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RBTL meets with local developers in preparation for Bob Morgan’s possible exit from Parcel 5 project

City of Rochester

While denying Bob Morgan’s official exit from the Parcel 5 project, the Rochester Broadway Theater League held a private meeting for other local developers last week. Parcel 5 is an acre-sized piece of prime downtown real estate.

RBTL chairman Arnie Rothschild declined to call the meeting a “pitch session,” but acknowledged that RBTL is preparing for Morgan’s potential departure by trying to find a new developer – or two – to step in.

“We didn’t pitch at all,” Rothschild said. “We didn’t ask them to submit proposals. It was strictly an informational meeting. It was, ‘Here’s the site, here’s the engineering work, here’s the layout.’ We updated them as to where we were, but we didn’t ask them to do anything.”

In May, FBI agents raided the offices of Morgan Communities in Perinton. A federal grand jury indicted Bob Morgan’s son and nephew on fraud charges. There have been no further charges to date, and Bob Morgan himself has not been personally charged, but prosecutors have not said that the investigation is complete. WXXI News reached out to Bob Morgan for comment, but did not hear back.

Morgan’s development portfolio is significantly larger than the portfolios of his local colleagues who attended last week’s meeting, and so Rothschild hopes to find a combination of local firms that could match Morgan’s contribution to the project that calls for a Broadway-style theater and a residential tower.

“Is Bob Morgan willing to step aside, if that becomes something of importance? Yes,” Rothschild said. “He wants to see our city continue to develop... We invited all the developers that may have an interest if and when anything changes down the road, to be aware of what the opportunities were. We just don't know the status of where anything is going."

Rothschild added, "Everybody wants to focus on one, and only one, resolution: building this project, and making sure that it helps grow and change our downtown."

WXXI could not find any local builder or developer who is expressing interest in taking over the project.

Businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano told WXXI News that his pledge of $25 million for the project has not changed.

“My commitment is not based on Bob Morgan’s commitment,” Golisano said.

But Molly Clifford, member of Rochester City Council, told WXXI that last week’s meeting signals a “last-ditch effort” to save a cratering project.

“To me, it is definitely a time to start over,” she said. “We’ve had enough input from the community that this is not really a project that they support, so the fact that it doesn’t have any financial support at this point, either, says to me that it’s a perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board.”

Rothschild responded that the meeting is simply a first, pragmatic step during an uncertain time.

“It was a responsible step,” he said. “To characterize it as a last-ditch effort is indicative of someone who has no understanding of the nature of the progress of the project. (That’s not) fair or reasonable.”

Council President Loretta Scott said, “I still think it’s a bit preliminary to go too far down the road on what may or may not happen. I’d rather see something more solidly either pulled back or pushed forward. Right now, we’re sort of in a holding pattern.”

Rothschild brought in Broadway promoter Albert Nocciolino to explain the potential benefits of a theater, and the meeting included information from attorneys about tax credits.

“It could be a consortium of developers (who take over), just as the Hyatt deal was done,” Rothschild said. “We brought in a lot of people (at last week’s meeting) who have invested a ton of money in downtown, all of whom believe that this is an important piece for downtown. I’m not prepared to say, ‘This is how it’s going to work,’ but I am prepared to tell you that I believe that it is going to work.”

James Smith, spokesman for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, said that City Hall is assuming that the project will move forward as planned. He said that the ongoing study of the impact of the RBTL/Morgan project, due out in early fall, will offer more guidance. Smith added that everyone is aware of the uncertainty regarding Bob Morgan’s legal status, but didn’t want to speculate on the outcome of that situation.

Rothschild confirmed that the project has struggled to raise private funds in the past two months following the news of the FBI raid, but he repeatedly praised Bob Morgan and said that he hopes the legal troubles facing Morgan will pass.

“It is fair to say that the current situation postpones the ability to meet the time schedule that we would like,” Rothschild said. “But that’s all that’s fair to say.”

Evan Dawson is the host of "Connections with Evan Dawson." He joined WXXI in January 2014 after working at 13WHAM-TV, where he served as morning news anchor. He was hired as a reporter for 13WHAM-TV in 2003 before being promoted to anchor in 2007.
Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.
Megan Mack is the executive producer of "Connections with Evan Dawson" and live/televised engagement programming.