Golisano withdraws $25 million pledge for performing arts center

(WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Nearly two years after promising $25 million toward a performing arts center in Rochester, Tom Golisano is pulling the money back.

The Paychex co-founder and philanthropist made the announcement Wednesday.

“I originally made this decision to support the Performing Arts Center in 2016," Golisano said. "Now two years later, the project is no closer to becoming a reality. It has dramatically changed in scope, becoming part of a larger entertainment complex, which is not in line with my philanthropic priorities. It has also not garnered the financial support it needs from the community. It is time for me to move on to the many other projects we are working on in this region that need support and that are more aligned with my philanthropic priorities.”

RBTL Chairman and CEO Arnie Rothschild was notified of the decision Wednesday morning.

“Emotionally, its difficult,” said Rothschild. “You know, it's a difficult day, but we gotta get something done.”

Golisano said he will not be making any further comments.

For 18 months, the project was expected to be built on Parcel 5. Golisano originally made the pledge in March 2017 for the performing arts center. Last month, city and county leaders announced the project will be built at the site of the current Rochester Riverside Hotel. The Riverside Hotel would be torn down to make way for a 3,000-seat theater and a 500-seat one. The project would also include 250 room hotel, 200 plus housing units, retail space and 480 space parking garage.

“It's a much bigger project from what we had originally envisioned," said Rothschild. "The numbers we announced on the project are a little daunting.”

“The project's taken a different direction," he added, "and it's not a direction that he necessarily feels is appropriate for him."

Mayor Lovely Warren cited the ‘ROC the Riverway’ plan as the reason for the shift, adding that the entertainment complex would be a great addition to the promenade along the Genesee River that is planned for the comprehensive project.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Warren said the city is disappointed in Golisano's decision, but will move forward with the project.

As part of the larger ROC the Riverway program, the ‘Riverside Performing Arts Center Project’ has never been more viable and the opportunity to work with Governor Cuomo, the State of New York, organized labor and the private sector to invest in a project that will deliver more than 1,000 needed jobs for Rochester residents is too important to give up.

Despite Golisano's decision to pull the funding back, Rothschild remains optimistic.

“I'm very grateful he looked at this project favorably and I understand if it doesn't fit his priorities at this moment," he said. “This is just a bump but we're going to figure it out.”

Rochester Downtown Development Corporation President Heidi Zimmer-Meyer is also not giving up. She is confident in the future of the project.

"I think something this big and this exciting is worth fighting for," she said.

It's a project she admits will take some time to build, and could face more challenges down the line. She said she is disappointed in the latest development concerning Mr. Golisano.

"It's such a large project with so many moving parts, I think it's going to be tough to pull that little piece in," she said.

"I'm hopeful," she added, "that we can pull all the financing together."

The overall project is estimated to cost $250 million. Rothschild says Golisano backing out does not change that cost. He is not sure of an exact timeline as to when the project will be completed.