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Fire at former downtown hotel complicates redevelopment talks

 The Rochester Riverside Hotel on East Main Street.
The Rochester Riverside Hotel on East Main Street.

A three-alarm fire this week at the vacant downtown Rochester Riverside Hotel brought attention back to seemingly stalled efforts to redevelop the property.

The city and developer Angelo Ingrassia say they're in the “final stages” of talks regarding a planned expansion of the Rochester Riverside Convention Center into the hotel’s second-floor, including banquet that was damaged by the blaze.

The convention center sits on the opposite side of East Main Street and is connected to the hotel by an enclosed pedestrian bridge.

Ingrassia insists the expansion plans will not be interrupted by the fire. But those matters are complicated as officials work to assess what repairs are needed.

Past coverage: Three-alarm fire at former Rochester Riverside Hotel

“There's still some distance between what needs to be done in the building space, and how much it's going to cost,” said Dana Miller, the city’s neighborhood and business development commissioner.

The city committed $13 million in federal rescue plan dollars last December to renovate the second floor and banquet, meeting and kitchen space. A 123-room hotel is envisioned to fill the third through fifth floors, with the remainder of the building – which rises up to 14 stories – being remodeled for 171 apartments.

The hotel and apartments would be a privately financed project led by Ingrassia. He would also handle the convention center renovation, built to the city’s specifications.

The negotiations involve layout and the condition of buildings systems, including electrical, which were damaged by the fire. Talks also address the extent of needed renovation. That includes the potential for asbestos remediation, he said – a costly proposition that must be reassessed if fire repairs require tearing into the floors and ceiling.

The fire occurred Wednesday evening, damaging an electrical room and adjacent space, as well as the ballroom above. The hotel has been closed since 2020. Investigators worked throughout the day Thursday searching for a cause of the fire. There were no immediate signs of a break-in.

Ingrassia characterized the damage as “limited.” Miller said that as of Friday morning, the city had yet to assess or get a report on the extent of damage.

It's unclear whether the previously committed $13 million would have covered the entirety of the convention center expansion, even before the fire, Miller said. There also is state money involved, he said, which would double as an incentive for the hotel development.

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.