The future of PaeTec Park and the future of Empire Precision Plastics are indelibly linked. The oft-delayed ground-breaking for Rochester's soccer stadium will not happen until the parties involved have found a new home for Empire. And, more importantly, until it is decided who is going to pay for the relocation.
"We're working on it. At least it seems like it has their attention now," says Empire President Neal Elli. "I think that they [city hall, the Rhinos] were focusing on things that were more problematic in the deal and the Empire relocation sat at a lower precedence."
Empire Precision Plastics, a manufacturer of injection molded plastic parts, is located at 460 Oak Street, a short distance from the future site of PaeTec Park. The Rochester Rhinos plan to lease the 26,000-square-foot building for the team's administrative office, locker rooms, and team store.
RES Exhibit Services, 435 Smith Street, is also relocating because of the stadium's potentially adverse impact on the business. The company is moving to Webster after an appropriate city site could not be found, according to Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson.
RES' current building will probably be demolished, Johnson says.
Empire wasn't part of the initial stadium plans, Elli says. But he had concerns all along about operating so closely to PaeTec.
"The potential for disruption to my business, which needs to be available to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is pretty significant," he says. "The impact on parking and truck traffic in and out of the building is significant. So, once the city realized that was true, the mayor committed that they would find a way to make me whole on this."
A probable new site for Empire has been identified at 500 Lee Road in the city. It is owned by Maguire Properties, the same company that owns the current Empire building. The site sits on a large commercial strip of road. The complex itself houses many different businesses. Empire is eyeing a 31,000-square-foot section.
The stumbling block is money. When the relocation plan first came up, Elli and others were asked to put together a cost estimate for the move.
"We did it to the best of our effort. But every location has a unique location cost," Elli says. "We have a lot of internal structure. There are office upgrades just to have the correct size office."
The numbers, according to Mitch Rowe, assistant to Rochester's deputy mayor, were based on some quick assumptions.
"[They weren't] based on sending people out and inspecting the space, writing it up," he says. "And a number of them were wrong."
When the company did a more detailed estimate later on, the cost was much higher.
"It didn't double, but it was a pretty significant increase," Elli says.
Johnson says the increase is within reason and that the parties involved are about $200,000 short of the funding needed for the move.
Even though the initial estimates were off, Elli says the situation would still be the same because nobody originally thought Empire would have to move.
"They didn't have any money in any budget for this to begin with," he says.
Total cost of the move will be "several hundred thousand dollars," Rowe says. The cost will be shared by the city, the state, Maguire Properties, and the Rhinos. A deal to distribute that cost is being worked out.
"Everybody's trying to think out of the box," Rowe says. "Everybody's trying to figure out ways to bring the cost down and to save time."
The city's share of the move has yet to be determined. The city is also contributing about $3.5 million for infrastructure and road improvements related to the stadium.
Empire will not contribute directly to the move, but relocation will cost the company in terms of disruption to the business, Elli says, and in other immeasurable ways.
"The goal is that I won't have any hard expenses associated with the move," he says. "This should not cost Empire anything."
While a deal is being worked out, Elli is losing business and Rochester is losing patience. Ground-breaking for the $23 million stadium has been delayed so often, neither the city nor the team will now discuss a possible date.
"I think once we have an agreement in principle, then we can go ahead with the ground breaking," Rowe says. "The Rhinos don't need to immediately get into the building that Empire's in now. They have offices at Frontier [Field]. Until the stadium's up and ready to open, they don't need to be in that building."
Empire has had to turn away business, Elli says, because of the uncertainty.
"I could not commit because of the stadium," he says. "It [the job] was in excess of a quarter-of-a-million dollars. It would have contributed almost $70,000 overhead in profit. That's the impact."
The cost of the move is made higher by the fact that there will be almost no down time between the closing of the Oak Street site and the opening on Lee Road.
"We can plan to be shut down [for] three to five business days, but after that, I can't possibly build enough inventory to meet my customers' requirement," Elli says. "That's one of the reasons why the cost is so high."
The city has worked tirelessly, Elli adds, to try to make the deal for the move. "But this is a tough market, and so money isn't just sitting there for them to go and draw from."
Once ground is broken, work on the stadium will go on through the winter. The goal, according to Rhinos president Frank DuRoss, is to play at least some home games at PaeTec Park in 2004.
"I know that they would love to be in the new stadium around the September timeframe," says stadium project manager Jon Barrett of LeChase Construction. "Our goal is going to be to expedite the work and get it done for the fall. Early fall, if possible."
"Once we know a little more about the ground breaking, then I think a lot more details will come pouring out," he adds. "I'm just reluctant to say the wrong thing. It's changed so many times on us. I'm kind of gun-shy now."
The stadium will be a multi-purpose facility, also home to the Rochester Rattlers --- a Major League lacrosse team. DuRoss says that there's a great deal of buzz around PaeTec Park.
"It's kind of hard to make firm commitments," he says. "But I can tell you we've had a lot of phone calls, discussions, and negotiations with numerous tenants to use it."