New owner shows vision for Sibley Building

Posted at: 01/10/2013 7:12 PM
By: Ray Levato

His name is Gilbert Winn and he's the new owner of downtown's Sibley Building. Winn was in town on Thursday to share his vision, but can he succeed where local mall builder Tom Wilmot could not? A healthy dose of skepticism is understandable when it comes to Rochester's former department store icon, Sibley's.

Historic preservation is a specialty of the Winn companies and we got to ask the tough questions of Sibley's new owner. Gilbert Winn is a 34-year-old, second generation managing owner of the Winn Companies of Boston. He thinks the Sibley building has as much potential as any building he's ever worked on.

Ray Levato: "When you first saw this building, what did you think?"
Gilbert Winn: "I saw a lot of opportunity. With all the different entrances and the beautiful architecture, I felt it was an underutilized asset for the community."

Earlier today, Winn spoke to a group of commercial realtors at Midvale Country Club.

Winn: "We welcome challenges. We see value where maybe the marketplace doesn't at this time."

Winn showed his plan and laid out a bold vision for offices, retail space, and housing in the one-million square feet in the old department store and office tower.

Winn says, "We believe we know how to revitalize these buildings in both architectural design and sound management. We have the financial capacity to be longtime owners and I think we bring a new energy to the city and we really believe in it. We're going to spend time and money and turn it into what it once was."

For Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corporation and downtown's biggest booster -- this was the first time meeting someone she had only talked to on the phone.

Zimmer-Meyer says, "I am incredibly encouraged by the strength of this company. What we're seeing in the projects they have completed is the level of quality is very high. So if we could have dreamed up a solution to that massive property, we could not have done any better than Winn Companies."

Winn's track record of breathing new life into historic old buildings is becoming legendary.

"Downtown Rochester is coming back," says Winn. "This is the most important building in downtown Rochester and we intend to do our best to make it what it once was."

The Winn Companies, headquartered in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston is the 6th largest property management company in the nation with 95,000 apartment units in 23 states.

The previous owner, Rochwil Associates, was delinquent on taxes and loans to the tune of about $20 million. News10NBC didn't hear back from city hall about just where that stands now that Sibley is under new ownership. Economic Development Commissioner Carlos Carballada is quoted as saying, in its 40-year history, Winn has never missed a mortgage payment or a property tax payment.