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Landing ahead for 20-year dream

At long last, dare it be said, Brooks Landing in the 19th Ward will be complete within one year.
This week, the developer behind the multiple-use riverfront project broke ground on the second phase-a $2 million, two-story retail and office building at Genesee Street and Plymouth Avenue.
Combined, the three-phase Brooks Landing project and nearby Riverview Apartments are estimated to cost $46 million.
In one form or another, the Brooks Landing project has been on the drawing board for more than 20 years as a means to anchor the 19th Ward, the University of Rochester and the Genesee River area.
Now, the project’s 80-room hotel is nearly complete and nearby, UR’s Riverview Apartments five-building project simultaneously is under way with an expected completion date set for August. Roughly 400 students will move in this fall.
Minnesota-based Christenson Corp. is behind the hotel, office and retail development at Brooks Landing; Matrix Development Corp. in the Erie County suburb of Amherst is working with UR on the apartments.
Christenson was authorized to assume possession of land originally authorized for sale to local developer David Flaum for $150,000, city documents dated last September show. That land was to be used for the two-story office building in the project.
Last fall the decision to sell the land to Flaum was repealed, city documents state, and the land was sold instead to Christenson for $1.
Under the name Genesee Brooks LLC, Flaum had planned to construct the 28,000-square-foot office building since 2005, city documents show.
Since then, documents state, Flaum opted out of the land sale agreement and subsequent development project. To avoid further project delays, the city engaged in discussions with Ronald Christenson, of Christenson Corp.
His company broke ground on Brooks Landing in November 2005, when the project had an estimated completion date set for 2006. On his recent decision to expand his investment in Brooks Landing, Christenson was not immediately available for comment.
UR already has leased 20,000 square feet of the building, where it plans to move its employment center and financial operations group-approximately 100 employees-late next spring.
The developer expects to complete the building’s shell by Jan. 1. The university then will construct its own internal fittings, said Ronald Paprocki, senior vice president for administration and finance and chief financial officer for the university.
“Things are really shaping up over there, and of course the hotel is really coming along also. Of course, that’s not our development, that’s a private development, but the hotel will be opening in the fall also,” he said.
Combined with Riverview at an estimated construction cost of $25 million, the total amount of construction in the Brooks Landing area will reach close to $50 million and provide some much-needed work to local contractors.
David Alexander at Carpenters Local 85 has been working closely on the project. Despite some news generated last year over illegal immigrants working on the Brooks Landing Hotel, the problem was fairly minor, he said.
Two illegal immigrants, who were working on the job as independent contractors, were taken off the job by Rochester City Police, he said.
“It did not hinder construction, and it was the contractor doing the work who was responsible, not the developer,” Alexander said. “To my knowledge, the company has been right on board. The Brooks Landing Hotel is just about completed now, and they’re actually getting ready to do Phase Two of the project.
“A lot of our contractors were getting bidding for the project. Things are looking better for local workers. We need the work bad,” he added.
Since 1983, Dana Miller, vice president of development at the Rochester Area Community Foundation and Rochester city councilwoman, has been an active champion for Brooks Landing.
“Initially the delays were due to developers not being able to see the market potential of the area,” he said. “Once Christenson Corp. came on board in 1999 there were challenges with land acquisition and parkland alienation that slowed the project down. There was also a reduction in hotel development following 9/11 that contributed to delays.”
The biggest hurdles, Miller said, were environmental.
In 2005, after a series of reviews and demands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service gave the city permission to replace 1.38 acres of converted parkland within Genesee Valley Park-to be used for Brooks Landing-with 19.5 acres of vacant city-owned land located near Turning Point Park, along the Genesee River.
“The parkland alienation had to go to both the state and federal agencies for approval,” Miller said. “They were resolved with a significant amount of public review, input and advocacy along with great staff work by the city.”
“A project of this magnitude always has hurdles,” Miller added. “The biggest has been resolving remaining environmental issues along the former railroad right-of-way.”
Despite those setbacks, Miller said all three phases of Brooks Landing are under way.
The Sector 4 Community Development Corp. is working to build a coffee shop in the building at 955 Genesee St., at the corner of Brooks and Genesee, Miller said.
“The city is completing a major waterfront revitalization that includes a boardwalk and boat-docking facilities along the Genesee that will be the actual Brooks Landing,” he added. “Fifteen businesses along Genesee Street received matching grants for new facades through city funding. There is also some preliminary discussion regarding new market-rate housing in the area.”
Louis Giardino’s firm, Construction Economists of America Inc., works with banks to provide third-party financial oversight for construction projects, including both the Riverview Apartments and Brooks Landing developments.
His specialty is riverfront development. Previously he served as construction manager on the multi-use Corn Hill Landing development, built by Mark IV Construction Co. Inc.
“All (three developments) are a great commentary on development for the Rochester community. I think this is just another example of the business community’s commitment to the area. People wouldn’t be investing there if they didn’t think it had some viability,” he said.
Despite all the years of setbacks, Miller said he is confident this time the project will reach fruition.
“Major construction at the hotel site, coffee shop and student apartments should be completed in August, with the office complex being completed in winter,” Miller said. “We have great confidence in the timelines at this point, and we don’t foresee major obstacles.”
Neither does Giardino.
“I’ve been around this for years, I couldn’t be happier for the Rochester community,” Giardino said. “It’s great for my business and for the entire industry.”
[email protected] / 585-546-8303

06/20/2008 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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