Joel Barrett was well into a career in public accounting when he realized it made more sense to apply his financial skills to his own endeavors.
For 15 years, he had spent his working hours deciphering tax law, analyzing spread sheets and finding incentives and grant money for real estate developers.
Life was good, too. As a member of the accounting and consulting team at Deliotte, those duties took him across the globe, from the United Kingdom to China, from Australia to Japan.
But then one day Barrett decided it was time for a change. So he left the world of public accounting and entered the realm of real estate and construction.
“My friends were saying, ‘Why would you want to do that? You had a good job,’ ” Barrett said.
Seven years later, he still has a good job. Barrett is putting the finishing touches on rehabilitation of what was Irving Place, the 150-year-old building that once housed City Hall and has been rebranded as The Rockford. The official christening takes place next week.
Built with a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles, the five-story landmark at 30 West Broad St. in downtown Rochester is now home to 30 residential units and 12 to 15 commercial spaces, depending how they’re divided.
The hallways and floors have been refurbished. The windows and roof have been replaced. No two apartments are the same in design, and all feature expansive ceilings, real wood floors, marble countertops and hints of the staples 19th century architecture, such as brick barrel vault ceilings and ornamental plaster.
The total cost to re-create the building: right around $12 million, Barrett said.
“More or less I was dumb enough to do it,” Barrett said. “Without the accounting background, I would never have been able to do it.”
That’s because he knew how to find the available financial incentives through various sources, such as historic tax credits, the commercial urban exemption program, and other federal and state programs. That the property sits in a designated opportunity zone also was advantageous for the primary investor, MAMCO4 LLC.
And that’s why the shift from a job in accounting to real estate developer wasn’t all that radical.
“It’s understanding the rules and following the rules,” said the 44-year-old Barrett, who grew up in Irondequoit and lives in Brighton. “People say historic buildings are difficult to deal with; I’m used to the regulations and having to interpret and follow them.
“And I’ve been putting together financial packages and looking at leases, revenue and pricing out construction. Going through a building, seeing equipment that’s not being used and asking, ‘Do we have to take it out of service (for tax purposes)?’ ”
Barrett is a partner in two entities: Bace Build, a construction management, general contracting and building firm, and 43 North Real Estate, a development firm.
His first real estate venture was rehab of a 2,500-square-foot duplex in the North Winton Village neighborhood in 2016. Then he created six apartments in a 5,000-square-foot property in Corn Hill a year later.
In 2019 The Banks of Roseland West in Fairport opened. The 25,000-square-foot community has 23 apartments.
Around the same time, he was approached by an investor who was ready to put an Opportunity Zone Fund to work. Barrett knew the 60,000 square feet of Irving Place was available and the plan was set in motion. They took title on Dec. 21, 2019, and, following a pandemic interruption, launched construction in December of 2021.
Considering the age of the building, Barrett knew there would be surprises. It’s all part of adaptive reuse.
“The windows were rotting, the masonry was crumbling, the HVAC wasn’t working properly and the roof had never been replaced,” he said. “And you can’t patch a 150-year-old roof.”
That the original roof was still in place is a testament to construction practices in the 19th century.
“It’s a testament to duct tape, actually,” Barrett said.
Thus, the building now has a new roof, along with $250,000 worth of structural steel enhancements and $349,000 in elevator equipment.
The bell tower with the bell – made in the mid-1800s – is still in place atop the building and still rings.
The lower level will have a pool table, fitness room and other tenant amenities. The restaurant space, once occupied by Christopher’s Restaurant and Custom Catering, may become a mix of co-work, coffeehouse and cocktails. Barrett said he hasn’t finalized a plan quite yet.
9×30 Design of Rochester was the architect, Bero Architecture was responsible for historic elements and Veolette Design handled the interior look.
Barrett settled on the name The Rockford for several reasons. He said the old wallpaper in Christopher’s reminded him of London pubs, and since the exterior limestone masonry and architecture of the building provides a bit of a castle look, he wanted a rock-based theme to the name.
“And I wanted to make it sound more exclusive, more sophisticated,” Barrett said.
While there were challenges at every turn, Barrett certainly takes pride in the finished product.
“But projects like this are only wins as long as their rented,” he said. “This will be a sliver of my life that will be forgotten. The developer doesn’t live on. The building’s going to out-live me. Real estate outlives all of us.”
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