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Scaled-back, 150-unit affordable housing project adds to plans for transforming East Main Street

The glass front of the Gateway building on East Main Street is show with the lower rise of the Atrium building and then the Granite Building continuing into the background toward St. Paul Street.
Brian Sharp
The glass front of the Gateway building would likely change with the proposed redevelopment. Continuing on toward St. Paul Street, the adjoining Atrium and Granite buildings have been dropped from the plans.

An evolving plan to to convert the vacant Gateway building to housing are the latest in a series of projects aimed at transforming a beleaguered stretch of East Main Street.

Initially the plan was to redevelop the Gateway, Atrium AND Granite buildings – a $119 million undertaking effectively taking on half of the block between St Paul and North Clinton.

But developer SAA|EVI, which has a regional office in Buffalo, couldn’t come to an agreement to acquire the other two buildings.

"So we had to refine our concept and limit the project to to Gateway," said Connor Kenney, the development firm’s regional director, "which is not a bad thing, because it's a huge building, and certainly has tremendous potential to be pretty transformative on that block."

An initial rendering of the downtown Gateway building shows a possible new building front.
An initial rendering of the downtown Gateway building shows a possible new building front.

As the project changed from three buildings to two buildings, and then to just the one, the price tag dropped to $62 million. While the number of units went up and down, with 150 now being proposed.

Rents would vary. But there would be certain income limits on all units. The average tenant would make around $34,000. The building itself would get a new look, a new façade. Plans for the rest of the block include demolishing the small building immediately east of the Gateway building, creating a pedestrian plaza.

That would make the building's first-floor, envisioned commercial space, more attractive.

"Maybe we'll put a coffee shop in," Kenney said. "But right now we're thinking we'd like to do restaurant space."

More: Main and Clinton plans seek to restore eyesore to its 'historic glory'

This would be the firm’s first project in Rochester. They are active in Buffalo, and in multiple states, mainly in the mid-Atlantic region.

“Developers that have been active in larger markets are beginning to see a lot of the merits of markets like Buffalo and Rochester, and Syracuse and Albany," Kenney said. "There are a lot of great things happening in these cities."

The firm is waiting on a couple of state grant applications and other financing. Given that, they don’t expect to close and start construction until mid-2024.

The building once housed the local offices of Blue Cross Blue Shield but has been vacant for years. The floors are expansive and open, officials said, which should make for a relatively easy conversion.

From the archive: Take a look at the proposals to revitalize downtown Rochester

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.