RIT Opening a Center for Urban Entrepreneurship in Downtown Rochester
Donation of landmark from Rochester Historic Ventures will lead to innovative programs; U.S. Sen. Schumer pledges assistance in renovation
Oct. 22, 2012
by Bob Finnerty
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Rochester Institute of Technology will contribute to the resurgence of the city of Rochester with a new Center for Urban Entrepreneurship located in the heart of downtown.
University leaders announced today they will be receiving a historical landmark building, the former Rochester Savings Bank, which will serve as the home of the new center and be converted into a multi-use venue for other RIT activities.
“The ultimate goal of this project is to create a multidisciplinary Center for Urban Entrepreneurship in the city of Rochester that can leverage existing regional resources and promote economic development and business creation,” says RIT President Bill Destler. “Downtown Rochester is at a critical development juncture. RIT’s presence will serve as a catalyst and assist in a downtown resurgence. With a focus on entrepreneurship, we see potential for reshaping the region’s economy through new business development.”
RIT received the building at 40 Franklin St. through a donation from Rochester Historic Ventures. The university estimates it will cost about $1.2 million in capital improvements to refurbish parts of the building. An additional $2 million to $4 million will be needed to prepare the building for programmatic needs. RIT will be looking to secure funding from the federal government and other sources to leverage the university’s investment in repurposing the four-story, 47,000-square-foot building. The anticipated opening of the center is fall 2013.
Rochester Historic Ventures acquired the historic building in 2011 with a vision of allowing more people from the community to “enjoy this architectural gem, with a larger dream to bring more students downtown,” says Amy Tait, of Rochester Historic Ventures, who also serves as chairwoman and CEO of Broadstone Real Estate.
“RIT was very responsive in considering uses for the building and coming up with a very exciting proposal. This is a donor’s dream come true—it hits all the buttons: education, historic preservation, entrepreneurism, job creation and urban revitalization,” Tait says. “We couldn’t be more delighted.”
Rochester Historic Ventures is comprised of members of the Leenhouts, Tait and Tones families, along with members of the Broadstone management team. The Rochester Savings Bank built the building in 1927. The site was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and has historic significance in art, architecture and commerce.
RIT briefed Sen. Charles Schumer on the project during its initial stages to gain the senator’s support to seek critical funding which would be required for RIT to ultimately move forward with this development. Since that initial meeting, Schumer worked with RIT to seek available federal assistance culminating in RIT submitting a $250,000 grant to the U.S. Economic Development Administration last month to begin the initial planning and design work for the building’s renovation. In addition to facilitating the grant application process, Schumer wrote to EDA’s Acting Assistant Secretary Matt Erskine in support of this grant and today pledged to call Erskine to personally reiterate the importance of this project. Based on information provided by the senator, RIT also intends to pursue a National Science Foundation grant through its Innovation Corps Sites Program, which provides funding that aims to help universities undertake entrepreneurial assistance programs to accelerate the commercialization of new technologies and products.
“I am pleased to have been at the ground floor to launch this exciting development which will return RIT, one of our region’s top economic drivers, back to its roots in downtown Rochester for the first time in nearly two decades,” Schumer says. “When it comes to economic development, this has it all. RIT will be a physical anchor to revitalize this area of downtown across from the new Midtown site while helping new entrepreneurs start businesses that can grow here in Rochester. I am proud to lead the charge to help RIT secure the funding required to make this redevelopment a reality.”
RIT plans to engage its students and alumni with downtown businesses and community organizations in support of economic and community development. The university is calling upon the greater community to join in these efforts with ideas, collaboration and partnership opportunities and financial resources. While the building will be multi-use, the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship will be the centerpiece.
“Our vision is to engage and train the community on how to get into business and then grow a business. We will teach the science of entrepreneurship,” says dt ogilvie, dean of RIT’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business. “The center will offer entrepreneurship as a career alternative. This includes training existing entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses, helping displaced workers and others to become entrepreneurs, and working with the city to help them with economic development initiatives. We will also work with nonprofit organizations that are interested in doing business to support their organizations to become social ventures. Finally, we are very interested in youth entrepreneurship and working with the various existing constituents to increase the entrepreneurial potential of young people from K-12.”
Dean ogilvie, who began her appointment as Saunders College dean on Aug. 1, was formerly the founding director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Business School at Newark-New Brunswick. At Rutgers, she was a professor of business strategy and urban entrepreneurship.
“In Newark, we brought together real-life issues and innovative solutions born from our research on socioeconomic development and entrepreneurship,” ogilvie says. “Here in Rochester, we see tremendous opportunities to make a difference, as we did in Newark.”
RIT is returning to the city after leaving office space on West Main Street in the mid-1990s. The original campus was also downtown, but RIT began building its current campus in Henrietta in the 1960s, opening in 1968.
“I want to thank President Destler for his commitment to downtown. RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship will be a tremendous addition to Rochester—a city grown through innovators and entrepreneurs,” says Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards. “It is exciting to imagine that inside this landmark building downtown, the next generation of great minds will come together to create new business, jobs, and add momentum to urban revitalization.”