Rochester, N.Y. – Two days after learning a key piece of a plan to revitalize downtown Rochester may not happen, Mayor Tom Richards said he’s not angry.
“I understand how people feel. It’s a perfectly human reaction to this set of circumstances, but that’s not my job,” Richards said. “If people want me to be a good mayor here and focus on what’s important to Rochester, what they want me to be doing is paying attention to this situation and correcting it.”
“Correcting it” means first, trying to convince PAETEC’s buyer, Windstream, to move forward with plans to build at Midtown Plaza. Richards has been playing phone tag with the Little Rock, Arkansas, CEO.
If that doesn’t work, Richards will have to market the Midtown site to others, an effort already under way for the other parcels. The city is spending $101 million tax dollars to tear down Midtown Plaza and rebuild infrastructure.
“We’ve assessed where we are. Where we are is - even if PAETEC doesn’t come downtown - we’re way ahead,” he said.
As for the nondisclosure agreement PAETEC signed with Windstream in 2009, indicating sale talks began even as the city was negotiating with PAETEC, Richards said, “What was going on in 2009 and how that eventually led to what happened, I’m not familiar with. You’ll have to ask PAETEC.”
PAETEC CEO Arunas Chesonis has declined interview requests from 13WHAM News this week.
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said the public is right to question why the Midtown/PAETEC deal might be falling apart, but she’s more concerned about PAETEC’s 875 jobs.
“It’s not a question of are they going to be in Perinton or in downtown Rochester,” Brooks said. “It’s a question of are they going to be in Monroe County at all.”
PAETEC signed a land disposition agreement in 2010, likened to a contract to buy a house. State Senator Joe Robach was at the public signing ceremony at City Hall, at which Chesonis, Richards and then-Mayor Bob Duffy said the headquarters deal was done.
‘The impression was always given that there was a concrete deal, only to find out months months and months later that really was nothing the city had in writing to really confirm that,” said Robach.
PAETEC can likely walk away from the Midtown deal without any financial penalties. The city and PAETEC never exchanged land or money, even though extensive financial benefits were promised to the company. Richards said the deal was structured so that the company didn’t receive any money until construction started, in part because the city was mindful the company could be sold.
“No I didn’t see it coming, but I knew it was a possibility,” Richards said. "This isn't a situation...where a lot of the city's money sailed out the St. Lawrence Seaway."