No shows at Main Street Armory 

click to enlarge The City of Rochester has denied Main Street Armory an entertainment license so long as John Trickey is the owner.


The City of Rochester has denied Main Street Armory an entertainment license so long as John Trickey is the owner.

Nine months after a deadly crowd surge led to a change in ownership of the Main Street Armory, plans to reopen the music venue are at an impasse.

The issue? The city refuses to grant the new owner — prominent Rochester landlord John Trickey — an entertainment license, due to his past business dealings.

In late March, longtime owner of the Main Street Armory Scott Donaldson sold the historic venue to Trickey for $550,000, records show. In September, Trickey submitted a request for an entertainment license to the city and was promptly rejected.

In short, city Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley said until Trickey cleans up his rental properties — of which he owns dozens and has accrued a slew of code violations — the city will never allow him to hold an entertainment license.

“We looked at John Trickey’s history of owning real property in the city and his history of compliance with laws, and there’s a long list of lack thereof,” Kingsley said.

Several weeks before Trickey bought the Armory, a crowd surge event at the historic venue following a performance from rapper GloRilla left three women, Rhondesia Belton, 33 of Buffalo, Brandy Miller, 35 of Rochester, and Aisha Stephens, 35 of Syracuse, dead. In the aftermath, the venue’s entertainment license was revoked by the city, and the space has been left mostly dormant.

Lax oversight or stonewalling

Trickey’s career as a property developer in Rochester spans over three decades. City property records show him owning, or linked to ownership, of several dozen city properties, under both his name and a variety of limited liability companies. One of the most visible among his roster is the Armory.

City property records show dozens of open code violations and code enforcement cases. Issues include a myriad of infractions, including failures to obtain certificates of occupancy, lack of smoke alarms, and exposed wiring. Kingsley said since the city’s initial denial of Trickey’s request for an entertainment license, none of the issues at his properties have been resolved to her knowledge.

“They’re totally full of shit, how about that? One hundred percent,” Trickey said in a phone interview. “Go look at the list of properties I own and see how many have their certificate of occupancy, it’s all of them. So, they’re going around, and I think purposefully, putting a violation here or there to make it look like this.”

Trickey said the rejection letter the city issued to him cited fire safety violations at the Armory but made no mention of his other properties. When asked to share that letter with WXXI, Trickey offered an expletive-laden refusal.

Following the publication of this story, Trickey opted to provide the denial letter below from the city. The letter cites several fires, a shooting, illegal events, and an illegal cannabis grow operation at Trickey-owned properties as points of concern. Although Trickey has since sold several of the properties, the letter cites dozens of other code violations, some of which pre-date the sales.

Meanwhile, Trickey pointed specifically to Kingsley as the ringleader of the campaign against him and accused the corporation counsel of “causing 99 percent of the problems we see in the city.” Trickey denied any problems with his property portfolio and cast the situation as a conspiracy against him by the city’s top attorney.

But Kingsley said the only impetus to blocking the entertainment license is Trickey’s own property issues. High among them, for example, is an alleged illegal cannabis grow operation in one of his buildings.

“We told him that we are not going to consider giving him any level of an entertainment license until he cleans up the rest of his coded properties,” Kingsley said. “We’re not going to give you a right in a high-capacity venue when you have 12-14 other properties out of code compliance.”

Kingsley went on to say that even if Trickey were to satisfy city requests enough to be awarded a license, it would be conditional, limited to “lights-on” music events.

Setting the stage for comeback

Trickey isn’t going it alone at the Armory. He has hired a new general manager, Riley Fressie, and his business partner, production manager Andrew Nittoli. The duo oversaw Water Street Music Hall for nearly five years up until September 2023.

Fressie and Nittoli helped to relaunch the iconic Rochester concert venue in the aftermath of the pandemic, and after years of on-again, off-again operation. In addition to the day-to-day management, they were responsible for booking and brought in a diverse lineup including Jack Harlow, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and Drive-By Truckers.

“There's not many teams that know how to run venues, especially ones that are in bad public relations states,” Fressie said. “So, there's really only us.”

Considering the crowd surge in March, Fressie said priority would be implementing curfews, keeping the room at minimal capacity, and working only with promoters they trust are key to ensuring safety at the venue moving forward.

“We'd rather know the promoters that we're working with, we'd rather know their history, and then work together with them, rather than the old-school model of anyone with 10 grand can take the room and do whatever they want,” he said. “And that was the old-school model of these venues, just renting it out to any Tom, Dick or Mary who wanted to come through.”

Kingsley said the pair submitted a plan for security and management at the Armory to the city in November. She said it was effectively a moot document given the city’s stance on Trickey’s ownership.

It’s a stalemate which has effectively left Trickey with a half-million-dollar boondoggle that he can do little with. The venue currently hosts occasional volleyball games but has no ability to do much else.

Trickey did not provide a clear answer about his plan going forward. Kingsley suggested the building might be better suited for retail than a concert venue.

Trickey had wanted to build a venue which would have focused on more “low-key” classic rock and folk performers, a departure from the Armory’s previous specialty in mid-level metal and hip-hop touring acts.

Those plans are, for now, stymied. He blames the city.

“Everything you’ve ever heard bad about the city is, for the most part, true,” Trickey said. “Liars.”

Editor's note: a previous version of this story stated John Trickey was owner of 957 S. Clinton Ave., which houses ROC Cinema. The building was purchased from Trickey in March 2023.

Gino Fanelli and Daniel J. Kushner are reporters for WXXI/CITY. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].
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