News10NBC Investigates:  What’s going on in the old Kodak Hawkeye building?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — One of the old Kodak buildings in the City of Rochester was surrounded and searched by police for hours on Tuesday. Initially, Rochester Police said they were at the complex in relation to a burglary case but it turns out there was much more to the story.

The complex in question is the old Kodak Hawkeye plant, which sits at the corner of St. Paul Boulevard and Avenue E. Police were called there when neighbors reported seeing a large number of people running out of the building with their arms full of boxes.

For decades, the complex was home to Kodak’s top-secret aerial reconnaissance film department. The federal government relied on the film processed and developed at the facility during the Cold War.

On Tuesday, dozens of police officers flooded the streets surrounding it when they got a call about a large group of people stealing copper pipes and looting boxes from inside. Police say due to the size of the building and the danger involved, it took hours to sweep through it to ensure no one was injured inside.

Emergency responders found buckets of chemicals that had to be examined by the bomb squad. There was also a cannabis growing operation inside, but sources tell News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke, the plants seem to have been abandoned weeks, if not months, ago.

The building is owned by New York City-based WBS Capital Inc. When it was purchased in 2018, WBS Capital promised to spend upwards of $55 million creating a foreign trade zone with space for a warehouse, offices and affordable housing. While News10NBC did see a sign posted inside the door claiming some of the space was a designated “foreign trade zone,” the other promises don’t appear to have come to fruition.

City property records show there are currently a handful of outstanding code violations and fines pending. News10NBC also discovered the current owners of the building are being sued by an investor for nearly $1.3 million.

On Wednesday, while a News10NBC crew was at the facility, a man claiming to be a security guard approached them. When asked if he could connect our crew to the owner, he called and put her on speaker phone. When asked if she wanted to say anything about the incident she told the security guard, “do not say anything,” and he quickly hung up.

It’s unclear at this point whether the cannabis grow operation was legal. The NYS Office of Cannabis Management tells News10NBC that it doesn’t disclose cultivator locations for security purposes but is working with the city and law enforcement.

The City of Rochester did not return emails seeking information about the code violations at the property and whether it had city approval to be growing cannabis.

As part of the sale of the building to the current owners, both Monroe County and the State of New York offered WBS Capital tax breaks and incentives.

The Executive Director of COMIDA did not return emails seeking answers about whether those incentives and breaks ever came to fruition. The Empire State Development Corporation, which is the state agency that typically manages these projects, also did not return a request for information on whether the incentive it offered was ever fulfilled.