(Rochester, N.Y.) – Matt and Ted Wood bought an eyesore in the shadow of Midtown Plaza on the same day PAETEC announced it would build its world headquarters at Midtown.
“We looked at the building a year ago, but now that Midtown has made its announcement, it's just even more exciting for us,” Matt Wood said.
“There's a lot going on around here and we want to be part of it,” Ted Wood added.
The Woods plan to spend up to $8 million to renovate the Chestnut St. building and put in high-end condominiums.
The city is gambling there will be a lot more developers lining up now that Midtown will be demolished. Taxpayers are in on the bet, with more than $78 million in state and city money pledged to the project so far.
“It's certainly going to be a very expensive project, but one I think in the long run is for the betterment of the entire community,” said Sandy Parker of the Rochester Business Alliance.
Parker believes developers will jump on board. The city will need them, as PAETEC is taking up only a third to a half of the site.
The project’s supporters say developers have expressed interest in the Midtown site for years, but the cost to rehabilitate or demolish the structures were prohibitive. With the state picking up the tab for demolition, including asbestos abatement, many believe developers will flock to the block.
Demolition is expected in early 2009.
However, key questions remain about the Midtown project:
• What will be built on the site in addition to PAETEC?
• Will additional streets and infrastructure be needed?
• What happens to the Skyway system, which has Midtown as its hub and could cost millions to reconnect to new buildings?
• How much will developing the entire site cost taxpayers?
“You're going to tear the place down, and you're going to end up with a big whole in the ground, a big empty space?” said former Mayor William Johnson, “I think not, which means once again, the city is going to have to step in and fill the void.”
Johnson, who saw millions more tax dollars than anticipated sucked into the fast ferry project, believes Midtown will need a lot more in public money than has already been allocated.
Heidi Zimmer-Meyer of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation believes the worst-case scenario for the project is if the national economy begins to affect the local economy. If that happens, it could take a lot longer to fill up the block, but she believes it will eventually happen.
“I don't see the risk, because we've been dealing with too many developers that would have done developments there, but for the impediments,” she said.
“It's wonderful for us to try to solve a longstanding problem like Midtown mall, but we ought to be able to solve it with some hard answers, rather than speculation, rather than just saying, we hope and pray everything turns out okay,” said Johnson.
Parker asks perhaps the biggest question of all.
“What if we don't do anything? What's going to happen?” she said. “Accolades to the city for taking on a big ‘what if.’”