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What’s next for MCC’s campus move?

Questions about operating costs, other details yet to be answered

By: Mike Murphy//February 13, 2013

What’s next for MCC’s campus move?

Questions about operating costs, other details yet to be answered

By: Mike Murphy//February 13, 2013//

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The Monroe County Legislature approved the purchase of Eastman Kodak Co. property on State Street, clearing the way for a new Monroe Community College campus in High Falls. The county administration and MCC President Anne Kress were questioned on operating costs, utilities and state funding. Mike Murphy

Monroe Community College has been looking to move from its “temporary” downtown home at the Sibley Building for 20 years, and three years since a search was renewed in earnest.

Now, assuming no major snags in negotiations and funding, the Damon City College campus will be open for business on State Street by the spring 2017 semester. The move is expected to begin in fall 2016, after a five-year lease at its current home expires.

The latest development has college President Anne Kress feeling “delighted.”

By a 19-9 party-line vote Feb. 12, legislators OK’d the just less than $3 million purchase of parking and office space from Eastman Kodak Co., effectively clearing the way for the move, as well as a room to expand.

“What’s next is coming to terms with Kodak,” Kress said.

That’s a big “what’s next” for Democrats, who pressed the county administration and Kress with questions and concerns about operating costs, including the $100,000 estimated annual cost on the 300,000 square feet of vacant space, utilities and the certainty of state funding.

MCC is counting on the state to spring for about half of the project’s estimated $72 million cost, which Kress said is likely to come through, although Democrats countered that in this economic climate, funding is no sure thing.

Anne M. Kress

Many questions were unanswered, some of which were explained as being subject to negotiations with Kodak or, in the case of bus transportation of students to the site, with the Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority.

Although Minority Leader Carrie M. Andrews, D-Rochester, said she wants to see MCC succeed, not having those answers, or not being willing to discuss a less expensive counter-proposal from the owner of the Sibley Building, was shocking and disappointing.

“There’s absolutely no rush to enter into an agreement,” Andrews said, citing the renewed lease for Sibley.

A proposal offered by Democrats to delay a vote for two months was shot down in a party-line vote.

Legislator John Howland, R-Henrietta, said nothing would ever get down by waiting for answers to all the “what ifs.”

“Sometimes, you have to get into it and get the job done,” Howland said.

Mayor Thomas S. Richards, who wants MCC to stay at the Sibley Building, said he was disappointed the GOP caucus did not take the time to study the Winn proposal.

That $58 million addresses MCC’s needs, and includes more parking and room to expand.

Beyond the immediate purchasing and renovation issues, Richards faulted the lack of a plan addressing operating costs at State Street, and if those costs will be passed on to city residents in the form of charge-back fees.

The details of how the college will operate a heating and cooling plant that is part of the purchase also are unclear, Richards said.

“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,” Richards said.

More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, including a representative of Sibley Building owner WinnDevelopment. Company officials had urged legislators to review a proposal to allow the college to stay.

Gilbert Winn

Afterward, Gilbert Winn, managing principal of the company, said in a statement he was disappointed in the outcome and was hopeful answers will come as the process moves along. The company’s plan for the Sibley Building, which includes a new Rochester Police Department station, first phase of housing, a dedicated office lobby, new escalators, retail lobby and streetscape improvements, will continue, Winn said.

“Although the county’s decision makes it harder for us to redevelop the Sibley Building, we are a company that keeps its promise,” Winn said. “To save this iconic building, we will need continued partnership from the city and the many other community organizations working hard to revitalize downtown.”

Several supporters of the move, who wore “Time to Move” pins, spoke of the need to move to benefit students and staff as well as community.

Kress said price and future growth were among the many reasons why the Kodak site rose to the top.

“It’s worth saying we felt welcomed by the High Falls neighborhood,” Kress said.

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