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UR looking to buy College Town; would maintain original vision

A large building next to the street; a Barnes & Noble sign is visible
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The University of Rochester is in discussions to buy the College Town complex at Mt. Hope and Elmwood avenues in the city.

Little more than a year ago, UR bought the Brooks Crossing student apartments on the west side of campus.

In College Town, UR would gain control of what university officials call “a gateway” to the river campus and the medical center campus.

The retail and residential complex is home to several restaurants, a yoga studio, a CVS Pharmacy, and a Barnes & Noble that doubles as a university bookstore. There also is a parking garage and 154 apartments that are not designed for student housing.

A 136-room Hilton Garden Inn is not included in the sales discussion.

College Town opened to great fanfare in 2014, but has struggled at times since – notably losing a grocery store and never attracting another.

The complex’s out-of-state owners expressed interest in selling the property this past summer. And that is when talks with UR began.

UR owns the land and currently leases space for medical offices.

The sale to UR, should it happen, is not unexpected, said Dan Hurley, president of the Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood. But while he anticipates the medical center will gradually fill more of the commercial space, UR spokeswoman Sara Miller said the immediate plan is to manage and market the property “in the same spirit in which it was originally designed—as a Rochester destination to shop, dine, stay and live.”

“University officials would assume the responsibility of recruiting additional tenants to the complex,” she said in a prepared statement, “while also supporting current business and residential tenants that call College Town home.”

The Rochester Business Journal first reported the possible purchase this week.

College Town is owned by a limited liability company called CT Rochester, which is a joint venture controlled by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co. UR is seeking to acquire the property through a for-profit affiliate that would assume an existing tax abatement, or Payment In Lieu of Tax (PILOT) agreement. A similar arrangement exists with Brooks Crossing.

The College Town PILOT is a 20-year agreement that runs through 2032. A payment schedule puts yearly bills around $1.8 million, increasing in the final years. Most of that goes to repay a federal loan, with less than $500,000 annually put toward city and county taxes, records show.

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.