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After yearlong search for a permanent home, PAB to stay put in prime downtown office space

The Seneca Building on the southeast corner of East Main and South Clinton is shown on a cloudy winter day. A person is walking down the sidewalk, and the shades on the large meeting room space are pulled.
Jeremy Moule
The Seneca Building at East Main Street and South Clinton Avenue. The Police Accountability Board sublets the first floor space from Gannett, parent company of the Democrat and Chronicle, which occupies the second floor.

After a yearlong search for a new space, the Rochester Police Accountability Board is staying put.

The agency plans to renew its $30,000 per month lease at the downtown Seneca Building, pending City Council approval. The search for a permanent spot, meanwhile, will start anew.

The PAB has been housed since 2022 in a 19,000-square-foot space on the ground floor of the building at 245 East Main St., better known for housing the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper on its upper floors. The prime Class A office space at Main and Clinton came fully furnished, including a large conference room that has been used for the board’s public meetings.

Last year, the PAB began the search for a new space, working with the city. The PAB, according to information provided to WXXI News, looked at 10 spaces, with one location in Village Gate seen as the most likely replacement.

“(City) Council felt that we hadn’t exhausted all potential spaces and expanded the search outside of the city center,” PAB spokesperson Vanessa Cheeks said.

The one location pointed to by the PAB was in Village Gate. That idea was shot down by City Council leadership.

Council President Miguel Meléndez said any location picked must be easily accessible to the public and “anchoring to the community.”

This month, City Council is set to vote on renewing the lease at the Seneca Building.

The 40,000 square-foot building is owned by Gallina Development, and two floors are leased to Democrat and Chronicle parent company, Gannett. The company initially sublet the first-floor space to the PAB for two years, with the annual rent set at $343,140 the first year, $350,003 the second. That lease is set to expire on April 30.

The new contract with Gannett would set the rent at $29,656 per month until December. Beginning in January, the price is set to go up to $30,249.

In total, the new lease would come in at $358,243 for the year, plus utilities. All funding is sourced from the PAB’s 2024 budget.

The PAB’s search parameters for a new location include at least 12,000 square feet of space, to be on a bus line, with parking, multiple entrances, and located in Center City. Finding a new location is planned to be a long-term solution, housing the PAB for at least the coming decade.

Gannett’s current lease runs through Fall 2031.

The worry is about now and what's to come with estimates that upwards of 31 percent of downtown office space is vacant — and what is rented is likely to downsize with employees working from home.

Office space in the city is not hard to find. But it depends on what you are looking for. A recent report by CBRE put the overall vacancy rate at 18.8% citywide. Most of the 6.3 million square feet of office space is downtown, but that area is changing with buildings being converted to residential and other uses. The report noted that "individual properties and small pocket districts located in the city, but outside of the traditional downtown, are finding success.”

Meléndez said the PAB’s office space requirements have served as a “major limitation” in selecting a new home. He said he didn’t believe they needed as much “space or amenities” as detailed in their search proposal.

“There were so many requirements, there were so many limitations,” Meléndez said. “My feeling is that it really limited the scope options.”

Meléndez said Council and the PAB will be going through a new process and expand the search. The new rental agreement would end on April 30, 2025. At that point, there would be a one-time option for a one-year renewal.

Meléndez described the process of looking for a new space as “frustrating.” A new buildout was cost prohibitive, and other potential locales outside of Center City were overlooked.

“I’d rather find another place in the community that makes sense, that could house the number of employees they have, that could still accommodate their desire to have interview rooms and those kinds of things,” Meléndez said. “That space does exist in Rochester, so we just have to go back to the drawing board.”

The legislation approving the new lease agreement will go to vote on Tuesday, March 19.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.