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Midtown Tower project stirs interest in living downtown

Nearly one-third of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll said the $71 million Midtown Tower plan and similar projects may entice them to consider living downtown.

The Midtown plan announced last week would include a major addition to the supply of residential units downtown: 186 apartments on the fourth to 13th floors and 24 condominiums on the 14th to 17th floors.

Boosting the number of downtown residents is one of the chief elements of the city’s overall downtown revitalization strategy. Officials hope residential developments such as Sagamore on East and Midtown Tower, along with commercial revitalization efforts such as the Paetec Corp. and ESL Federal Credit Union headquarters projects, will encourage more people to live in the city center.

“I long for a vibrant downtown,” respondent Germaine Knapp wrote.

Only 4 percent of poll respondents said they live in the city center.

Roughly 700 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Oct. 26 and 27.

Do you currently live in downtown Rochester?
No: 96%
Yes: 4%

Will redevelopment of the Midtown site and similar projects make it more likely you will choose to live in downtown Rochester?
No: 68%
Yes: 32%

Here are some readers’ comments:

In order to make downtown a desirable place to live, the perception of a high crime rate must be addressed. In addition, there need to be grocery stores and places to go (an indoor mall, or did we already try that?). Parking is also a big issue downtown. There must be an option for those with children to have the children attend safe, successful schools where learning and graduation are the norm rather than the exception.
—George Dounce

This project will be a great shot in the arm for downtown Rochester and is just the type of public/private development that is needed to move the city forward.
—Victor E. Salerno, CEO, O’Connell Electric Co. Inc.

A new apartment building does nothing to improve the schools.
—David Schiffhauer

The addition of residential units is a start, but without basics such as grocery stores, small park/garden areas or courtyards, cafes, shops, a post office and some walkable areas, living downtown will wait for many. What is the use of living downtown if you still have to get in the car and drive to do the most basic activities?
—Christine Sevilla

I’d love to move downtown. The only problem is they’re not building housing for the middle class downtown. If someone would create one-bedroom apartments for $750 to $900 per month, including free parking, I might be enticed, but from what I hear of Midtown Tower, it’ll cost almost twice that. Until affordable housing is available, we won’t have successfully revitalized the downtown area, and people like me will stay in our nice suburban apartments.
—Steven L. Smith

We have lived in the city for 39 years, but not within the Inner Loop. Our next move will probably not come until retirement in the next six to eight years. Then we may move outside the Rochester area, depending on where our children and grandchildren then reside. City living and city neighborhoods are wonderful.
—Rob Brown, Boylan Brown

My contention with the developments downtown is that they are overpriced. If we are targeting the young professional to move downtown, we need lower rents than the $1,500 for a one-bedroom presumably to be offered in the Midtown redevelopment and prices much lower than $400,000 for the purchased units. What young professional can afford that? Certainly not any of my friends.
—Chris Fridd, Rochester

I might not like to live downtown, but I have talked to many from the next generation who would like to. If you want to revive downtown, there is no doubt more people living in the city center is a must. Thriving, active cities always have a solid residential component.
—Andrew Hintenach, Smith Associates Architects

It helps but barely scratches the surface of what’s required. For example, where does one shop for groceries? I’d personally be looking for a neighborhood feel, which was distinctly missing from the “city living” tour I took several weeks back. This is not New York City, where people generally live in high rises.
—David Lamb

There is really only one issue regarding living downtown: safety. They can build all the housing they want, but until the daily murders, robberies and drug traffic cease, downtown will never be a place people want to move to.
—Rick Corey, Penfield

I answered “No” to question No. 2 “Will redevelopment of the Midtown site and similar projects make it more likely you will choose to live in downtown Rochester?” As a standalone question, I would consider it, as many residents in NYC would like the "midtown Manhattan environment" and the diverse 24/7 activities accessible to the Big Apple. However, this is not NYC, and there is much baggage to the downtown that must also be addressed. Namely, consider personal safety, services, parking and cost. Are we targeting seniors, families, professional, young singles, etc.? Each has common and divergent musts and wants. I recall the UDC project (it used taxpayers money) many years ago that converted what could have been a beautiful Genesee waterfront to a forbidden and unsafe area that blocked access to the river. The area became totally undesirable. In addition, I would need to understand why the High Falls area has been such a failure in attracting and sustaining interest. Some cities have been successful while others have not. Do we understand why? It’s time for some decent and relevant detail analysis. This should not be a repeat of Renaissance Square or the Fast Ferry or High Falls. Based on past performance, we as a community have no credibility with the public. Thus the solution is no longer with the MEGA projects, but with small steps. For example, Habitat for Humanity does not condemn a square mile to build one house. I do not know enough to provide the answer, but I do know that needs will change with time, and thus, mega projects a wrought with issues. I have avoided casting blame since all parties—Republicans and Democrats, federal, state and local levels—have demonstrated short-sighted remedies. I would suggest that public money should not go where private capital thinks it a poor investment (do you hear me COMIDA?). I may add that problems like these are not limited to center city. What about Irondequoit Plaza?
—Dennis Kiriazides, Xerox Corp., retired

Certainly businesses’ moving to downtown Rochester is important. But if their employees all leave after 4:30 p.m., that does little for the revitalization of downtown. The critical mass for downtown is a population of 10,000. Once we reach that plateau, the county and the city won’t have to bribe businesses to move downtown, they’ll have to beat them away with a stick. Instead of working on attracting the next business to fail at High Falls, if we attract the next 300 people to live downtown, we’ll be a lot better off. It’s always better to work with the market, not against it.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA

I love living in my town and do not plan on moving, but I am also delighted to see the city increasing the number of residential units downtown. I believe that many people will choose city living, which is essential to the revitalization of downtown, and I am confident that the re-development of Midtown would not have proceeded without a market study to support this concept.
—Sandra L. Frankel, supervisor, Town of Brighton

Let’s see: Condos that cost ($400,000); apartments that would probably go for north of $1,200/month and no grocery in sight. The city just can’t get it right. Will somebody please look at European cities that are alive and well? Take Oostend in Belgium. Just one example of small cities that have a large part of their population living "downtown" The key is that they have all the things they need within a couple of blocks of their apartments. Most of the commercial buildings have apartments above the shops or businesses and there are a multitude of groceries, restaurants, shops and pharmacies within easy and SAFE walking distance. This city is alive and well and is full of people from morning to night. I’ve personally walked the side streets at 11 at night without any fear along with many other people. Of course, there are neighborhoods that may not be ideal, but most are. Oh, and another thing. There aren’t many suburbs. No need. Either put a casino downtown and let that be the "destination" or support housing (and the related shops) that REAL working people can afford. ONLY THEN will Rochester come alive again.
—Rick Bradley

While the redevelopment idea is a good one, it does not attract me to live downtown. I have grown accustomed to seeing the green grass and enjoying the space of the suburbs. Right now there are not a lot of attractions for downtown living and the cost per square foot is too high. In particular, the will also be more taxes and fees applied that further burdens NYS residents. I think this is a good idea for folks who are prepared to live within four walls and very few hobbies. Unfortunately, this may suffer what all of New York State is suffering from. The state has become dysfunctional, overly in debt, with no long-term solution, and through its’ higher taxes and other costs, i.e., health care, it is driving people from the state. The picture does not look good for New York State, so people should start looking elsewhere.
—Bob Stein

I’ve been a city of Rochester resident for 35 years, always living in old houses with wide board wood floors, leaded glass and character. As a widow and empty nester, I’m now deeply attracted to open-space loft design, granite, exposed brick and stark-angled construction. I’m very excited about new residential offerings downtown!
—Pam Klainer, Klainer Consulting Group LLC

There are too many city kids roaming the streets, panhandling and partying. Even if there are places to live, it won’t be safe to walk the streets at night and there are no grocery stores nearby to walk to and nothing else to do downtown, either. Not a good idea.
—Caren Epps

Cities that have been successful in turning around resident’s flight tend to have one thing in common: They focus on the nature beauty and strengths of their environments. We have a spectacular river gorge and an incredible lake. How many local revitalization plans have you seen focus in on these elements. There have been a couple of feeble attempts like the ferry debacle, but none have been well thought out or funded. Have you been to Portland, Me., or Baltimore, Md., lately?
—R. Stenglein

All we need now is some serious discussion about adding a casino!
—M. Houston

I may not be an urban pioneer, and may never choose to live downtown. (Having lived in Manhattan at a much younger age, I’ve had that chapter in my life already.) But that doesn’t mean that a healthy downtown Rochester is at all unimportant to me, or that I oppose downtown redevelopment. I can be a staunch supporter of downtown projects that keep our city healthy, alive, exciting, safe and vibrantly poised for future growth—and still choose to live in the suburbs. Any individual can answer your questions—with two "no" responses—without implying that the proposed initiatives are not a sound and positive decision for our community. Let’s not misinterpret—or misuse—the findings from this snap poll, whatever they turn out to be.
—Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible, president, Rochester Research Group

Life’s essentials are needed to make center city living livable; a drug store and grocery store both top that list. Wegmans should seriously consider a center city location again, in addition to their revamping the East Ave. store.
—Lisa Hand

Since I already live close to downtown in the Park Avenue area, Midtown development would not affect me personally but as a realtor who actively promotes city living, I would like to add my perspective. Developers need to be thinking about condos for sale in the $200,000 to $300,000 (range). Price range to accommodate two segments of our population that I encounter on a regular basis: young professionals who understand the benefits of buying and building equity and empty nesters who want to live close to cultural amenities but also travel and perhaps own a place in the Finger Lakes or Florida and want to keep expenses reasonable. Obviously in this price range, considering today’s development costs these condos would not be very large or elaborate but I’m confident they would be very marketable. I’m also concerned about the number of rental units that can be absorbed downtown. Considering the job market here I feel we are already saturated. Those of us in the rental business have seen occupancy rates increase and rents decrease in recent years especially in the older more established neighborhoods of the city such as Park Avenue. So my suggestion for Midtown is fewer apartments and more reasonably priced condos would attract the consumer who would then support retail, restaurants etc.
—Sib Petix, the Petix Group at Park Avenue Realtors

One element not addressed in the current plan is an urban park. Such a park is essential to the success of creating downtown as a viable community.
—Doug Flood

Security and safety would be my main concerns.
—Pete Bonenfant

I have teenagers at home who need to be in better schools than the city can offer. There is more to living downtown than just availability and location. Of course, this may change when they’re out of high school.
—Anthony O’Hehir, Fairport

The successful completion of this project will build critical mass for residential projects and make it much more attractive to live downtown. There seems to be consensus around the idea that “retail follows rooftops” and adding this sort of mixed-use development makes it much more likely that the center city will support retail enterprises as well. Ideally, this creates a virtuous cycle that encourages more overall development and growth in our center city. The sooner the better on this project.
—Matthew McDermott, SPHR Employee Benefits Consultant, the Landmark Group

Living in downtown Rochester is out of the question. Being dependent on the ineffective city government for services and more importantly for safety is a risk I would not take.
—Dave Coriale

We enjoy living in Mendon, however, as we get older the appeal of tending to multiple gardens and raking leaves in a large yard surrounded by woods will surely get old. We would seriously consider moving downtown if it was vibrant enough with culture and restaurants. We already avail ourselves to many of the downtown activities: Geva Theatre, RPO, Eastman School of Music events, Little Theatre, Memorial Art Gallery, Jazz Festival, Dryden Theatre, coffee houses, Rochester Public Market, etc. It would be a joy (and good exercise) to be able to walk or ride our bikes to everything.
—Brad VanAuken, president, BrandForward, Inc.

Adding modern affordable as well as upscale housing will only make downtown living more attractive to prospective buyers as a truly competitive alternative to the suburbs. Adding supporting amenities (i.e. bars, restaurants, delis, stores) in close proximity makes for a vibrant and dynamic living environment. The townhouses that I have recently developed in the city have already been well-received, and there seems to still be a keen interest by developers in continuing this trend. It’s this sort of attitude that inspires us all to make downtown a logical and smart choice.
—Peter L. Morse, AIA (Union Lafayette Townhouses)

10/30/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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