Pittsford, N.Y. - In 2008, word of St. John Fisher College’s interest in opening a law school in Downtown Rochester was big news.
The closest law school to Rochester was in Buffalo, Syracuse, or Ithaca depending on your direction of travel.
Many saw the plan as a possible boon to downtown’s economy at a time when the community weighed the future of Renaissance Square, Midtown Plaza, and other urban center locations.
Four years later the idea, excitement, and plans appear to be distant memories.
At the 11th annual Justinian Luncheon for Fisher grads professionally involved in the legal field, 13WHAM News asked the event's keynote speaker, Mayor Tom Richards and St. John Fisher College's President Dr. Donald Bain what happened to the plans.
"I think it was more a matter of the decision that given the strategic plan of the college, our vision of what it should be, we had other priorities," Dr. Bain said. "I think that was the main thing."
The economic downturn of 2008-2009 had a big effect on the availability of government and private financing according to Dr. Bain. While he said he would never like to rule out anything permanently, the college has found different ways to invest its resources.
"We had thought about it at one point but we just found that other programs and projects that (sic) frankly we believe were more important to the college and also more important to our students especially," Dr. Bain said.
Sen. Joseph Robach was among those leading the charge for state funding on this project. In the 2008 budget cycle, $2.25 million was secured. The money was then re-diverted to the college’s nursing program with approval from state leaders.
Mayor Richards, a lawyer himself, said he read a report the college put together on the concept and while he would love a law school in Downtown Rochester he understands this doesn’t appear to be the project that will bring one.
"I think what they (Fisher) found in the study, because I actually read it, the work that they did, is they would have to find a way to have something about the law school that was unique," Mayor Richards said. "So you weren't just another law school because the other was 60 miles away or 90 miles away. I don't think that's enough."
Paul Vacca, a criminal defense lawyer whose family has extensive ties to St. John Fisher College, said he understands there are mixed feelings in the legal community when it comes to the idea of a downtown law school.
"I'm a little bit biased, I think St. John Fisher should have the law school," Vacca said. "Number one, I think it's an asset to the community, and number two, everybody says, 'Well there's a glut of lawyers.' I don't think there is a glut of lawyers. I think the legal business grows."