Provide an update on downtown Rochester as officials consider its future; the public forum is Thursday

The future of the city center and its financing are at the center of the debate on the creation of a special tax district for the city center.

But what is the state of the city center today?

“I would say it’s a nuanced conversation.” said Jaymes Keenan, partner at real estate and investment services firm CBRE | Rochester.

A healthy downtown doesn’t just matter to those who live, work or invest downtown. Officials say it plays a unique role in the regional economy, identity and growth.

But the momentum of downtown revival that was evident before the pandemic has taken a hit.

Rochester downtown skyline.

Work on public spaces along the river continues, as do plans to repurpose empty office towers and other buildings for apartments. Construction of the new Constellation Brands headquarters on Broad Street also continues.

Still, there are a number of vacant storefronts – on Main Street and in new developments along the old inner loop on the east side of downtown.

Keenan focuses on retail, and he said that over the past decade, the story of downtown Rochester has been positive. The growth has mainly been in restaurant businesses, he said, citing restaurants like Branca Midtown and Native, and whatever has been done in Sibley Square.

City Council is hosting a public forum on a downtown business improvement district project Thursday at City Hall, 30 Church Street. The forum is scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m. [email protected] or by calling (585) 428-7538, providing their first and last name, phone number and address.

“But with all of this,” he continued, “I don’t think retail has developed to the level that many of us might have expected or expected it to either given the number of residential units we now have in operation downtown.”

Trade follows the rooftops, that’s the theory. And downtown was apparently approaching the critical mass of people needed for things to snowball and for retailers to step in when the pandemic hit, Keenan said.

This leaves an office space. And that’s another nuanced conversation.

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Keenan’s colleague at CBRE, Alex Amorese, said the downtown office market has held steady for years, with the vacancy rate hovering around 16%. It’s just a bit higher than the metropolitan area. Most employers have figured out their return-to-office, hybrid or remote work plan. So what we’re seeing, in terms of foot traffic, that’s probably the case at the moment.

“I don’t think you’re going to see major changes, dramatically, until we start to see these leases run out,” Amorese said, “and decisions are made (on) what these users will do.”

Rochester downtown skyline with Kodak building in the background.

There is reason to be optimistic.

Amorese points to new or expanded offices – whether accounting firm RDG and Partners taking over the former Hart’s Groceries space in the East End. Or recruitment and staffing agency FTS occupying vacant space on the third floor of the Democrat and Chronicle and Windstream building on East Main Street.

And stay tuned, he said – there’s more to come.

In Depth: Clash Over a Downtown Business Improvement District

Melvin B. Baillie