News & Opinion » Urban Journal

Seligman’s very big plan for the very big deal


This city has gone through a stunning loss of industrial jobs, so it's not surprising that the photonics institute announcement dominated the news last week. We'll be the headquarters! We won a national competition! The vice president of the United States came to town! And Rochester has been celebrating ever since.

I've been celebrating, too. It's about time. I'm tired of us being kicked in the face. I've been mad ever since the company formerly known as Gannett decided that we weren't good enough to house its national headquarters. Xerox has shrunk. Bausch and Lomb has been bought. And Kodak? How could company executives let that happen?

At long last, somebody recognizes our value.

No one knows yet how many jobs the institute will create, and the jobs won't all be located here. We'll be the headquarters, the hub of the research and development, but the manufacturing itself, the jobs that grow out of the institute, could be anywhere. Being the headquarters could attract companies in that industry to locate here, though. Community leaders' words of enthusiasm aren't hyperbole. This is a big deal.

And as happy as I am about our selection as the photonics institute's headquarters, I'm almost as happy about what University of Rochester president Joel Seligman did soon after the formal announcement.

In the media frenzy leading up to that announcement, there were reports that the institute's headquarters would be in the suburbs, at the Canal Ponds Business Park in Greece. The big announcement to-do, with the vice president beaming his high-wattage smile, was held in the business park.

But Seligman, whose institution was involved in bidding for the headquarters, was having none of that. "Rochester, and I mean the City of Rochester, will be the headquarters for this effort," he said at the big announcement. "There are discussions going on. We're looking at places like the Sibley building as the potential headquarters."

And when the Democrat and Chronicle editorial board interviewed Seligman and SUNY Polytechnic president Alain Kaloyeros after the announcement, Seligman was stronger: "There's a high likelihood that the business headquarters will be located in Sibley," he said. "They've got the space, and if we're going to revitalize Rochester, it starts on Main Street. Literally, it starts with the Sibley Building."

The Sibley Building isn't a done deal. Nobody has promised, so far, that the photonics headquarters will be anywhere in the city. But Seligman has done what too many community leaders have failed to do over the years. They may insist that the city and its health are important. But then they build in the suburbs, which nibbles away at that health.

City elected officials, in administration after administration, have pleaded and preached. And to get development, they've been forced to offer incentives, tax breaks that other city taxpayers have to make up for.

There have been successes, of course. Over the years, a few business leaders have recognized the importance of a healthy downtown - have understood that downtown's health has a profound impact on everybody in the region - and so companies like ESL and Nothnagle have moved their headquarters in. New companies have sprung up in the core of downtown and in the High Falls area.

And slowly, the momentum has been building. A growing number of commercial and residential developers are creating new apartments, condos, and office and retail space downtown. A small step at a time, downtown is overcoming the loss of retail and big-deal professional firms.

And now a key non-government community leader - someone who has enormous influence in regional development - has thrown down the gauntlet. "If we're going to revitalize Rochester, it starts on Main Street."

I'm not anti-suburb. Not everyone wants to live or work in the city. But if the city fails, we all do."If we're going to revitalize Rochester, it starts on Main Street." Thank you, Joel Seligman.