With Tower280 bringing new residents and businesses to the Midtown area, coffee shop owners Tony and Renee Colon see themselves well-positioned for growth.
Already, sales have doubled at their Fuego Coffee Roasters LLC on Euclid Street since they relocated from 167 Liberty Pole Way in June.
“I like to be in this location. I like to see the development. I like to see downtown Rochester be revitalized,” Tony Colon said.
He is not the only one. Tower280 has proved popular for those eager to embrace urban living and companies that want to be part of a new downtown, positioning themselves in the process to attract millennial workers.
But as Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., said, the Midtown site’s future was by no means assured when Buckingham Properties LLC’s Laurence Glazer first envisioned Tower280’s potential and convinced his son, Ken, and the team at Morgan Management LLC to make it happen.
“That whole Midtown block was in crisis,” Zimmer-Meyer said. “We were concerned the community would lose control of the whole block, and it could be shuttered for any number of years.”
Instead, what champions of the downtown have on their hands is a likely catalyst for further growth and development.
The city has accepted a cross-section of proposals for the development of Parcel 5, and among the stated objectives is to bring life back to Midtown after 5 p.m. The city also plans to redo the streetscape along Main Street to make it more appealing for pedestrians, and next spring, a bike-share program will be launched downtown to provide a new transportation option.
Residential growth has been key to the changes thus far, with buildings that once were offices being repurposed for downtown living.
“It is right-sizing the office market, and it’s putting buildings back on the tax rolls,” Zimmer-Meyer said.
And demand for these apartments continues. Zimmer-Meyer said the current vacancy rate for downtown apartments stands at 2.1 percent, less than half the normal vacancy rate of some 5 percent in a healthy market. That bodes well for developers sizing up their options.
It also bodes well for retail, because residential development is essential to promoting activity not just during the day but evenings and weekends as well.
Zimmer-Meyer said she was struck recently when she saw a woman pushing a baby stroller and walking a dog in the middle of the day.
“This is the kind of thing we haven’t seen in generations,” she said.
Scott Burdett of Flaum Management Co. Inc. said retailers want to see density and foot traffic.
“Retail follows rooftops,” he said. The first to move in tend to be food and beverage providers, restaurants and business services. Soft goods and fashion shops are “probably still a little ways away,” he said.
“Things have never looked better, but we still have some progress to make,” he said of the appeal to retailers.
At some point, the city of Rochester might want to consider doing as Philadelphia has done for its center city and collect the data retailers want to see about foot traffic, bike traffic and other metrics. But success begets success.
“It creates a buzz around things. It speaks well to the other people on the sidelines,” Burdett said.
If the first retailers do well, others will come.
Demographics also play a role. Many of the employers who have relocated or
plan to relocate downtown are counting on an increasingly vibrant urban culture to attract and retain millennial workers.
“It’s part of the reason I made the move,” said Victoria Van Voorhis, CEO of Second Avenue Software Inc., who has moved her business from Pittsford to downtown. The company is in a temporary space right now, but plans to move its staff to new offices at Tower280 by the end of the year.
“I want them to feel that they’re part of a bigger innovation environment,” she said, noting the number of innovative companies that are making downtown their home base.
Already she is getting positive feedback from her staff. Many of them already had apartments within the city.
“A lot of my employees say this was a shorter commute, so they’re really embracing the live-work-play mantra,” she said.
Second Avenue is bringing on two new team members, one from Boston and one from New York City.
“They’re coming here every other week, and they’ve been favorably impressed with the downtown area,” she said.
Van Voorhis expects recruiting new employees to be easier here than based in the suburbs, and Zimmer-Meyer agrees.
“This is a very urban-focused generation,” she said. “These folks want a vibrant urban setting. They want street life. They’re looking for opportunities for creative collisions.”
The interest in street life means millennials are more likely to go out for lunch than to eat at their desks, Zimmer-Meyer said, whether that means visiting a restaurant or sampling the wares of one of Rochester’s food trucks.
Tony Colon, of Fuego, recognizes this, arguing his business is not only about coffee.
“We’re in the business of interaction,” he said. “Come for coffee, stay for community.”
Nor are he and his wife worried about competition if the Midtown area takes off, attracting other coffee shops.
“Competition is good for business,” said Renee Colon, pointing out it forces business owners to find new ways to appeal to their clientele. “We will embrace it as it comes.”
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