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Bob Morgan, housing, and downtown's future


It isn't good news for anybody when a major local developer is being investigated by the FBI. And when that developer is heavily involved in the dramatic upturn in downtown Rochester, it can be nerve-wracking.

So the feds' raid last week at Bob Morgan's Perinton offices got a lot of attention. It sure got mine. And yesterday's news, that Morgan's son and nephew have been indicted, magnifies the concern.

I assume that even before the FBI-Morgan news started breaking, most of us had our fingers crossed behind our backs about downtown. One block after another has been snapped up. One building after another is being converted to apartments. Is this a bubble?

It feels solid. It really does. And when you're downtown, you can see a difference: young adults on bikes, people walking dogs, people on skateboards…. Not by the thousands, no, but enough to be noticeable.

But the population of this entire region is sluggish, so the new downtown apartments must be causing empty houses and apartments somewhere else. And still developers' interest in downtown Rochester continues.

Aren't we overbuilding? I've talked to developers, bankers, and other people who know more about this field than I do, and they insist that we're not.

What, then, about Morgan? Does the FBI news jeopardize his developments? Morgan companies have numerous projects in the Rochester area, Buffalo, and Pennsylvania. And they're especially heavily involved in downtown Rochester.

Morgan, often with other local developers, is involved in apartment developments at Tower280, the Alliance Building, Riverwalk, and Inner Loop Site 2; multiple buildings in the St. Paul Quarter; 3 City Center and Legacy Tower office developments; the Gannett Building conversion; and the Hyatt Regency and Rochester Riverside hotels.

And, of course, Morgan's apartment tower is a key part of the plan for a performing arts center at Parcel 5.

Is any of this at risk? First of all, nobody knows what will come of the FBI investigation, if anything. The feds are reportedly focusing on developments in Pennsylvania, not in Rochester.

But several downtown observers eased my nervousness a little last week when they reminded me that, A) Morgan has numerous established, profitable projects and a good reputation with bankers and investors, and B) Morgan isn't the only developer investing in downtown right now. Properties that are solid would attract interest from other companies.

The FBI thing will play out, and meanwhile, developments under way will continue. Except, maybe, Parcel 5. Private funding is still being sought for the performing arts center on that site, and any uncertainty about the project could raise a few questions. Frankly, this provides one more reason for city officials to take a deep breath and do some assessing, not only about the theater, its purpose, and its financing, but also about the housing underway downtown.

Morgan's Parcel 5 apartments would be another market-rate development. Do those projects still need subsidies? Shouldn't new housing include units that are affordable in the true sense of the word? Who, and what, is downtown for?

Yet again, guns

Thanks to the carnage in the Santa Fe, Texas, high school, we can add 10 more names to the list of people killed by guns in US schools this year. Ten more to the list of individual deaths – homicides, accidents, suicides – that occur daily. And we can add one more inanity to the list of solutions offered by gun-rights advocates: fewer doors in schools.

Provide more mental health services? Absolutely. But where's the massive funding for research and treatment? And significantly, the teenage gunman in Santa Fe had shown no sign of mental illness previously. Also significantly: mental illness isn't always a factor in gun deaths.

Sensible gun control measures won't violate the Second Amendment. They will save lives. But the politicians blocking gun control have made it clear: they value unrestricted access to guns more than they value lives. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.