Andrew Gallina does not expect the Metropolitan to fade into the background.
Rather, he expects the towering building in the center city to serve as a prominent part of the Rochester skyline.
“It’s going to be a game changer down here,” said Gallina, president of Gallina Development Corp.
The firm is the owner and developer of the Metropolitan, a $35.2 million mixed-use commercial and residential project. It was formerly called the Chase Building. Gallina acquired the property in March, 2015 for nearly $5.4 million.
Gallina Development ranked fifth on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of real estate developers, ranked by total local, nonresidential square footage. The firm owns and manages roughly 2.5 million square feet of office and warehouse space throughout Monroe County.
Gallina also owns One East Avenue, Panorama Landing Business Park and Towers Airport Business Park on Scottsville Road in Chili.
Gallina and his daughter, Lauren Gallina, the firm’s marketing director, recently sat down with the Rochester Business Journal to talk about the Metropolitan’s transformation and their hopes for growing downtown. An edited transcript follows:
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: What do you think of the project so far?
ANDREW GALLINA: It’s been a challenging and complex project. The new entrance is the biggest component, which finally is coming together; and we’re in the final stages of the construction. That’s very exciting, and it’s even bigger and more dominant than what we anticipated on paper. So, I think it’s going to be wonderful.
We have four or five distinct projects going on in the building at any one time. The entranceway is one big component. We’re also under renovations in the lobby. There’s new tile, a painted ceiling and we have removed the bridge to the old Midtown skyway. There’s a new security desk, elevator renovations for all eight elevators, a digital directory and we are in discussions to place a restaurant in the plaza level.
We are converting (some) floors from office to residential, market-rate apartments. Our first tenants should take occupancy April 1. We get calls every day and have a lot of interest; I think they’ll all go.
Floors 16 to 21 will have apartments and the initial plan is for condominiums on floors 22 to 26. Floors three to 15 will be office.
We are shooting for a lot of the work to be done this spring, early summer, with the front entrance loop and lobby done by then. The restaurant could open in May.
RBJ: What’s your favorite part of the project?
ANDREW GALLINA: What really grabs me is the front entrance. It’s quite a complicated arch, because it’s not only an arch; it hangs out and covers the driveway. It’s a complicated structure to build. When I saw it, I said that’s cool, let’s do that.
We worked with Hanlon (Architects P.C.) and others, and there were many variations of the design from a simple entrance to a little more elaborate to this, which is pretty much over the top. This makes a statement for the building. It’s not just an entrance; it provides a feeling as to what we’re trying to accomplish.
When we purchased the building, there was a big bridge here. We called it the bridge to nowhere because it was cut off. It wasn’t functional; it couldn’t be utilized, so we demolished that. We took it down, at no small expense, and opened up space with visions of creating a central area that would be a focal point.
We designed a new bridge at grade level. Now as you enter from the new drive-up loop, you walk across this new subtly lighted bridge to the security desk, to the elevators and to the restaurant and sitting areas.
RBJ: Talk about some of the challenges associated with this project.
ANDREW GALLINA: I think our real challenge is the full design and engineering component. As I mentioned, it’s a very complicated arch design. We didn’t just fill in the moat around the building; we actually had to build a bridge so the driving surface was actually a bridge made out of structural steel. It’s really a unique design and challenging, from not only concept and engineering, but also from the contractors and constructability. It presented problems every step of the way.
LAUREN GALLINA: I think the other challenging part is that we’re totally changing the functionality of the building. So we’re going from a strictly commercial building to a mixed-use building and thinking about things that didn’t exist before. Things like a trash chute that goes through the entire building, a mailroom for tenants to receive packages and mail, a fitness center as an amenity space, bike storage—so things that didn’t exist here before. We really tried to modernize it in that way to have the experience of a true mixed use building.
RBJ: What demographic has been inquiring about the residential units?
LAUREN GALLINA: A lot of young professionals, a lot of empty nesters. It will become clearer as the leasing process moves forward. We’ve had newly divorced people, people with alternative lifestyles, show interest.
There’s a real desire to be in the heart of what’s happening, and there is a new energy down here. You feel it with some of the projects going on here; with Tower280 across the street, and the new workforce (downtown). There’s new energy happening, and I think people really want to be a part of that. I am also getting calls about condos. They are still a ways out, but I think people really have an interest in homeownership in the heart of downtown, which isn’t something that’s available right now.
RBJ: Why do you think there’s such an interest in homeownership downtown?
LAUREN GALLINA: There’s a sense of pride associated with homeownership; a sense of belonging when you have a non-transient population investing their own money and stake in the ground, staying a long time, thinking about their future in that space. So it’s different than a rental unit, where you’re signing a lease year to year.
RBJ: You’ve traditionally developed properties outside of the city. But over the past few years, you’ve been making more of an investment downtown. Why now?
ANDREW GALLINA: I’ve been a city resident for 40 years. And I’ve always had an interest in our downtown corridor and what’s happening and how it’s coming back. For so many years (there has been) the lack of vibrancy. We talked about managing decline for years and years, and we’re finally at a tipping point at trying to manage growth, which is a difficult concept when you haven’t been there before. So it’s a very different dynamic, and the conversation is different. So just thinking in the future, I jumped in at One East Avenue. (Bank of America N.A.) wanted out of the real estate component, and I thought it was a good opportunity.
Then JPMorgan (Chase & Co.) wanted to divest its real estate portfolio too (at the Chase building). They wanted to focus on banking operations, so once we started getting closer, we started to say we have to be ready, we have to develop a vision.
We saw it as a great opportunity to mix it up a little bit and really rebrand this building. This was a classic (example) in managing decline. The bank was not leasing space, not investing money, was not trying to take care of the building, they were just status quo. So there’s new life, energy and investment in the building.
LAUREN GALLINA: This building is so iconic. It’s recognizable. You see it from most parts of city, and it’s exciting that we are able to put our footprint on something that’s been such an institution in the heart of downtown for so long.
Especially as a multigenerational company, we’re happy to be doing it together.
ANDREW GALLINA: Lauren, Robby and Evan (Gallina’s adult children) all work in the business, and it’s really important to get the next generation involved in leadership and the direction of the city.
I keep talking about creativity. You’ve got to be creative. We can’t rebuild the city the way it was; we need to raise the bar. We’re raising the bar here. We see that and try to push everybody to push the limits.
RBJ: There have been a number of mixed-use projects either recently developed or proposed downtown. Do you worry there are too many units to fill?
ANDREW GALLINA: With the projects in line now, I don’t think any planned now would have trouble being leased; I really don’t. The vacancy for market rate housing is very low right now. More product is coming online, but there continues to be a demand.
We have a list of well over 200 people who have interest, so I don’t think we’ll have trouble leasing our initial 28 units. As we go along, we’re trying to react to the market, and we’ll do that, but I think we’re OK for a while. I think our city is going to be OK for a while.
LAUREN GALLINA: But that’s also why we kept some of the building commercial. We want that flexibility of who we are able to accommodate in the space.
People are taking notice that this is a different type of project. It’s exciting, and there is an interest and support around it. We feel embraced by everyone in terms of the positive comments and energy that have been thrown our way for doing something of this scale.
RBJ: What impact do you think the Metropolitan will have on downtown development?
ANDREW GALLINA: If you look at Datto (Inc., which is expanding in the Metropolitan), why that deal is so important is because it paves the way for other high-tech companies, and other millennials, that demographic of workforce coming downtown. Hopefully that will attract others to follow suit, and that continues to be my hope.
Because that’s what drives a city; people living and working downtown. And we’re doing a pretty good job of attracting the residential side, from a rental standpoint. Office occupancy is 24 percent, which is dismal, and we need to fill up some space to get this momentum going again, so the next sector focused on is condos.
Homeownership is almost nonexistent in the Inner Loop, at less than 4 percent, so that mix of residence is very important in a vibrant city, and we just don’t have that yet. We hope it’s coming.
RBJ: Why did you throw your hat in the ring for Parcel 5, the 1.1-acre, shovel-ready city-owned site where Midtown Plaza once stood?
ANDREW GALLINA: Where that started was simply a conversation as to what our vision would be. What would be the highest and best use of Parcel 5? Where we started was a community solution.
We have four components to that project. We’re maintaining a very sizable portion for green space, for a park. We plan to develop a two-story underground parking garage, because we have parking challenges in this downtown area. We’re addressing some of the retail and commercial space, so we can really energize Main Street in terms of retail development. Then the fourth is for-sale condos, once again addressing that need for homeownership within the Inner Loop.
It wasn’t just our project. It was about what do you think would be the best, and that’s why we really focused with that project on presenting what we thought was the best option.
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