Rochester, N.Y.— On Tuesday night, the Monroe County legislature voted to approve the $3 million dollar purchase of several buildings at the Kodak complex.
This allows for Monroe Community College to move its downtown Damon City Campus from the Sibley building to the Kodak complex on State Street.
The vote passed 19 to 9 in the Republican-majority legislature. All the legislators voted along party lines.
This vote comes as Winn Development, the new owners of the Sibley building, made a last-ditch effort to try and convince leaders to keep MCC at Sibley. Over the last few weeks, Winn and Rochester’s mayor, Tom Richards, have been outspoken about the fact that they believe staying at Sibley would save taxpayers money.
The cost to renovate the Kodak building into space that can be used for a college campus is estimated to cost $72 million. Winn says its plan to renovate the existing campus at Sibley would cost $57 million.
MCC has been clear from early on that the school wants to move into Kodak. On Tuesday night, MCC President Anne Kress expressed relief that the legislature voted in the college’s favor.
“I'm so thankful for everyone who supported us,” she said after the vote. “I understand a lot of the questions that are out there and I think what we have now is the opportunity to convince everyone that this was the best decision and we really can fulfill MCC's vision at the Kodak properties."
For nearly two hours before the vote, there was plenty of heated discussion and back-and-forth as legislators took turns asking Kress questions about the Kodak site.
Many critics have expressed concern over the fact that the Kodak property is larger than necessary for MCC’s downtown campus. Questions arose regarding costs of maintenance and utilities for the unused space. Kress says those costs would amount to $100,000 a year.
Democratic legislators tried to press Kress more on the issues of funding for a campus at Kodak. As it stands now, only half of the $72 million needed for the project is secured. The Democrats also attempted to pass an amendment stating that the vote should wait until the full $36 million in funding needed from the state is first approved by the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
This amendment was struck down 19 to 9 with all the legislators voting along party lines.
Kress says it’s not unusual that the project is not fully funded at this time.
“The fact that we don't have 100 % of the money from SUNY today really is not anything MCC has ever had for any project,” she explained. “It's not new with this particular project.”
With many of her questions ruled out of order, Democratic legislator Carrie Andrews expressed concerns about voting on the purchase. She stated that the vote felt rushed and asked for more time to compare both the Kodak plan and the Sibley plan. A call to table the vote until a later time was rejected by a 19 to 9 majority.
Winn Development Vice President Joseph Eddy was also at Tuesday’s legislative meeting. He says he is disappointed by the vote but indicated his company isn’t giving up hope of keeping MCC at Sibley quite yet.
“This is still a long process,” Eddy said. “The state is going to want to look at our proposal; $18 million in savings is a lot of money for the state. We're still going to be talking about the $18 million of savings because I think that's important to the taxpayers and until [the county] buys the site, there is opportunity and our proposal is still out there.”
Kress says that that MCC’s board did look at both plans and claims that Winn Development’s proposal would save $18 million were not realistic.
"It just didn't hold water,” she said. “In the end, we think in the long term and [moving to Kodak] is the best possible proposal and fiscally responsible."
On Tuesday night after the vote, Mayor Richards released this statement:
“It is unfortunate that the Republican caucus of the Monroe County Legislature opted not to take the time to adequately study and address the myriad of questions surrounding the purchase and the operation of the old Kodak site for use by MCC (...) The hard part to understand is that there is no rush needed here. MCC has a new five-year lease at Sibley and there is no one beating a path to purchase the Kodak site. The public did not get a chance to participate in this decision and I fear taxpayers will be left to pay a bill they can ill afford.”