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Constellation Brands gets big welcome as anticipation builds for boost it could give downtown

Gov. Kathy Hochul gestures while speaking before an image of Constellation Brands new headquarters during a ceremonial grand opening for the offices on Monday, June 24, 2024.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a visit to Constellation Brands new headquaters in Rochester for a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Monday, June 24, 2024.

During a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Monday at Constellation Brands new headquarters officials celebrated the riverfront complex for all its splendor.

And what the offices symbolize.

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“We are welcoming the first Fortune 500 company to downtown Rochester in decades,” Mayor Malik Evans said, repeating “in decades” as applause filled the room.

“They said, ‘Yes ... we believe in the vitalization of Rochester. Yes, we believe in Rochester’s people.’ But more importantly,” Evans continued, “they said, ‘Yes, we believe in Rochester’s future.’”

Constellation Brands opened its downtown offices three weeks ago. More than 300 staffers are now based there – and are expected to provide a significant boost to downtown business. But with flexible work schedules it was not clear how many are in-office or remote each day.

“They're trickling over slowly,” said Anthony Natalie, who runs Galleria Pizza, which recently marked 30 years downtown. “I think they're all just kind of ... getting acclimated to their surroundings."

The company expects to begin moving in Tuesday, with the first in-office workday set for June 4.

Natalie joked that the new offices were so nice, employees might not want to leave. But as he spoke a first-time customer who said she works at Constellation waited for her order. Natalie and his staff took menus over to Constellation's offices in an effort to draw workers to the East Main Street restaurant.

“It's definitely a big thing,” Natalie said of the headquarters opening. “I mean, it's a lot of people. And if it wasn't for that fact, I would have to start thinking about other strategies, because the buildings that I'm in right now are all empty, regretfully, because of COVID.”

Vacancy is up downtown and in office buildings nationwide. And that leads to empty storefronts. But Dana Miller, the city’s neighborhood and business development commissioner, is hopeful Constellation can help turn that around.

“And we're hoping to see some growth in restaurants in the area now that they know there's more built-in customer base,” Miller said.

“We have an empty storefront down the street that used to be a coffee shop, it could certainly very easily become something like that again," he said, going on to list off other places that are still open but have been struggling. "There are significant business opportunities, we just have to get more feet on the street ... (get) these folks out of the building, every day."

Constellation Brands retired board chairman and former CEO Rob Sands smiles at a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the company's new headquarters in downtown Rochester on Monday, June 24, 2024.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Constellation Brands retired board chairman and former CEO Rob Sands joined Mayor Malik Evans (left), Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Sen. Jeremy Cooney (right) at a ceremonial grand opening and ribbon cutting for the company's new headquarters in downtown Rochester on Monday, June 24, 2024.

Directing her remarks to the younger workforce, including recent college graduates, Gov. Kathy Hochul quipped that remoted work is “so yesteryear.”

“You're not gonna get a date sitting in your basement, OK?,” she said, and was greeted with laughter. "I can say that. I married a guy I met at the workplace when I was a teenager, so it does happen.”

But there is good economic reasons for getting people back in the office, she said, and it goes beyond workplace dynamics.

“It feeds on not just what happens in these buildings, but also out in the streets, where people are walking the streets, going to activities after work, stopping at a local bar,” she said. “All of a sudden, it all starts clicking again.

“That's why this project matters so much at this time.”

That vitality is needed to attract and retain workers and residents, officials said. It’s why the city and state are investing heavily in revitalizing the waterfront and assisting further renovation of remaining, vacant structures.

That, in turn, is helping downtown become the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood, Evans said, numbering 10,000 residents.

“The Genesee River is becoming a ribbon of vitality, and it flows right outside this building,” the mayor said. But “it's more than just a riverway that's transforming. We are re-constructing Main Street and erasing all of that blight ... reclaiming the Inner Loop and the Bull's Head Plaza. All these things relate, and they are all stitched and tied together. And Constellation Brands is part of that puzzle.

“There's so much to celebrate.”

The first of four major environmental cleanups is well underway in the Genesee River gorge.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.