Rhinos occasionally may cause people to relocate in Africa, but it rarely happens in Rochester, N.Y.
Yet that's exactly what could happen to Empire Precision Plastics Inc., a Rochester injection molder that's trying to expand onto city-owned property that is a potential stadium site for the Rochester Rhinos professional soccer team.
``If we have to relocate, that's OK, as long as the city deals with us in good faith,'' Empire Precision Plastics President Neal Elli said recently by telephone.
Empire Precision has about maxed out its 25,000-square-foot, leased space, where it operates 25 injection presses and employs 60. The 10-year-old firm wants to add a 15,000-square-foot expansion on the Oak Street property. The expansion could create as many as 30 new jobs.
Another local firm, custom trade-show exhibit maker RES Inc. also had hoped to develop the site, Elli said. But the Rhinos might have other plans.
The Rhinos are a big deal in Rochester. Playing in the A-League - which is a step below Major League Soccer - the team has won three championships in the past five years and has drawn an average of 11,000 fans per game during that run.
One of the team's few problems is that it shares Frontier Field with the Rochester Red Wings minor league baseball team. The field ``is great for baseball, but is soccer-unfriendly,'' according to Eric Trendel, the Rhinos' community relations director.
The Oak Street site ``is in the top three'' of six sites the team is considering for a new, 13,000-seat, $25 million stadium, said Steve Rossi, the Rhinos' vice president of communications.
``We plan on making a decision by the first of the year and start construction in the spring,'' Rossi added.
A new stadium also could propel the Rhinos into the MLS ranks. The team already outdraws several MLS teams, and the Rhinos defeated four MLS squads in winning the U.S. Open Cup in 1999.
The site is one of the few undeveloped parcels in central Rochester. It was designated an Empire Zone by Gov. George Pataki in October, meaning companies developing the site could receive tax breaks and other incentives.
In an ironic moment, Elli said he saw Rhinos officials checking out the site the day after Pataki visited Empire Precision and awarded Empire a grant of more than $100,000 to expand there.
``The tough thing for us is that we're unable to plan until we know what the Rhinos are going to do,'' Elli added. ``But I feel bad for the city, since that property is an ideal site for a soccer stadium.''
The site also has value to the city and the team because it's close to High Falls, an entertainment district that's been growing in recent years and that could benefit from a new stadium.
If the Rhinos do choose the site, Empire Precision probably will look for another centrally located site. The firm was founded in the Rochester suburb of Fairport, but a move back to Fairport at this point probably would cost the firm several employees who would be unwilling or unable to commute.
Rochester city communications director Bridget Burch-White said the stadium proposal ``is definitely not a done deal'' and that Empire Precision's needs ``will be weighed as heavily as those of the soccer stadium.''
Elli said he hopes to meet with city officials in early December to find out if his firm can receive the same tax breaks if it needs to relocate.
Empire expects to match its 2001 sales total of $7.4 million this year.
The company, which primarily molds high-precision parts for the electrical/electronics industry, installed a new, 300-ton Arburg press earlier this year.