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Dynamic redo transforms downtown tower

Weaving through a steady stream of construction crews that dot the downtown landscape, it is easy to see the area is in the midst of a renewal. What may not be apparent, however, is the equally important revitalization happening inside one iconic building.

Situated at the southwest corner of East Main Street and South Clinton Avenue, the Metropolitan—formerly Lincoln Tower and more recently Chase Tower—is undergoing a major overhaul that will improve access to the building as well as interior aesthetics and, more importantly, tenancy in Rochester’s third-largest skyscraper. 

The building was the brainchild of architect John Graham, who also designed the Space Needle in Seattle. Lincoln Tower, with its unique white fins arcing 400 feet into the downtown sky, was a $20 million project completed in 1973 for Lincoln First Bank. In 1996, the building was renamed Chase Tower, and it serves as JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A.’s Upstate New York headquarters.

For years, however, the 475,000-square-foot structure has remained mostly vacant.

In 2015 Gallina Development acquired Chase Tower from JP Morgan Chase and rebranded it the Metropolitan.

“I think one of the most significant things is that before the tower was sold to the Gallinas, and before this new redevelopment began, that was a huge, iconic tower that was virtually empty,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp. “It was held by an owner that was out of town. To get it into the hands of a local owner and developer is a different story.”

A local owner carries the ability to reshape the building’s economic relevance, she said.

Indeed, Gallina is in the process of converting the tower into a dynamic, mixed-use space that will include redesigned office space, exclusive retail and restaurant  space, and high-rise living opportunities in the form of contemporary apartments and luxury condominiums.

Gallina paired with Hanlon Architects to develop a new main entrance to the building, with a circular driveway and drop-off point under a modern exterior canopy. The intent was to remove the barrier to the street and provide easy vehicular and pedestrian access to the building.

The tower is Gallina’s first mixed-use redevelopment project downtown. The commercial real estate developer has roughly 2.5 million square feet of space, primarily in the Monroe County area. Its first major acquisition downtown was the purchase of One East Avenue in 2012.

The Metropolitan already has a number of commercial tenants, including JP Morgan Chase; Forsyth, Howe, O’Dwyer, Kalb & Murphy P.C.; 5Linx Enterprises Inc.; U.S. Employee Benefits Services Group; Datto Inc.; and BrandMint. Datto has announced plans to add 200 jobs at its Metropolitan office.

JP Morgan Chase occupies three floors of the building in addition to a Chase Bank branch on the first floor.

When completed, the first 15 floors of the 26-floor structure are to contain office space, with apartments occupying floors 16 through 21 and condos from floors 22 through 26.

“The tenants that will be in the building will support spending within the region, or in the downtown core,” said Gary Keith, vice president and regional economist at M&T Bank Corp.

That, in turn, will create an environment in which investors take notice.

“You need tangible examples of investors putting capital at risk, and I think that encourages others,” Keith added. “It’s helpful in terms of making the city more vibrant and attractive to folks that want to live there.”

The Metropolitan parcel includes nearly an acre of green space that has been underutilized for years. Gallina has partnered with Bayer Landscape Architecture to redesign the outdoor space.

Keith said investments like the one at the Metropolitan have more than an economic effect downtown.

“It is certainly something that will affect psychology maybe more than the economy, which is important,” he said. “As people see progress in the city center with development like this, it gives them confidence that things are improving.”

That helps with the psychology of spending and investing and doing the kinds of things that grow the economy, Keith added.

The Metropolitan and its occupants are in the heart of the new Downtown Innovation Zone, Zimmer-Meyer said. The area is seeing fewer conventional businesses moving downtown and more innovation companies, she said.

“We now have four companies in the video game world clustering here,” she said. “It’s happened organically.”

With the office portion of the building filled, that will mean good things for future retailers, Zimmer-Meyer noted.

“What’s going to happen when this building is finished is it puts people on the street,” she said. “It grows the market, creates more vitality at street level. Every new project increasingly creates an environment that people want to be in.”

Zimmer-Meyer also pointed to a plan to add more dining options on the second level of the building that will be convenient to other office buildings and hotels in the area. In addition, RDDC has been working on a kitchen incubator to be housed at the Metropolitan.

Some $230,000 in state funding for the project already has been received, and RDDC plans to fundraise for additional monies. The Commissary would allow entrepreneurial chefs to rent industrial kitchens for hours at a time.

The Metropolitan renovations mean more options and more housing, which in turn means a bustling city center.

“It used to be empty,” Zimmer-Meyer said of Rochester’s downtown core. “The whole dynamic is starting to change when you go outside now. You begin to see more and more people out on the streets.”

 

 2/24/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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