It was at a 2019 meeting on economic development when Rob Sands, then CEO of Constellation Brands, asked Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren what he could do to help the city.
Considering the company’s stature as a Fortune 500 company, he certainly had the wherewithal to provide financial backing for projects and perhaps prod others to do the same. He most certainly could play ambassador.
Warren was blunt.
“The best way is to move your corporate headquarters to downtown,” she told him.
Two years later, Victor-based Constellation Brands is doing just that. The world’s third-largest beer company will invest $80 million in the sprawling, seven-building Aqueduct campus that sits along Broad Street and the west bank of the Genesee River to create a new home for around 340 employees.
“I believe this is the day we’ll look back at and say, ‘This was when we realized the comeback of Rochester is real,’ ” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference at the Aqueduct Building.
The state will provide $4 million through the Excelsior Jobs Tax Credit program in exchange for job creation commitments.
Another $5 million in state money will be directed to the city for work on Aqueduct Reimagined, a project that will strip off the roadway of the Broad Street bridge and expose the original aqueduct framework constructed in 1836. The project is the cornerstone of ROC the Riverway and work is expected to begin later in 2022.
“We’re investing in development of what will be the centerpiece of downtown,” Hochul said, saying the rebirth of Buffalo sparked by Canalside is proof of the power of waterfront projects.
Constellation will maintain a presence in Ontario County, with up to 200 employees working in Canandaigua. That facility current houses the firm’s finance, IT, facilities, transportation, and insights & analytics departments.
“We’re creating a modernization program in a building that dates back to the 1880s and will have over 500 jobs in the Rochester area,” Constellation President and CEO Bill Newlands said.
The Rochester headquarters is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2024.
“You could have gone anywhere in the world, you’re a Fortune 500 company, and you chose here,” said Robert Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. “And with Constellation, what they do, it’s world-class.”
Sands was an investor with developers Peter Landers and Jim Costanza in purchase of the Aqueduct campus for $4.7 in March 2020. They had planned to create a diverse, multi-use campus that they believed would become the gateway to development on the west side of the Genesee.
Those plans changed and now the complex will become Constellation headquarters, but there’s still a belief that the project will spark growth in the area.
Duffy pointed to the decision of ESL Federal Credit Union to build its new headquarters at 225 Chestnut St., all of maybe seven blocks away on the east side of the river.
“That seed sprouted a beautiful garden,” Duffy said, “and what Constellation is doing, you’re going to see that growth here.”
Said Newlands: “A move to downtown Rochester provides opportunity to recruit and attract from a broad and diverse talent pool from the region that will help us achieve our long-term business ambitions, while also contributing to the positive momentum and vibrancy growing in the city today. We look forward to continuing to foster the economic development and job creation in Rochester for years to come.”
Warren said planting the Constellation flag in the heart of downtown will forever be considered a milestone for Rochester. She said every generation needs a champion and referenced Joseph C. Wilson, Henry Lomb, John Jacob Bausch and George Eastman.
“Today it’s Rob Sands and the Constellation family,” Warren said.
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