You shop there, you dine there; pretty soon you might be able to live there

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BRAVE NEW RIDGE: City leaders think the demand will be strong for housing at The Ridge. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - What broke ground six years ago in April as Rochester's newest and largest retail shopping center complex is expected to begin a bold new chapter this April as the city moves to amend the TIF financing plan to to allow residential housing within the district.

The Ridge Marketplace may soon become what Economic Development Director Michael Scala characterizes as a "lifestyle entertainment center" that will blend retail, entertainment and recreational venues with residential housing.

If all goes as planned "this will be an added section for mixed use such as multifamily residence options, parks, trails and other recreational options," Scala said earlier this week.

Scala said the residential potential within the current Ridge TIF district has long been considered a viable option as part of its development with former Economic Development Director Karen Pollard building the groundwork back in 2017.

The COVID-19 pandemic just accelerated the pace, he said.

"We've been looking at it for a bit, but the coronavirus and changes in the market just accentuated what we had planned," Scala added. "Office space demand was going down before the pandemic. Now it's basically be cut in half."

Scala believes there is a large segment of the population that would gravitate to living at The Ridge just a stone's throw from major retail, entertainment and dining venues.

"It's very exciting," he said. "If you look at surrounding cities like Dover and Portsmouth, they have lifestyle entertainment centers where people can go nearby to do all these things. And if they're at The Ridge they won't just stay there, either. They'll come to the downtown, too."

There's roughly 900 acres in the The Ridge TIF with about a couple of hundred left to be developed.

If the City Council votes next month to allow residential development onto the TIF plan, the Zoning Board would then take up the matter and come up with a plan that would go back to the Council for another vote.

If it all goes as hoped the city is ready to proceed with finding a developer that would oversee the project.

But not everybody is onboard with the initiative.

Rochester resident Ray Barnett spoke in opposition to the residential options during a public hearing earlier this month, saying it would lead to an "explosion of apartments" that would have a costly impact on our schools budget and an additional cost for taxpayers.

City Manager Blaine Cox said that while he is aware of such arguments from concerned citizens, "the data does not show that."

"When you provide housing for workers, that will draw more employers, who will hire more people," he said earlier this week. "Those people will work, and they will spend money in the community."

TIF, or Tax Incremental Financing, uses funds generated from the difference between the value of an improved property and the frozen base value to pay for infrastructure like water and sewer, sidewalks or even urban trails or recreation. All the TIF money has be used within the TIF district.

Naysayers will say if a TIF district founders taxpayers foot the bill.

But Scala said this type of mixed use lifestyle center - where housing, retail, entertainment and dining all intersect - is "a trend that has been happening for years."

"These apartments are going to be market value and very nice," he said. "This only solidifies the health of The Ridge's TIF district."

He said if all goes as hoped he will present plans to the City Council sometime in April or May.

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