Here's where it gets tricky for political candidate Sean Allen.
Allen, who's running for Rochester City Council president, is a prominent businessman who happens to co-own one of the hottest restaurants in town. He co-owns what's called a "boutique" real estate company, Midwest Landing. And he's a neighborhood activist.
All four roles intersect at an event coming up next week.
Allen announced last month that he'll challenge City Council President Randy Staver for his job in the November election. "As I've thought about the leadership of our community, I think we need to have more visionary leadership, more independent leadership," he told the Post-Bulletin when he announced his candidacy on Dec. 16.
He's made a few allusions since then to the fact that Staver works for Mayo Clinic, and in an interview with the website Med City Beat, he said, "I don’t have a problem with Randy Staver. Personally, he’s a very nice guy. But I do think we need more people who are independent on the council — people who are not attached to any other organization in the community directly."
"In 2001, Sean was asked to join the Rochester Area Foundation staff to lead the First Homes Initiative. As executive director of First Homes, Sean oversaw the creation and financing of more than 1,000 workforce housing units. In addition, Sean developed the Imagine Kutzky initiative with Kutzky neighbors and through First Homes invested more than $20 million in the Kutzky Park neighborhood. Sean is still an active member of Imagine Kutzky, an organization that advocates for great urban design in the core neighborhoods."
If you're not aware of Imagine Kutzky, here's how that organization is described on the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association website:
"Imagine Kutzky is a reinvestment initiative and partnership established by the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association, First Homes, and Rochester Area Foundation. As an organization, the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association was increasingly put in a position of reacting to development proposals, often in negative terms. In an effort to become proactive and preserve our neighborhood, as well as promote neighborhood-friendly development where needed, Kutzky Park neighborhood leaders began planning Imagine Kutzky."
The group's mission statement is "to preserve, enhance and promote Kutzky Park as a vibrant and sustainable, mixed-use urban neighborhood."
So it's a spinoff partnership from Allen's former employer, with presumably a different focus than the neighborhood association.
In any case, Imagine Kutzky is planning a public meeting next week on "the future of Second Street Southwest between 11th Avenue and U.S. 52." According to an email from Imagine Kutzky, the meeting was sparked by the dispute over the proposed $65 million Holiday Inn hotel project on Second Street and issues related to that project, including talk of a pedestrian tunnel from Saint Marys Hospital to the north side of the street, and the developer's request for tax-increment financing.
The TIF request led to an email Sunday from the CEO of the company that owns three other hotels in the area, objecting to any public money for that project. The email went to city council members, Mayor Ardell Brede and the Post-Bulletin; we posted it online Monday.
Allen has big problems with the Holiday Inn project. When he put up his campaign website, that project was Blog Post No. 1. Here's some of what he said about it:
"The December Destination Medical Center Corp. meeting was an interesting showdown between locals versus out-of-towners, and the locals lost.
"The city representatives (Council President Randy Staver and Council Member Ed Hruska) fell over themselves trying to persuade the DMCC Board to give them enhanced tax increment financing powers for a ho-hum hotel on Second Street Southwest. The DMCC Board members balked at the suggestion that this enhanced TIF power – a power that no other city in the state has – would go to something as pedestrian as more parking and a tunnel for a Holiday Inn.
"I have a number of issues with this particular project, but chief among them is competitive advantage. The City Council is picking winners and losers – and I don’t say that lightly. When a private developer proposes something that gives them a competitive advantage (a direct tunnel to St. Mary’s) over other similar businesses in the area, and then asks the City to pay for it, I have a problem."
He also has concerns about design, transportation aspects, the impact on the neighborhood and more.
Fair enough. He's making it a campaign issue, apparently, and it's a good one. There's a lot of interest in it, a lot of angles related to DMC, and the P-B has aggressively reported on it. I might try to pull together a Post-Bulletin Dialogue meeting about it as well.
Imagine Kutzky contacted me about the P-B possibly partnering on a meeting, but that didn't seem appropriate, considering the group's involvement in the issue.
They're going ahead with a meeting next week. Here's the email they sent out today: "Due to the high level of response to this subject/email" -- the Holiday Inn project and the email from TPI Hospitality, which opposes the Holiday Inn proposal for TIF money -- they'll have a public meeting for "further education and interaction around some of the urban design topics that have been raised ... The goal of this session is to further the conversation and engagement around the development of 'Midtown' Rochester."
The event will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 -- at Forager Brewery.
Though the campaign season hasn't officially begun -- the filing period is months away -- it's an interesting choice for a locale.
Also interesting is that City Council Member Michael Wojcik -- who's also up for re-election this year -- recirculated the email today with this note: "Please join concerned neighbors, community leaders, and one really concerned city councilman at this event to discuss the future of the evolving neighborhood around St. Marys. Can we build a safe people-oriented place for neighbors and businesses in a city so dominated by automobiles?"
Wojcik's comment is limited to the transportation angle, but the angst about the Holiday Inn project is about a lot more than transit -- and the event at Forager would seem to be more than just an information session.