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County on defense over Sibley deal

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Rochester Mayor Tom Richards said today that county Republicans are using COMIDA as a weapon to get their way on a deal involving the future location of Monroe Community College. But County Executive Maggie Brooks said that Richards is mistaken and that COMIDA is just doing its due diligence by potentially delaying a vote on a tax-abatement deal for the buyer of the Sibley building.

City Council has approved a $5 million deal to sell the Sibley building to the Sibley Redevelopment Limited Partnership, an entity to be formed by Boston-based Winn Development. Winn plans to invest up to $150 million over 10 years to renovate the building for retail, offices, and housing. But the agreement includes the COMIDA deal, Richards said at a press conference this afternoon, and if the COMIDA abatement isn't approved this month, the whole deal could be in jeopardy.

At the core of Richard's assertion is a difference of opinion on where MCC's downtown campus should be. City officials want it to stay at the Sibley building to help with the revitalization of downtown. But the MCC board wants to move the college out to Kodak's State Street campus, and County Executive Brooks has said that she supports the board's decision.

The County Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, will vote on bonding to move MCC to Kodak in December. The problem? They need a couple of Democratic votes and right now, it doesn't appear they're likely to get them. Richards said the COMIDA trick is meant to pressure Dems to go along with the bonding.

"The city can't sit still for that," Richards said. "We can't have our economic development agenda held hostage" because of the importance of the Sibley deal, and because of the message it would send to other developers -- that politics can jeopardize their investments.

Richards said he got wind of the Republicans' strategy about a month ago and asked Brooks about it. She looked into it, he said, and told him "it's going to be OK."

So when Richards got word that COMIDA might delay a vote "for further study," he said, he tried to call Brooks -- twice in a week -- but she didn't return his messages.

At her own press conference this afternoon, Brooks said she supports the redevelopment of the Sibley building and that COMIDA is doing its due diligence on an application it received only two weeks ago.

"The IDA application will go through the normal process," she said. "That's what they do. They have to measure the benchmarks, the milestones, the job requirements. All of that is part of their review process and sometimes that does take longer than two weeks."

She denied that the COMIDA action has anything to do with MCC, and said that the mayor may have "made some false assumptions."

Brooks said she "doesn't know it to be true" that the Sibley deal won't be on COMIDA's October agenda, and that representatives for Winn and COMIDA are meeting tomorrow.