Allan Stern has taken the reins at Stern Properties. With him are his mother, Marcia Stern, and his children, Max and Julia. Below, Gary Stern, seen here in a 2006 photo, transformed the Village Gate property in a $10.5 million rehabilitation project in the early 1980s, turning it into a mixed-use complex. (Photos by Kimberly Simpson)
Gary Stern took property in a distressed part of the city and turned it into a 24-hour community called Village Gate, with restaurants, shops, offices and apartments.
His family this week said Mr. Stern’s vision for Village Gate on North Goodman Street and the surrounding area would continue.
Mr. Stern, the owner of Stern Property Management and developer of Village Gate, died Nov. 3. He was 73.
“He had a vision of what he wanted to do… and he never gave up,” said Allan Stern, Mr. Stern’s son. “He was the eternal optimist.”
Mr. Stern previously worked in the roofing industry, a family tradition that started in the 1940s with his father, who founded a Rochester-based roofing business, Joseph Stern & Sons. Today, Allan Stern serves as president of the roofing company, now AM Stern Inc.
Allan Stern has taken over leadership duties at Stern Properties, assisted by what he calls the company’s dedicated and experienced employees.
Mr. Stern developed the Village Gate property in 1981 in a $10.5 million rehabilitation project, turning it into a mixed-use complex. Village Gate previously was home to Stecher-Traung Lithographic Co., one of the world’s largest lithographic firms.
It became a seven-building development that spanned over 500,000 square feet.
Among current tenants are restaurants such as California Rollin’ and Lento; organizations including Causeway Community Partners and Rochester Brainery LLC; and high-tech companies such as Dataflow Inc. and FluxData Inc.
Village Gate recently completed a $10.2 million expansion, adding three mixed-use buildings totaling 52,000 square feet at the rear of the 14-acre site.
Other work recently done as part of the project included improvements to some current structures, new lighting and landscaping upgrades and the addition of 200 parking spots.
Mr. Stern had planned on working on the Carnegie Building property across the street from Village Gate, possibly developing it into a multi-story, mixed-use structure.
Allan Stern said this week that plan would move forward; he is looking to break ground on a five- to seven-story mixed-use building there in the next 12 to 18 months.
Meanwhile, the new buildings at Village Gate are 50 percent occupied, and he is receiving calls on the space still available. The work has been relatively smooth, he said, noting his father had laid the groundwork to get the project completed.
“He had done all the heavy lifting,” Stern said.
Stern said his father never gave up on his vision of developing the property that would spur development in the area known as the Neighborhood of the Arts.
“He loved what he did,” Mr. Stern’s wife, Marcia, added.
She and Allan Stern described Mr. Stern as a generous and kind man who was quick to offer help and never expected anything in return. He also enjoyed hiking and biking and would often ride his bike from his home to Village Gate.
Mr. Stern was also an avid traveler, making trips to Africa, Costa Rica and India.
He and Marcia, along with Allan and his brother, Mitchell Stern, traveled to destinations around the globe. Those trips served as an inspiration for Village Gate, they said.
LeFrois Builders and Developers served as the project manager on the most recent Village Gate project; Leighton Design Group LLC, an interior design firm located at Village Gate, also played a pivotal role in the project.
Richard LeFrois, who had known Mr. Stern for 35 years, said the Village Gate developer recently send him pictures of the progress at the complex, noting his joy over what was being done there.
“Gary Stern was a prince of a guy,” LeFrois said.
Those who knew Mr. Stern agree that without him, development in Rochester would not be what it is today.
“I believe it is hard to overstate Gary’s impact on the Neighborhood of the Arts,” said Aaron Metras, owner of Salena’s Mexican Restaurant in Village Gate.
When Mr. Stern purchased Village Gate, he took a risk by investing in a depressed area, Metras said. But it was one that paid off.
“By taking on that initial risk, he was able to encourage others to follow suit, which has eventually led to the Neighborhood of the Arts being one of Rochester’s premier neighborhoods and a model for turning other depressed areas around,” Metras said.
“Walking through the Village Gate and seeing all of the activity and people any given night of the week will show just how influential his vision was.”
In addition to Village Gate, Stern Properties owns a few buildings in the city’s East End, including the East End lofts.
Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., described Mr. Stern as someone without an ego who was passionate about development and instrumental in driving growth in the Neighborhood of the Arts.
That passion for development helped drive growth downtown as well, she added.
Stern said earlier this year he was bullish on the city’s future, noting cooperation among neighborhoods, as well as a wave of investment by top local developers.
“I really see things happening,” he told the Rochester Business Journal in March. “It’s only going to get better.”
Metras said he believes Mr. Stern’s legacy will be seen in the continued growth in the area around Village Gate and beyond.
“Hopefully his willingness to take on what appeared to be a lost neighborhood will inspire others to do the same, resulting in more amazing areas in our community,” Metras said.
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