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College Town concept expands life on campus

“There is room for a hundred years to come” – RIT President Mark Ellingson, prior to the institute’s move from downtown Rochester to Henrietta in 1968.
Conceptual drawing of College Town
This conceptual drawing illustrates RIT’s vision for the planned College Town development.

Both RIT and suburban Henrietta have matured since the institute’s move to 1,300 acres of farmland 37 years ago. In just the past eight years, RIT has invested more than $250 million in new and improved academic buildings, student residential areas, recreational space and more.
Yet something is still missing at RIT.

That something is “College Town,” a commercial venture that would bring a variety of shopping, dining and housing to a 90-acre parcel on the northeast corner of campus.

Map of proposed location of College Town
College Town is planned for a 90-acre parcel on the northeast corner of campus, at the intersection of Jefferson Road and John Street.

“College Town is going to change the face of this campus,” says RIT President Albert J. Simone. “It will enhance the RIT experience and be an extension of the university.”

College Town is moving from the conceptual phase into the development phase. Construction could begin as early as next year, with the first phase of housing and retail potentially opening in 2007. Here are some features of the project:

• 70,000 to 90,000 square feet in retail space, with perhaps 20-25 stores.
• A variety of housing with room for up to 800 occupants. This could include town houses and apartments for both students and the general public.
• Theme restaurants.
• A new campus bookstore.
• Galleries highlighting arts and crafts from students and faculty.

RIT is joining a growing number of schools nationally involved in such ventures to provide a total quality experience for students that includes entertainment and housing close to campus, said James Watters, senior vice president for finance and administration, who is steering the project.
“The primary reason for College Town is to create a retail center that will serve students in a better fashion,” said Watters. “This is especially true of our younger students who do not have cars. This will be within walking distance. But this is not going to be your typical shopping mall. We see niche shopping and theme restaurants.”

Student Government President James Macchiano said College Town would change the physical appearance of RIT and its social makeup as well. “Book stores . . . coffee shops. These are very popular with students and this will give students a place to go to besides what’s already available on campus.” 

To sustain business, the developer must attract more than just students and members of the RIT community. It will need to draw consumers from all over the Greater Rochester region who are looking for a unique experience, Watters explained. “This needs to be a smart combination that appeals to both the RIT community and the general public.”

RIT will provide the land to Rochester-based developer Wilmorite Inc. Wilmorite will be responsible for construction and signing tenants. This is important, Watters said, because it will keep RIT’s operating budget free of liabilities and risk, yet bring in revenue.

Furthermore, President Ellingson’s vision from the 1960s continues into its fourth decade. Once College Town is fully developed, RIT’s sprawling campus will still have plenty of land for green space and future development.

“We’ve listened to the students about their experiences here,” said Watters. “We’ve made a lot of improvements on campus. Yet students still don’t want to be isolated. College Town will round out the RIT experience.”

Bob Finnerty