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At last: DRI funding will restore Clinton & Main, other blighted downtown areas

Home Leasing's plan to redevelop four blighted buildings at or near the corner of East Main Street and North Clinton Avenue will receive $4 million in state funding through the Downtown Redevelopment Initiative
Home Leasing’s plan to redevelop four blighted buildings at or near the corner of East Main Street and North Clinton Avenue will receive $4 million in state funding through the Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. (Photo by Kevin Oklobzija)

Even as Dutton Properties tackled arduous rehabilitation of long-ignored properties in the 100 block of East Main Street, the eyesore at the corner remained: a deteriorating trademark of a bygone era.

Once a bustling center of commerce, the northwest corner of East Main Street and North Clinton Avenue for two decades or more has been a collection of blighted buildings begging for either demolition or rebirth.

Gov. Kathy Hochul at Monday's news conference to announce $10 million in Downtown Redevelopment Initiative funding
Gov. Kathy Hochul announces $10 million in Downtown Redevelopment Initiative funding on Dec. 6. (Photo courtesy of New York State governor’s office)

“You go by this and it just taunts people, it tells you there was once a place where people wanted to be, and we lost the luster,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “That symbol of urban decay has been crying out for a vision for a long time.”

Which is why, regardless of how nice Dutton Properties could make the refurbished Kresge and Edwards buildings look, the architectural carnage on the corner would always devalue the neighborhood.

“Properties that don’t get redeveloped and are blighted have an impact on properties around them,” said Vincent Esposito, senior vice president for regional economic development for Empire State Development.

Enter New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Tasked with creating vibrant, walkable, economically thriving neighborhoods, the DRI is awarding state funding to cities and towns across New York to help bring their downtowns back to life.

Hochul announced on December 6 how $10 million in DRI funds would be split among five projects in the heart of downtown Rochester, with East Main and North Clinton as the cornerstone of the revitalization effort.

“Until Main and Clinton is vibrant again, Rochester won’t be fully back,” Hochul said. “This is about a vision for a part of the city where it was desperately needed.”

The projects to share funding:

  • $4 million for transformation of the four mixed-used buildings at Main and Clinton. Home Leasing is under contract to close on the purchase of the buildings by spring and begin creation of 11 workforce-rate housing units as well as four ground-level commercial spaces.
    “These are all important projects, but ours is probably the most important because it’s in the worst shape,” Home Leasing CEO Bret Garwood said.
  • $1.75 million to redevelop the Edwards Building (26-34 St. Paul St.) into 114 market-rate apartments as well as ground-floor commercial space. Dutton Properties is the developer.
  • $1.265 million to turn the Kresge Building in a 28-room boutique hotel, also by Dutton, with food and beverage establishments on the ground floor.
  • $1.385 million for development of Alta Vista by the Ibero-American Development Corp. on mostly unused parking lots between Pleasant and Franklin streets and North Clinton. The six-story, new-build would create 76 mixed-income housing units, with space reserved for survivors of domestic violence as well as the Landmark Society of Western New York.
  • $1.3 million for creation of Main Street Commons, an outdoor walkway featuring dining and libations that connects St. Paul Street to North Clinton. The goal is to divide one long “super block” into two pedestrian-friendly blocks.

“This will be transformational for our city,” Mayor Malik Evans said of the five projects.

Rochester was awarded the $10 million in DRI funding last year and was tasked with soliciting development proposals, vetting each one and then submitting its choices to the state for approval.City officials initially earmarked DRI money only for a two-block section of East Main Street, but the local planning committee expanded the development area approximately two blocks north and two blocks east. That enabled inclusion of the Ibero-American project.

“That’s why the process works,” Esposito said. “The local planning committee was able to bring forward that project. Now you have a six-story, multi-income housing unit on what otherwise has been unused surface lots.”
Home Leasing has been lining up funding for the proposed East Main/North Clinton project but needed the DRI support in order to move forward.

“This is the most important piece; this is the crucial piece,” Garwood said.

Said Esposito: “One purpose of the downtown redevelopment initiative, as Secretary of State (Robert) Rodriguez said, is to provide state support when redevelopment needs a little extra love.”

The approval of the project was a relief for the mayor and city officials, who have been embarrassed by the corner’s appearance.

“I kept saying it was an abomination, and I’m glad New York State agreed with us,” Evans said.

The refurbished building will be called The Mayflower, a tribute to the donut shop (Mayflower Doughnuts) that once graced the corner. While creation or re-creation of commercial real estate space is not Home Leasing’s forte, the building’s location makes it a necessary element, according to Garwood.

“We’re careful about how much commercial space we have but this needs to be non-residential,” Garwood said. “We’re pretty confident we will find the right tenant.”

Investing in five projects in one area at the same time ramps up the revitalization efforts, the governor said.
“This is a new era — this is a new beginning,” Hochul said. She said that with typical redevelopment, there is investment in one project.

“And every few years you can invest a few million and then you wait a few years and invest again,” she said. “Having that amount of money concentrated into one small, defined area, you can have a transformational impact. It’s going to look better at the same time. You will feel and experience the difference.”

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