(Photo courtesy of Buckingham Properties) After Buckingham Properties LLC and Morgan Management LLC acquired Midtown Tower, they launched a nearly $60 million project to transform the building—renamed Tower280—into a premium mixed-use space.
Ask any Rochesterian of a certain age to describe downtown in its heyday and you will hear about theaters, department stores, restaurants, maybe the subway. Most certainly Midtown Plaza will be at the center of the discussion.
“I remember very well coming downtown on a bus with my mother, and I remember as a young child shopping,” recalled Robert Duffy, president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc. “Downtown Rochester was a very exciting place. It was a tremendous, bustling place.”
As the nation’s first urban indoor mall, Midtown Plaza served as a destination to meet, shop, browse, dine and discover all that downtown had to offer. Opened in 1962, Midtown Plaza was home to McCurdy’s and B. Forman department stores, as well as an office tower and upscale hotel and restaurant.
But suburban sprawl and recessions hit downtown hard, and after a couple of decades the mall began to lose tenants. In 2007 it was announced that Midtown Plaza would close its doors the following year. Duffy was Rochester’s mayor at the time.
“When I was mayor we did everything we could to save Midtown Plaza,” he said, noting a deal with a group of business leaders from Italy failed to materialize. “When it came time to make a decision, there were no takers. Tenants were leaving at an alarming rate.
“In my estimation, Midtown Plaza would have been the largest boarded-up building in Rochester’s history if we had done nothing at that time and hoped for the best,” Duffy said.
Demolishing the mall and the office buildings attached to it was difficult for the community, many of whom had fond memories of the monorail that circled the mall’s interior, the Clock of Nations at the center of the plaza and Christmases at Midtown.
“That was a very emotional experience for the community,” said Heidi-Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. “There was a lot of who we are tied into the Midtown Plaza project. The property itself had meaning. It had a history. It was part of how people defined the community.”
When Midtown Plaza closed in 2008 it was decided that two structures would remain: the Seneca Building and Midtown Tower. The Seneca Building was remodeled and houses Windstream Holdings Inc. and the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group.
Midtown Tower was acquired by Buckingham Properties LLC and Morgan Management LLC, and work began in 2014 to redevelop the high-rise into premium mixed-use space. The $59 million project includes nearly 80,000 square feet of Class A office space on two floors, as well as residential and retail spaces, an atrium, underground parking and a dog park.
Nearly 2 million square feet of drywall was hung in Tower280, as Midtown Tower is now known. More than 9,000 gallons of paint were used during the rebuild and 1,600 linear feet of LED lighting was installed. The top four floors have more than 1,000 glass panels.
Forty-two dogs and 29 cats live with their owners in Tower280’s 181 residential units. Community leaders call the living spaces breathtaking.
“When you go up to the upper floors, they have two-story units there that literally have two stories of glass,” Zimmer-Meyer said. “And you’re standing there in the living room, dining area, kitchen area looking out—you can’t even believe you’re in a space like that in this community. It’s so dramatic.”
Bergmann Associates P.C. Inc. and DeJoy, Knauf & Blood LLP recently moved to Tower280, and Branca restaurant is slated to open in the tower soon.
The rapid lease-up of the residential space in Tower280 is proof of the potential for downtown housing, Zimmer-Meyer said. It also signifies growth in other areas as well.
“It is a significant and iconic structure. Because of its size, it’s one of the larger projects. It’s going to create a significant critical massing of residents,” she added. “It’s going to have a significant and material impact on the activity level at the street and on the market pressure that’s building up for street-level uses.”
Zimmer-Meyer said downtown is rapidly becoming an innovation zone.
“Downtown has become a huge growth engine for the city and the region,” she said. “The other piece that’s developed almost while we were sleeping is that we now have a legitimate, organically grown innovation zone downtown. And the Tower280 project sits right in the heart of that.”
Tower280 has become a huge attractor and stabilizing element in a growing marketplace, she added.
Downtown Rochester is full of energy these days, Duffy and Zimmer-Meyer said. They credit Buckingham Properties’ Glazer family and Morgan Management’s Morgan family, among others, for their investments and their faith that downtown could be revitalized.
“If you add the Glazer family, Morgan family and the Gallina family (of Gallina Development Corp.), that well exceeds $300 million. Those three developers right there, we look at the massive investment they’ve made in downtown Rochester—that is a tremendous sign of confidence,” Duffy said. “That deserves great credit, not only for their confidence but their spirit of public service that has really transformed downtown.”
Duffy also praises Mayor Lovely Warren for continuing what his administration started.
“I want to give her credit for her leadership in keeping this process going and leading it now,” he said. “Mayor Warren has done an extraordinary job keeping that momentum going and building on it.”
Duffy and Zimmer-Meyer said the transformation of downtown Rochester is exciting, and Tower280 is a big part of that transformation.
“What may seem like a lot of work going on right now, a lot of traffic being held up, a few years down the road when that’s all over with, people are going to be benefiting from everybody’s confidence, investment and hard work over many years,” Duffy said. “We’re seeing the downtown of tomorrow being built today.”
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