Rochester taps Abu Dhabi firm for downtown development ideas

Hoping to transform two key downtown blocks by the Zumbro River, Rochester officials are turning to a developer with roots in Abu Dhabi.

The city will spend the next six months working exclusively with Bloom Properties to evaluate options for a potential multi-million-dollar redevelopment project on a two-block stretch of downtown between 2nd and 4th streets southeast, near the government center, the city library and the Mayo Civic Center.

"It's just such a strategic location right in the heart of downtown," said Rochester Redevelopment Director Terry Spaeth.

Bloom is a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi-based National Holding Company. It's developed luxury residential and commercial properties in the United Arab Emirates, including the Abu Dhabi Marina.

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The umbrella company is owned by members of Abu Dhabi's royal family, who want to make a personal investment in a place they've been visiting for decades for medical treatment at Mayo Clinic, said Ahmed Elkhalifataha, senior manager with Rochester-based Oxford Property Management, which is working with Bloom.

The city owns a parking ramp and a surface lot near the river. Spaeth says next year the city will acquire a third adjacent property, the Labor Temple building. Plans could include a hotel or mixed-used housing and retail space. The publicly-owned property is one key element in Rochester's 20-year vision to remake itself into a global medical community.

Mayo plans to spend $3.5 billion in capital improvements at its Rochester campus over the next two decades. The expansion could attract at least $2.1 billion in additional private investment.

Elkhalifataha says Bloom's total investment on the development could range from $100 to $120 million. That includes a bank building on the same two-block stretch that Bloom purchased in 2013 for more than $8 million.

The company plans to renovate that building and incorporate it into an overall vision for those two riverfront blocks downtown, he added.

Officials say nothing is final yet. No money's been exchanged. The agreement simply gives Bloom exclusive rights to propose projects for that area for six months.

"Everything is ready from the standpoint of the owner," Elkhalifataha said. "When everything is approved and finalized and been studied very well, they will be ready."