Since its official unveiling last January, UR’s ambitious College Town plans have progressed at a tentative pace, facing many obstacles and receiving hesitant support.
But by several measures, plans for the College Town — which entails construction of 500,000 square feet of retail space including restaurants, a hotel, apartments and a transit center on a 16-acre parcel of land adjacent to Mt. Hope Avenue — seem to finally be moving forward.
UR has not, however, given the final go-ahead for the project, whose price tag has risen to nearly $140 million — almost double the original estimate.
“It’s a very complex project,” Adam Branscomb, project manager of Fairmount Properties, said in a phone interview. “But given all the stakeholder cooperation, I’d say it’s progressing very well.”
Fairmount Properties, a Cleveland-based real estate development firm, was hired by UR for the project and has joined with Gilban Development Company based in Providence, R.I. to form a conglomerate company — College Town Rochester, LCC — that will run the entire College Town project.
Branscomb said plans have been stymied because of the challenge of “synthesizing a lot of different players into the plan that UR has outlined.”
UR’s senior vice president for administration and finance Ronald Paprocki agreed that the challenge lies in the “inherent complexity of a project involving multiple outside players and having many moving parts that all come together.”
Paprocki, however, said he is “very pleased” with the progress made so far, despite the fact that construction is not estimated to commence until November 2012, instead of the original date of the first quarter of 2012.
“We have seen no show stoppers so far, but UR will give the final go ahead when all the relevant pieces are in place,” he said.
Paprocki said he envisions the College Town as somewhat of a destination spot for students and community members and hopes that the various types of restaurants will expand dining opportunities, while other retail tenants will enhance the neighborhood climate.
“Outdoor gathering spaces and special events like concerts, art shows and outdoor markets are part of the thinking,” he said.
UR is negotiating with a hotel to build a five-story structure that will also include conference space. Paprocki also said that it is “very likely” that plans for a Barnes & Noble store will come to fruition, as UR has “reached an overall agreement” and is now working on contract details.
Other definitive aspects of the College Town include a Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority (RGRTA) transit center, which supporters of the project have claimed would increase the use of mass transit. Currently, on an average weekday about 1,300 passengers use RGRTA buses to get to the UR Medical Center and the River Campus.
There is the potential for a YMCA of Greater Rochester facility up to 75,000 square feet and also the possibility for a second parking structure up to three stories high to accomodate College Town crowds.
Paprocki said that the brewing controversy in the neighborhood over the city of Rochester’s independent expansion plans have no bearing on UR’s College Town plans.
“The University’s and the city’s plans are totally in agreement,” he said.
The city has recently encountered problems with the McDonald’s on Mt. Hope Avenue, which cancelled its plans to rebuild the entire store this November after the community expressed anger at the proposed hours of the drive-through.
Although the city itself has no building plans on Mt. Hope Avenue, it has planned a $10 million construction project to improve the avenue by widening it and making it more pedestrian friendly — a project that is scheduled to begin in March 2012 and has been cited as a potential tool to ameliorate anticipated traffic problems.
The city of Rochester has purchased property from 30 different owners for this project and is currently involved in negotiations to buy property from the Hess gas station on the corner of Mt. Hope Avenue and Crittenden Boulevard.
Paprocki is overwhelmingly optimistic about the project despite these uncertainties and other delays.
“We are working with the developers and other parties on a daily basis,” he said. “I am very pleased with the progress that has been made to date.”
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.