The Rhinos are coming, so Empire Precision Plastics Inc. might be going.
The Rochester (N.Y.) Rhinos pro soccer team has reached an agreement with the city to build a 15,000-seat stadium on property adjacent to Empire, a local injection molder. The stadium will be built with the help of $15 million in state funding.
The project could leave Empire in a bind, since the firm had wanted to expand on that city-owned land.
``We're still up in the air,'' said Empire owner Neal Elli. ``All I know is, a year of planning just went down the drain.''
Empire operates 25 injection presses and employs 60 in a 25,000-square-foot, leased space. Elli wants to build a 15,000-square-foot addition that could create as many as 30 new jobs.
But the Rhinos - who average 11,000 fans per game and who have won three A-League championships in the last five years - apparently will be the ones to develop one of the few undeveloped parcels in central Rochester.
On Dec. 9, Rochester city officials proposed a plan to Empire's landlord that would allow Empire to expand at the site by redrawing lot lines and demolishing two vacant city-owned buildings in the area. Elli said Dec. 10 that he is reviewing that proposal, and added that he has concerns about traffic flow, parking security and business disruption connected to the stadium, particularly if it is used for concerts.
``How can we operate 24/7 if there's 20,000 fans going wild when we're trying to run our business?'' asked Elli, whose business received a $150,000 state grant for the expansion earlier this year.
Elli has said he'd like to keep his firm in Rochester, since moving to a suburb probably would cost him several employees who would be unwilling or unable to commute. But Elli admitted that building the stadium in central Rochester is ``a huge positive for the city.''
``A lot of good things will stem from this,'' Elli said. ``I talked with [Mayor William Johnson] ... and he said, `We'll make right by you.'''
In a Dec. 12 phone interview, Rochester economic development commissioner Fashun Ku said the same tax breaks would apply to Empire Precision if it needs to relocate.
``This is a win-win situation for everybody,'' said Ku. ``The city truly values small and midsized businesses.''
``Our goals are jobs and investment,'' Ku added. ``There's been a misconception that the city favors a stadium over small businesses and that's absolutely not true.''
Steve Rossi, Rhinos vice president of communications, said he is satisfied with the outcome.
``The city has addressed the issue of moving the companies,'' Rossi said. ``[The city] has said they'll keep all sides happy.''
Rossi added that the status of the $15 million in state support played a role in the timing of the decision. The funding has been carried over in the state budget since 2000, but with New York facing economic challenges, there was no guarantee the funding would be available in 2003.
City officials hope to have the Empire Precision issue resolved by mid-January.