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When I started here in Rochester, a prime stretch of real estate on the east shore of the Genesee River, walking distance from downtown (where the Blue Cross Arena is, the HQ of the library, the HQ of Blue Cross, Dinosaur BBQ, etc.), this monstrosity (which ran something like 2 or 3 city blocks) was there:

It was a mess – largely abandoned by the time I moved here and I think was home to some refugees. Someone mercifully decided to demolish the thing (where will the poor refugees end up? I’m not sure the planners had a back-up plan for them). So in its stead, they decided to build (they are in process) a new series of seriously ugly apartments.

Maybe in a post or two we’ll discuss the folly of urban planning and whether building low-cost housing for the poor has actually helped the poor live well. But even according to City of Rochester itself, look at how much this project is costing: $31.4 million.

For $31 million, I could surely build something spectacular. So what are “we” getting for this spending (assuming no cost overruns: OK stop laughing)? How about 131 rental housing units. This amounts to a cost of over $239,000 to construct each housing unit. This is so completely insane where just a few blocks away you can purchase beautiful old homes for the cost of a VCR. Seriously: real estate in downtown Rochester sells for far less than $100 per square foot. For comparison,  my suburban house which has 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, about 2000 square feet and a half acre yard in probably the most “desirable” town in Rochester cost us … $187,000. To rebuild it from scratch would probably cost us a little bit more. So why does it cost many times more to build these apartments than it does to build housing in the area’s most desirable neighborhood? I haven’t researched it, but let’s toss out some ideas and revisit them in the future:

  • Environmental compliance costs
  • Community-related costs due to requiring major involvement from “stakeholders” in the development of the project
  • Union-building requirements
  • Stringent health and safety requirements for the new apartment complexes
  • Lack of incentive to keep costs to a minimum due to third party subsidies to the project
  • Outright graft and corruption

What am I leaving out? In a future post, we’ll provide you with a walking tour of another, and in my view, more absurd, site from closer to where I live.

5 Responses to “Urban Development, Rochester Style”

  1. sherlock says:

    I remember driving by those last spring semester and laughing to my girlfriend at how ugly they were. C’mon wintercrow, why did you have to turn my amusement into disgust by posting the price of them?

    BTW- “the price of a vcr”- Have you seen the Cleveland Tourism Videos on youtube?

  2. RIT_Rich says:

    I’m not sure I follow. First of all, I think, I may be wrong, but I think the demolished buildings were “project” types of government subsidized housing. The people who lived there were almost all Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants (almost all of Rochester’s taxi drivers lived there). The fact that they all left and no one heard a word, illustrates why it was so useless to have such a development in Rochester.

    Second, and again I may be wrong, the units that are going to be put in, are going to be much more “luxury” units geared towards U of R students and “professionals”, similar to the developments on the other side of the river. There is demand in Rochester fr some higher quality rentals, as opposed to the trash that is usually found around the city. You can see many similar developments of “luxury” apartments, that cost around the same level, both across the river, down on East Ave, down by RIT and elsewhere. None are running short on demand.

    Third, having lived in far too many of the houses right across from there and around there, they are different animals altogether. The driver of the price in these cases may be the lack of quality and “luxury” apartments in Rochester, as opposed to the abundance of cheap run-down houses geared towards students and the army of Section 8 recipients.

    Government requirements or restrictions, as far as I can tell, are pretty relaxed in Rochester. They desperately need to attract development, and I’ve never heard of them making any trouble for developers to do what they pleased. In the end, if the developer feels its a good investment for them, all the best luck to them. It will certainly clear the area up and make it much more attractive (I used to ride my bike by the river right behind these buildings on my commute from downtown to RIT everyday, and it would be a great place to live once cleaned up). And I’m pretty sure the demand is there. Sorry for the long post

  3. RIT_Rich says:

    “To rebuild it from scratch would probably cost us a little bit more. So why does it cost many times more to build these apartments than it does to build housing in the area’s most desirable neighborhood?”

    Simple. Location. Most renters in Rochester are young people who are usually in school and wish to live in the downtown area. They don’t want to commute. They don’t want to live in Pittsford. They want to walk to the restaurants and cafes and bars, and walk to school too. And since in many cases they have a lot of disposable income, either because their parents support them, or because they don’t have families, they are willing to pay the premium prices for these developments.

    Park Point at RIT is an example of such a development, which to me might no make much sense, but has been pretty successful because of these reasons.

  4. Harry says:

    Where is there a pretty socialist-designed building?

    I am halfway through The Road to Serfdom, Hayek lamenting the decline of Western Civilization, mindful of socialist architecture.

    A few years ago on a choir tour, I was lucky to find myself on a tour of Dresden. Our guide got her degree in art history from Bonn. One of the buildings she led us by was a building named after Walter Ulbricht, dedicated to something having to do with culture. She was quick to contrast that building, a city-block-sized version of a Ramada Inn, with the other architecture in the city. She took no pleasure in East German anything.

    I do not think you missed anything, Wintercow.

  5. MAT says:

    So many inaccurate statements in this blog entry, it’s tough to know where to begin. First, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion that Erie Harbor will be “ugly” though this is not an architecture blog. I, for one, am excited about the modern design this project brings to a city that relies far too much on throwback architecture. Second, for $31 million, you’re getting a rather large demolition, environmental remediation (that some nasty stuff in the soil that those darn liberals made the developer clean up), a series of new buildings ranging from 3-5 stories, and a totally new site plan that opens up the riverfront to the thriving South Wedge neighborhood that abuts it. A co-located public enhancement project involving trails, public art, and landscaping is in design and will be built next year. Frankly $31 million seems like a small price to pay when you think about it. Third, real estate in downtown Rochester does not sell for under $100/square foot. For instance, a 2000 square foot condo at 1 Capron is selling for $400,000. Perhaps you’re confused about what “downtown Rochester” is? Fourth, yes, the demolished complex was largely home to African immigrants from Somalia and Eritrea. What you fail to report is their well-documented relocation to new and rehabbed public housing on the west side of the river just south and west of Corn Hill. Take a drive down Ford Street and you’ll surely see them. I look forward to Part 2…

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