Planned restaurants fuel hopes that long-sought downtown revival may be at hand

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Clockwise from top left, former bank at 22 S. Main, the Hartigan Block on N. Main, the former Rochester Recovery Center and the former Mel Flangan's Irish Pub. All four shuttered businesses will open in the not-too-distant future. (Courtesy photos)

ROCHESTER - Rochester is hungry for change in its downtown, and now developers and entrepreneurs are finally getting in on the action in an apparent feeding frenzy on formerly shuttered downtown properties.

With three new restaurants in the planning stages, could it be the downtown Rochester renaissance is at our doorstep?

Fast on the heels of learning that three vacant North Main Street properties will soon house thriving businesses, the City Council will tonight discuss providing tax incentives for a South Main Street developer to turn a former bank into a restaurant with apartments above it.

Norm Vetter, who owns Norm Vetter Foundations, is looking to purchase the building at 22 South Main and take advantage of municipal tax relief incentives, to invest nearly $1.5 million in its renovation which will result in a restaurant and a half dozen apartments.

The tax incentive can be allowed for anywhere between five and 15 years, City Manager Blaine Cox said on Monday. Vetter is seeking 11 years of relief, which would allow the building to be taxed at its current rate for that amount of time instead of at a higher rate based on the improvement he'll make.

The 12,000-square-foot 1850s-era Romanesque-style structure with its distinct Corinthian columns - formerly the Norway Plains Savings Bank - is expected to include six apartments including a mix of efficiencies, one- and two-bedroom units that will range in price from $925-$1,181 a month.

Before tonight's City Council meeting where they will discuss the proposal, local residents will be able to voice any concerns at a public hearing that begins at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers.

Cox said City Council members and the members of the public have voiced support for the project.

More good news about the downtown came on Aug. 3 when Bob Benoit of Gonic, who operates Mitchell Hill BBQ, announced on his personal Facebook page that he would be opening a restaurant in the former Mel Flanagan's Irish Pub space on North Main Street.

Benoit has been running a barbecue catering business for some time, but this is his first move to a fixed location. He expects to open this fall.

Earlier this month the Rochester Opera House and Rochester Performance and Arts Center announced they were renting the North Main Street building that housed the former Rochester Recovery Center. The building sits behind and just south of Rochester District Court, and will be used for youth theater and arts programs.

And plans are also in the works for another opening of a mixed use building in the North Main Street Hartigan Block, which was built in 1901 and is directly across the street from the courthouse.

The building will also include a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above.

Meanwhle, Cox said the city continues to get inquiries from a number of developers about the city-owned Kelly Gymnastics building at 10 North Main St. and adjacent Scenic Theater building.

"We have gotten a fair amount of inquiries, and the number of calls have gone up," Cox said, adding that the hoped-for downtown rejuvenation is likely to be more of an "iterative process, a gradual thing that will start going faster over time."

It may be that time is now.

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