Entrepreneurship center to open in downtown Rochester

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A. Sue Weisler

The historic Rochester Savings Bank, a national landmark in downtown Rochester, was donated to RIT. It will be home to a new Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, which is expected to open next year after renovations.

Location is everything in real estate, but timing can be equally important. When Amy Tait, chairwoman and CEO of Broadstone Real Estate, mentioned to RIT leaders that she was looking for a responsible institution to take over a landmark building in downtown Rochester, a deal was struck within 24 hours. 

Tait credits RIT’s entrepreneurial spirit and vision for contributing to the resurgence of the city of Rochester with the announcement of a new Center for Urban Entrepreneurship located in the heart of downtown. RIT is taking ownership of the historic 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. RIT received the building at 40 Franklin St. in October through a donation from Rochester Historic Ventures, an enterprise operated by Tait and her family.

“We welcome RIT back to downtown Rochester with open arms,” Tait says. “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. We couldn’t be more delighted.”

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.

“The ultimate goal is to create a multidisciplinary Center for Urban Entrepreneurship 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.”

The Rochester Savings Bank built the building in 1927. The site is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and has historic significance in art, architecture and commerce.

RIT plans to engage its students and alumni with downtown businesses and community organizations in support of economic and community development. 

“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 to increase the entrepreneurial potential of young people from K-12.”

RIT is working with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to seek available federal assistance through a $250,000 grant to the U.S. Economic Development Administration to begin the initial planning and design work for the building’s renovation. 

“When it comes to economic development, this has it all,” Schumer says. “RIT will be an anchor to revitalize this area of downtown while helping new entrepreneurs start businesses that can grow here in Rochester.”