City chooses high rise option for Charlotte
Brian Sharp, Staff Writer
A view of Edgewater’s proposal looking southeast toward the Genesee River and the planned new marina at the Port of Rochester.
(Photo: Artist’s rendering , Edgewater Resources)
Over vocal objections, Mayor Lovely Warren has decided to pursue a high-rise proposal at the Port of Rochester and soon will begin exclusive negotiations with the developer.
Separately, Monroe County parks officials will open bids next week on the main components of a new pumping system to clear smelly and unsightly algae blooms from the shores of Ontario Beach Park. And excavation of a new marina could begin next month.
Combined, these efforts have the potential to transform a storied city neighborhood. The question being debated now — on social media and in Charlotte gathering spots — is whether it’s for the better.
The Charlotte project poses the first true test for an administration that came into office promising greater attention to neighborhood development. Planning here has been ongoing for decades, and residents have been active and vocal throughout. The chosen developer is a Michigan-based firm with a slew of local partners
proposing a 10- to 13-story hotel and residential towers
, and offering to convert the terminal building into a multi-use retail and market-rate/affordable housing.
“A lot of the concerns that have been raised are based on a lack of information about who the developer is, what the actual plan will look like,” Spencer Ash, the city’s director of business and housing development, said Wednesday. “All that has been provided to the public are drawings, are renderings. None of this is set in stone.”
Among the first steps will be hammering out a plan to formally present the proposal to residents and get their input. But if past and present are any indication, there is no clear sense on what (if anything) residents want to see developed.
“People kind of felt that after (the last development plan) didn’t come through that it was a moot point, and there was nothing to think about,” said Michael Parker, president of the Charlotte Community Association.
People were “ambivalent” about developing a vision for the area, he said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s in our face, and people are jumping to conclusions and, I think, overreacting. We need to bring them back and talk about the process, and work on developing the vision, and making sure the city and developers hear this.”
In other words: This is part of a process, and the real discussion begins now. Concerns have focused on parking, the intensity of development, sight lines, the viability of the marina, housing types and marketability.
Residents “are passionate, they are active. We love that,” Ash said, while noting the number of studies, working groups and meetings that have preceded this moment. “One thing to remember, and hopefully through dialogue we can articulate … we love Charlotte as well.”
The port proposal is for 2.8 acres fronting Lake Avenue near Ontario Beach Park. This is the first parcel offered for private development and closely mirrors a request for qualifications the city sent out last fall.
Waterfront Rochester, Edgewater Resources’ $77 million proposal, promises a 96-room “resort hotel” with a restaurant, pool, conference facilities and other amenities, roughly 120 condominiums, 50 townhouses, a plaza area and use of the terminal building for retail and market-rate as well as affordable housing. For-sale units would list between $350,000 and $1.2 million, the proposal shows.
City officials envisioned high-density, preferably owner-occupied housing, possibly a hotel and a mix of retail and office space. That would complement the $16.5 million first phase of construction underway to create an 85-slip deep-draft marina basin west of the terminal building.
Public investment — a mix of federal, state and city funds — is placed at $20 million. Private investment should drive the project going forward, with a possible marina expansion to 157 slips and total development ultimately resulting in between 280 and 430 housing units. Officials want private development to begin as the marina opens in 2015.
The county, meanwhile, working with a $400,000 state grant, recently secured all needed permits to install a pumping system at the Charlotte pier aimed at removing algae that made the waterfront unwelcoming to sight and smell.
Plans are to install the seasonal pump near the water line, cutting through the pier with a pipe sleeve through which the pump would push algae-laden water into the Genesee River to be flushed out into Lake Ontario. The exact timing on installation will depend on the lead time needed to deliver the pumping equipment. That will be known when bids are opened Tuesday, said Dave Rinaldo, the county’s deputy parks director.
“We are proceeding as quickly as we can, but we are relying on vendors,” he said.
The county will seek construction bids in the next couple of weeks and issue a purchase order for a new “loader,” a piece of equipment driven along the beach with a blade extended into the water, creating a wave that will push the algae toward the pump. The goal is to have the system operational this summer. The biggest algae blooms are typically in mid-July and early August.
Back to the development: Ash said once an agreement is reached, the negotiation period (to include public input) should last about eight months.
His letter informing the competing development team of CEA International and Morgan Management that their proposal was not selected was posted Tuesday on the Port of Charlotte Merchants Association Facebook page. CEA President and CEO Lou Giardino wrote a comment, apologizing “for being unable to convince the City of Rochester that our vision for Charlotte was your vision.”
Ash spoke highly of that CEA/Morgan team but said the Edgewater team was “very strong” and came armed with market research, a track record in Rust Belt cities with similar challenges as Rochester, and a realistic, phased and flexible approach. He noted that among Edgewater’s partners are Rochester firms like Edgemere Development and LaBella Associates.
“What I would like to happen as an initial matter is that we engage in dialogue, and Edgemere and Edgewater are able to give their presentation in a way that is constructive,” Ash said, “and people can see what the vision is.”