Rochester, N.Y. – Governor Andrew Cuomo joined local leaders on Tuesday for a brief bus tour of area economic development projects. But Mayor Tom Richards also made sure the governor got an overall sense of the Flower City.
The tour started at the Port of Rochester, where the city will construct a marina next year. The marina is an anchor of a planned waterfront village with apartments, retail and hotel.
As the bus traveled up Lake Avenue, Richards narrated the history of Rochester to the governor, explaining why the city wasn’t built along the lake, but at High Falls. “The Genesee River is one of the few rivers in the country that flows north. It created this city.”
As the bus turned into Kodak’s Eastman Business Park, Richards pointed out George Eastman’s grave to the governor. Michael Alt, the park’s director, shared some facts about the industrial complex with the governor. It was founded in 1890. It is one and a half times the size of Central Park. It’s three and a half miles long and 1,200 acres. Eastman Business Park has its own railroad, power plant and road system.
Kodak is continuously trying to attract additional tenants to the park. The company says it’s uniquely able to provide expertise in material sciences and chemicals, fields it mastered over more than a century making film.
But Kodak is in bankruptcy. It’s power plant needs $40 million in upgrades to comply with state and federal regulations. The company has been unable to find a buyer for the park. The state has assured tenants it will step in and take over the power plant if Kodak can’t keep running the park.
“We want the state to be supportive of what we’re trying to do. We hope we never need it,” said Alt.
“We understand what the park was and we understand the history of the park,” said Cuomo. “Now how do you make the park a place for the future? How do you make it a place for future businesses?”
The bus also stopped at Midtown Plaza, where the state has invested more than $50 million. The city used most of that money to tear down the former shopping mall and rebuild infrastructure. But Midtown Tower remains a hulking skeleton of steel. The city is asking for $4 million to help in the redevelopment of the tower into apartments.
Cuomo said cities across the country are struggling to revive their downtowns.
“This situation is typical actually. What’s not typical is you’re doing something about it,” said Cuomo. “Mayor Duffy used to talk to me about it when he was mayor. It’s an ambitious undertaking. It’s working and I applaud it.”
Standing where the mall once stood, Richards showed Cuomo the city skyline.
“That’s the Xerox tower. Over there is the Bausch and Lomb Tower and that’s Chase Lincoln. We still get 50,000 people downtown every day,” Richards told the governor.
“What is the occupancy in the Chase Tower?” Cuomo asked.
“Chase Tower has got a couple of empty floors,” said the mayor. “It’s been a problem with them, partly because they keep changing what they’re going to do. They move the people over there and then send them out to the Midwest somewhere. It’s tough to keep up with. Xerox has filled the tower back up.”
Cuomo also visited a medical device company in Brighton. The tour was part of his Regional Economic Development Council initiative. The Finger Lakes council has made a list of funding priorities and is pitching them to the state committee that makes awards.
“We got a chance to tell the governor up close what we’re dealing with and what our projects were,” said Richards. “If you put your money in this community, we’ll do the job.”