The Sibley Building Shame

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Sibley Building is the poster child for bad development in Rochester. In 1992, it seemed like a great idea to help Wilmorite renovate the Sibley Building. Here was a deep pocket company with experience in retail spaces taking on a very challenging project, which was going to revitalize this section of Main Street. Twenty years later the City is left paying the bill for this whole project while Main Street is in worse shape than ever.

At one time this was a $22 million project, but now it owes the City more than this in unpaid loans and back taxes. This amount could be much higher if we did not extend the generous tax agreement which valued the building at mere $12.50 a square foot but ran out in 2002 even though this building stopped paying taxes in 1998. This project floundered even though the county gave a very favorable lease for the Downtown Campus of Monroe Community College. Through all of this, the City refused to foreclose on the property or collect on the unpaid debt.

So now we are being asked to pay off the last of these loans and settle the tax lien so the property can be sold to another developer who will revitalize this section of Main St. This seems criminal. If you break open a parking meter and steal the change inside the City goes after you. If you fail to pay the taxes on your house the City forecloses. But if you steal millions from the City they forgive you. Mayor Richards claims there is nothing he can do but this is just a rationalization. The City does have options.

The City could foreclose on the property and take it over immediately. Presently this property is earning $3.5 million a year from the lease for MCC. Taxes we should be getting from that generous arrangement are less than half a million which leaves $3 million for operating expenses and it seems like this should make a profit for the City. Further there is a buyer and if we foreclose we get the total sale price of the building. It seems very straightforward and easy to do. This process would even facilitate the sale of the building as it removes the debt problem from the equation. So we would then be able to get this into the hands of someone else quicker. It would be nice to know that this was a one-time situation where a savvy developer hoodwinked the City into a deal where the developer could avoid payment, but that is not the case. The City uses the same tax and loan agreements on projects all the time, including the recent College Town project.

So they have not only failed to correct the problem with the Sibley Building but have expanded it a hundred times. If there ever was a reason to try something else it is with the Sibley Building, but our City leaders never learn and we keep accepting this as the only option for development. Hopefully someone in charge will wake up before the next major project falls through and costs the City (and the taxpayers) millions of dollars we do not have.


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