, Nesbitt observes. Also, Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is planning a 45,000-square-foot addition, and a multi-use stadium at the intersection of Basket and Salt roads is scheduled to open in June.
Other recent ventures include a Hampton Inn, a second location for Scott Miller Salon & Spa, and relocation to Webster of Mirror Show Management Inc. and Continuing Developmental Services Inc.
With a population of 41,000 individuals, the town is mindful of preserving its residential feel while slowly welcoming new businesses. The town currently is home to 98 outdoor playing fields.
“We’ve received feedback from our residents that they’d like growth along Ridge Road to slow down and, in fact, the only new business scheduled to open there in 2008 is a Goodwill store,” Nesbitt says.
It’s all about balance, he adds.
“Growth is important, but right now maintenance sounds good to me,” he says.
Debbie Waltzer is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

04/11/08 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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