Consultants see opportunities at former Rome Cable site

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A group of volunteer consultants from across the country finished four days of inspection and review of the Rome Cable Complex 4 site Wednesday, concluding the area has great potential for redevelopment, and the need for community input to be involved in the process.

Members of the Counselors of Real Estate’s CRE Consulting Corps had been in Rome since Sunday to assess and provide its expertise on the redevelopment of the former Rome Cable Complex.

Through a partnership with the Center for Creative Land Recycling and with support from the CRE Foundation, the Consulting Corps’ mission is to assist Rome Industrial Development Corp, Rome Brownfield Restoration Corporation and Mohawk Valley EDGE by bringing an unbiased, objective perspective to identify priority investments to facilitate development, maximize the site and prepare it to go to market.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo, members of Rome Area Chamber of Commerce, other city officials and local business owners also participated in the discussions. The Counselors of Real Estate is an international non-profit organization which includes principals of prominent real estate, financial, legal and accounting firms, as well as developers, economists, futurists and ranking leaders of Wall Street and academia.

The Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to building local capacity for sustainable and equitable land reuse. It works directly with communities to transform underutilized and environmentally-impacted contaminated properties into community assets.

P. Barton DeLacy, executive director of Valuation & Advisory for Cushman & Wakefield, Seattle, Wash., explained that volunteers help to identify possible beneficial uses for brownfields with an outside perspective, which eliminates any possible conflicts of interest.

Volunteers assist in identifying “the highest and best use” for the brownfield, “consider all the alternatives and decide which ones would make the most sense” for that particular site, DeLacy said. “We also look at community needs.”

Rome was awarded a $10 million grant from New York in 2017 as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The city identified five strategic city-owned sites within a 180-acre target redevelopment area in the urban core to catalyze investment and revitalize downtown, including the former Rome Cable site.

For more than 60 years, Rome Cable Corporation designed, manufactured and supplied wire and cable products for industrial, utility, commercial, original equipment manufacturers, fire alarm, security, traffic control and mining markets. The company closed its doors and liquidated all assets in 2003.

Designated a Superfund site, the $13 million cleanup has been completed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The site is the epicenter of the Erie Boulevard Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA), and Rome recently passed a PILOT Increment Financing (PIF) District, providing a development incentive.

Mohawk Valley EDGE has identified the following sectors as targets for the site such as advanced manufacturing, agribusiness/craft food and beverage, aviation, IT, and nanotechnology. Approximately 10 to 15 acres of the 40-acre former Rome Cable site are developable, officials said, and the remainder is wetlands and would likely be dedicated open or recreational space.

While an industrial user formerly occupied the site, DeLacy said consultants also identified acres of green space in the area and wetlands — which can be an asset or hindrance depending on what kind of development is eventually planned in the area.

DeLacy pointed out that it’s also an area rich in history, which is an asset the city and community may wish to highlight.

“Rome has an incredible history. We’ve all heard of the Erie Canal, and this is literally where it all started,” said DeLacy. Some city officials have already expressed interest in trying to preserve the Rome Cable tower “for historical purposes,” he added.

Jean Hamerman, executive director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling in Hudson, Columbia County, said she has worked in other cities where the area’s historical elements “are worked into the developmental designs” for the site.

Local residents who pass by such historical elements on a daily basis may find them commonplace and not see their potential, and that’s why an outside perspective is essential, DeLacy added.

DeLacy said some city officials did express an interest in redeveloping Rome Cable as a “light industrial” area, but warned that traffic and street infrastructure would need to be taken into consideration to accommodate potential rigs and delivery trucks moving in and out, as well as local residential traffic and noise.

DeLacy also paid a visit to the Mohawk River Trail Wednesday morning, and said the “back end” of the property could be upgraded and would make “a wonderful nature walk or bike trail” that would not only make the area more attractive, but also attract people to the neighborhood.

“I’ve seen communities put in raised walkways” through wetlands “or swampy areas so people can come and observe the fauna and different natural elements,” he said.

DeLacy said the consultants did not come up with “one definite” use for the former Rome Cable site, but came up with a list of several possibilities they are “still working on.”

“There is one thing that definitely wouldn’t work for this site, and that’s housing,” he added.

Hamerman, whose company helps redesign land for sustainable communities, said it would be imperative, moving forward, for community members to offer their insights on how they would like to see the brownfield repurposed. “This will be an on-going process with EDGE, and I would like to see them get input from residents,” said Hamerman. “Nothing is finalized,” and getting public opinion about possible future development projects “would be beneficial to the city in redeveloping this area.”

Joelle Greenland, also with the Center for Creative Land Recycling, said she was pleasantly surprised at the possibilities for the former complex.

“This is a site that needs a second act — to be activated in ways that will make Rome a destination place — where people will want to come live and work,” said Greenland. “It’s about making this a place that community members can identify with.”

She said, “The next step can lift up the neighborhood, even with walkable jobs — the area has some great connections and walkability.”

R.J. Neary, CRE with Investors Realty, Inc., of Omaha, Neb., said EDGE and other organizations “have done a tremendous job” not only with clean-up efforts at the site, but for working to rebuild Rome after the closure of Griffiss Air Force Base in 1995.

While EDGE will act as the “steward” for redevelopment at the former Rome Cable, Neary said “there needs to be a complementary partnership” with the community.

Neary and Greenland agreed that with the base closing and loss of population, the city “should be proud” of the programs and efforts in place that have helped bring a rise to the community’s “economic momentum.”

The base closing, “can actually be looked at as a good thing. It forced the city to pivot and reinvent itself,” said Greenland. “That can bring out qualities — things — you didn’t even realize you had, and you wouldn’t know you had them without having faced adversity.”

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