Emma Foster is one of the first Rochester Institute of Technology students to move into Innovation Square in downtown Rochester. The move by Foster, and others like her, is expected to usher a new demographic into the center city: college goers.
“It’s quite the treat,” Foster says. “I honestly didn’t even come to downtown before now. You can live anywhere off campus you want, but this is only for students. There are quite a few international students who have been awesome who live here now, and I’ve made some friends. If didn’t live here, I wouldn’t have made any friends from other colleges.”
Foster, who is in her fourth year at RIT, majoring in interior design, splits the $1,800 monthly rent, which includes utilities, with her roommate.
“With the security and all the amenities they offer, I would say it’s worth it,” says Foster, who is a native of Maine.
Formerly Xerox Tower, Innovation Square is expected to have 15 floors of student housing ready for the start of the fall semester in 2022. The 30-floor-building was purchased by Gallina Development last year. Officials hope that college students will occupy most of the building, which currently has five floors of housing, each with a dozen two- and three-bedroom, fully furnished apartments. So far, 112 students live there.
“This was always the intention when we bought this building,” says Evan Gallina, manager with Gallina Development.
By next fall, he hopes 450 students will occupy Innovation Square, which boasts amenities such as 24-hour security, a fitness center, pool tables, televisions and a café. A former skating rink is being transformed into a sunken outdoor lounge, officials say. Plans for a gaming lounge are in the works.
“We’re targeting upperclassmen and graduate students,” says Gallina, who calls the project unique with its focus on six local universities and colleges: RIT, the University of Rochester, St. John Fisher College, Nazareth College, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Geneseo.
“This really promotes collaboration and it’s important to have diverse approaches for student projects,” Gallina says. “We’re calling it a creative academic collision. You could have an engineering student from RIT working with a UR student in business working with a Nazareth student in marketing.”
Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. points to the fact that the building is in the middle of the Downtown Innovation Zone. “The opportunities for a co-op or a permanent job on the other end is very direct,” she says.
When RIT students were surveyed about the concept, more than 2,000 responded with great interest, observes David Munson, RIT president.
“This concept is an outstanding opportunity for students wanting a more urban lifestyle and will easily enable collaborating with students from other colleges,” Munson says.
Some 6,800 students live in RIT-owned housing, while more than 8,000 students live off campus, RIT says. When Innovation Square hosted a job fair in September, with employers on the lookout for co-op or full-time employees, roughly 500 students from local colleges were in attendance, Gallina says. A dozen were hired.
“It appears there’s proof of our concept,” says Gallina, who believes engaging young people will help the city’s urban revival and prompt them to stay in the area upon graduation.
Robert Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, says there have been discussions about colleges bringing students downtown for years. Innovation Square is the first manifestation of that. Duffy expects the building to reach capacity in the next few years.
“A lot of great things are happening downtown,” he says. “You have corporate headquarters moving in, there’s an increase of business in the former Sibley Building on Main Street. These are all huge game changers for downtown. You can start to see a change happening already before your very eyes. And taking a mostly empty Xerox Tower and making it a hub of education and innovation and growth, it’s going to be very exciting to watch.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.