Nearly three-quarters of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll support the city’s plan to redevelop the Erie Canal Aqueduct.
A century ago, the aqueduct carried water across the Genesee River downtown. Mayor Robert Duffy’s administration proposes a rewatered aqueduct where Broad Street now crosses the river could be the heart of a thriving Canal District—a mixed-use neighborhood designed to be an international destination.
A master plan has been completed, and the city has secured $6 million in federal funding for a first phase that would cost as much as $24 million. This phase would restore the aqueduct to its look in 1842; it would be flanked on each side by a promenade for pedestrians and would have a plaza at each end.
Some 70 percent of readers said this project is important to economic development in downtown Rochester.
Roughly 815 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 9 and Nov. 10.
Do you support or oppose the city’s $24 million plan to rewater the Erie Canal Aqueduct and redevelop the surrounding area?
Strongly support: 41%
Strongly oppose: 16%
In your view, how important is this plan in terms of future downtown economic development?
Very important: 39%
Somewhat important: 31%
Not very important: 13%
Not at all important: 17%
Here are some readers’ comments:
Without jobs and the resulting tax revenue to support the investment, it just becomes another stream to nowhere.
Anything that helps differentiate our city is a plus. It sounds like an interesting way to draw more people to the area.
A revitalized region has to start with a revitalized downtown.
—Joseph Fabetes, Rochester
It will seem a no-brainer when it’s done—but I applaud the city for having the vision and the courage to act on it now; I hope none of the other comments to this poll dissuade them. Here’s an opportunity to meet a responsibility both to our history and to our future.
—Peter Holloran, Cognitive Marketing Inc.
What are they going to do once the aqueduct is done? Put a fast ferry on it? Stop wasting taxpayers’ money and put the funds into fighting crime and making downtown safe. Until the violent crime is eliminated, they are just throwing money away on these projects.
—Rick Corey, president, OpticsProfessionals LLC
With the many problems in poverty-stricken neighborhoods within walking distance of this project, it seems that funding to improve family and neighborhood quality of life would be a better investment—funding to try new approaches for families to attain self-sufficiency that are planned but lack startup funding.
Anyone from Rochester who has experienced the hoopla around the “water feature” in the San Antonio tourist district and has compared it to the 340 miles and 85 locks of the Erie Canal has to be saying, “Why not, Rochester?” Bring it on.
—Karen Kall, On Kall Marketing
The aqueduct represents a unique opportunity for Rochester to differentiate itself from other cities. Given the proximity to the convention center, this could be a means to promote the area for regional or national events. Also, its proximity to the Strong Museum could create an anchor for out-of-town visitors to make Rochester a weekend destination, along with the Finger Lakes. This has been talked about for 20 years; we just need to do it.
—Steve Mowers, New Scale Technologies
I personally would have gone further, allowing boat traffic, but this is a great start!
—Andrew Hintenach, Smith Associates
I reluctantly support the proposal, with my main reservation being its effect on vehicular traffic patterns.
—Matthew D. Wilson
There are several cities that have successful downtown areas because they have revitalized through similar projects (Oklahoma City, Okla., Providence R.I., San Antonio, Texas, and Ottawa, Ontario, to name a few).
—S. Bruzda, Alliance PPC
I’m against non-critical publicly funded projects like the fast ferry and the Renaissance Square. I’d like to see the project done after the center city reaches the critical mass of 10,000 residents. I heard a talk about the Erie Canal Aqueduct. It offers great potential for an increased tax base. Many examples were given of how other areas have used their water front (ocean, bay, lake, river, etc.) to draw people. If there are more than 10,000 people already in center city, they would be pro the aqueduct. But this project makes little sense before the people arrive and during a recession.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
Too much on the plate right now—maybe for a future revitalization.
Let me see if I have this correctly: After the celebrated failures of several signature multimillion-dollar “economic development” projects (the fast ferry, Renaissance Square, the soccer stadium, to name a few), the city is now planning on tearing up Broad Street—to bring turbid Genesee River water across the Genesee on an aqueduct and have it dead-end downtown? This seems like the height of folly. Will what was once “Clinton’s Ditch” become “Duffy’s Downtown Ditch” for this generation of Rochesterians? Let’s be serious—for those who would propose to bring water downtown, we must look critically at what would be necessary for the viability of such an undertaking. To be a true hub of economic activity, that water would have to be a navigable waterway, with waterside businesses and amenities, a functioning urban marina, a minimum water depth of 10 feet, and the ability for recreational boaters— not just shallow-bottomed “canal boats”— to go from somewhere to somewhere. As well, the water would need to be clear and fresh to be visually appealing, not turbid and opaque. The city instead needs to focus on permanent job creation for all levels of city residents, as well as public safety. The very concept of a rewatered Aqueduct and dead-end canal in downtown represents a romantic but sad distraction from those development areas that truly need original thinking and charismatic solutions from city leadership. As the saying goes, “those who forget history are destined to repeat it.” Well, as a community we celebrate and remember our Erie Canal heritage, including the history of why the canal was moved out of downtown. Though it would seem some may have “forgotten,” this community does not need to repeat the experience at taxpayer expense.
—Christopher Burns, Rochester
If $24 million were spent on this project, how long would it be for a positive return on this "investment"?
—Jan Winslow, Photo Associates USA
A canal can add a lot of value and scenery to a city. Properly designed and operated canal district is a boom to tourism and commercial activities. San Antonio is a classic example. On the other hand, a poorly designed and operated canal will be a drain to the city’s resources and burden to tax payers for years to come. I would say go for it. I rather see a nice canal district in the city than a casino.
—Patrick Ho, Rochester Optical
The answers to problems with the downtown area are not going to be solved by a re-watered canal, a casino or a new world headquarters. People go where they feel safe and don’t go where they feel threatened. High Falls taught us that. If this project moves forward, it will need community involvement and support. If it becomes simply another spot to "hang out" for kids so they can yell, swear and harass visitors, it is doomed to failure. If it is recognized as a valuable community asset, it has a chance.
—John Halewski, CSNY, Inc.
Safe accessible with parking good office facilities aesthetically pleasing Amenities Distinctive. These are among the attributes essential to attracting business people downtown. The aqueduct addresses distinctiveness and aesthetics. If I trusted that it really wouldn’t cost more than $24M, I’d support the concept and a plan towards the same end. However, if there’s risk the cost is greater, than the city should address the other attributes first.
The policies I support are not complicated and will revitalize the downtown area. The two agenda goals are: eliminate crime and lower taxes. Work diligently toward those goals with all the resources available and downtown will magically become interesting to taxpaying, law abiding citizens. We already have a great waterway that would be a gem in any other well managed community. With several waterfalls! Eminent domain the riverfront welfare housing and landscape my river! Once downtown is sound and the river bank is developed and attracting people, add the Erie Canal phase. Is there no logic? I am completely baffled by the rush to spend taxpayer money in this totally mismanaged economy. I wonder how much the geniuses coming up with these pie-in-the-sky plans get paid for their fairy tale ideas. Work your way up to 20 million like the Renaissance fiasco. Don’t worry, nobody is watching. Maybe we could get Mayor Johnson back. We could fund a supersonic submarine program to Toronto! It will be all the rage and it doesn’t even really have to happen! We just have to fork over millions up until the investigations start, then it will suddenly dissipate into the deep. No harm, no foul. Next project, please. Anyone notice a pattern here? Wow, a "master plan" is completed! Did YOU get to vote on that?
This is not a time to approve expensive issues such as this one because of the state and local financial situations. I do agree that this would be a good way to make changes downtown in the future when the economy recovers but not now. Let the $6 million stay with the federal government for more practical uses. Yes, it would affect employment some day when it is fully ready to be built but that is a long ways off.
—Bruce D. Bowen
I miss the point entirely. When I read about this plan, I felt like I was from a different planet. How will this improve public safety, increase long-term employment or increase property tax revenue for the city? Who directly benefits financially besides the construction company?
Is this the best we can come up with for downtown economic development? I would rather we spend that money on cleaning up what we already have in the city such as crime, deplorable housing and getting kids off of the streets and back into school. I think our priorities are in the wrong place.
By comparison, the fast ferry would look good.
For years there has been no aqueduct and the city thrived. How about using all this money to help those who are not working and cannot pay their bills!! There seems to be plenty of those types in Rochester.
—F.J. Muto, FJM Inc.
Could have been paid for and already built with the time and resources the city has spent taking over failed private projects and arguing over the need for a theater and bus stop for the past 10 years. Once the city is back on track financially, let’s try to work cohesively to make something positive happen in this town.
—Mark DiFelice, DiFelice Development, Inc.
There is a significant need to improve the attractiveness of the downtown area to serve the needs of the current population and draw new Rochester residents and visitors to the area. The work that has been done like this in many other communities has proven to be successful.
Seriously, you want to spend $24 million in money that doesn’t exist? It doesn’t matter what the project is proposed. We’re already over taxed and it’s fiscally irresponsible to continue to incur more debt to fund non-essential projects. If there is public support for the project then cut costs in other areas and use that money to fund the project.
Go Team Duffy! Let’s move forward and get it done. Sounds like a great project.
—Donna DeClemente, DDC Marketing Group
I recently moved here from Long Island three years ago. Each day in the summer over 100,000 people go to the beaches and are charged according. At Jones Beach, it is $20 per car. People love the water. I think the diamond in the rough in Rochester is the lake. Make is assessable to all and develop a huge park for kids to have a safe place to stay. Train and get job for all of the youth of Rochester, as Robert Moses did on Long Island. As I see it, only a few people use the water. Some stay away because of the bacteria. This also can be fixed. Others can afford a boat and can go out on the lake. Just an idea.
It’s a wonderful, unique opportunity to bring our history alive. It is also an opportunity to create a very pleasant environment for Rochesterians and visitors alike.
—Don Adair, Adair Law Firm, LLP
I believe creating a tourist destination in downtown Rochester is the only way to attract people and revenue to the area. With the way our state is currently run and the taxes that we face, attempting to bring businesses downtown is an exercise in futility. Hopefully a visually attractive area, such as what is being proposed, tied in with our area’s vibrant arts and culinary talents, will be a must see as well as an area where those must be seen. While not even close to "the answer," I believe it’s a good start and while Renaissance Square was well-intentioned, this type of atmosphere change will benefit a more wide encompassing segment of the population than just those that support the arts.
—Chris Adams, Camsing Co.
Mayor Duffy is becoming "Johnsonized." Is this all we can get out of our administration in this city? Is there no one capable of getting federal and/or state funds for a REALLY worthwhile project? Who in heaven’s name is going to make an aqueduct a destination when they aren’t safe on the street as they watch the pretty water gurgling past them. AND, talk about a maintenance money pit! Add a little radio-controlled fast ferry and you’d have a REAL attraction.
I feel a key to revitalizing our area is to make downtown more vibrant. While most cities make the most of their waterfront and rivers, our forefathers built the city away from the lake, hid the river by building stores over it and paving the aqueduct. I feel that bringing back history and showcasing our resources will help us stand out from other cities vying to attract residents and employers. It helps to have something to brag about.
(It would be) a reason to go downtown on a weekend or holiday. Ask anyone in Pittsford if the canal park is important to the town’s economy. They need to have many small affordably priced retail spaces along it or it will fail. That’s what happened at High Falls. Restaurants were too big and rents to high. Not enough apartments nearby. The Neighborhood of the Arts got the mix right. City should hire Doug Rice and Paul Kramer as consultants.
If anyone has ever been to the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, they know the power of a thriving downtown pedestrian canal. Why wouldn’t it work in Rochester, too?
Besides being picturesque and historic, the canal would be a great destination for tourists and residents alike. I’ve spent a lot of time in San Antonio and have seen firsthand what attractions such as the Riverwalk can bring to a downtown area.
I strongly believe that many of the other rehab projects in Rochester could be put on hold in favor of this. People are attracted to water and will drive for miles just to have dinner and a cocktail next to an ocean, river or canal. It would draw people from Buffalo to Syracuse. Many other cities have a proven track record of success with similar projects, just look at Pittsburgh as an example.
—Don Eaton, Fairport
As there are only several places in the entire world where water passes over water, this would create a very unique feature in the region. One that I expect would bring travelers and school groups from around the world to see the original Erie/Barge Canal returned to its original glory.
—Chris Fridd, city of Rochester resident
Downtown Rochester has good hotels and convention facilities, but needs more dining and shopping options for visitors, particularly on evenings and weekends. The canal aqueduct is in a great location for this, and could also draw foot traffic from the busy Hall of Justice, to and from Corn Hill, and from Blue Cross Arena events. The idea of a focus on the river corridor and Broad Street corridor is appealing because so many sites could be eventually linked this way—Geva, the Strong Museum, the Eastman School along Broad Street—High Falls, St. Paul along the river. The boating link might even benefit the University of Rochester’s development of Brooks Landing, which is close to the junction of river and canal.
—Cheryl Breitenbuecher, URMC Pathology
I am opposed to the plan to rewater Broad Street for several reasons: 1. Broad Street is the largest street level bridge over the Genesee River in downtown. The plan takes away the vital four-lane bridge over the river. Traffic, including several bus routes, would have to be handled by the three other bridges in downtown, Andrews Street (two lanes), Main Street (two due to buses and illegally parked cars), and Court Street (two lanes). So 10 lanes minus four lanes leaves us with six lanes of street level traffic over the river. (We cannot count highway traffic over 490 and the Inner Loop.) I see nothing in the plan about adding a bridge elsewhere to handle the traffic. 2. Broad Street Bridge also provides parking for cars, trucks and buses. When shows come to Blue Cross Arena, their tour buses and tractor trailers often park on the bridge. During hockey games, the bridge is packed with parked cars. 3. Broad Street is State Route 31. So we will have to reroute it to another street. 4. Court Street is often blocked by trucks loading and unloading for shows at Blue Cross Arena. It is not a good candidate to make up for the loss of Broad. 5. While it might be a draw for tourists and visitors to Blue Cross Arena, how would they get in and out of downtown? After events, vehicles leaving the Civic Center Garage heading to 490 would have to go down Exchange to either Main or Court. Court Street would be jammed with traffic. 6. The aqueduct would not really "carry" water over the river. It would just be a large fountain. The plan does not create a navigable canal. 7. To truly restore the canal and put boats on it, we’ll need to demolish the Rundel Library and build locks behind Dinosaur BBQ. (Yeah, the library is in the way, lets remove it.) Then rip up streets across the city until it reconnects with the canal on the west side. Don’t forget all the new bridges over each of the streets that the restored canal will cut across. 8. At least the fast ferry added a means of transportation rather than constricting it. A canal adds little to our transit needs. It moves us backward, not forward. 9. What happens when we decide in the future that we need more public transit options like a subway or light rail? We will have lost the old subway tunnel as a right of way. 10. I do not see how a fountain will improve the city’s image. It will not increase safety, provide housing or improve schools. Those are three things that really need to be done in Rochester.
—Kent Pierce, Thomson Reuters
If the plan was to rewater the canal from the river near the Dinosaur to a turnaround basin on the edge of the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, instead of the current plan, I would support it fully. The proposed plan, while nice and a definite improvement, does not go far enough to make re watering the canal a useful endeavor. Low bridge!
—Dan Palmer, Rochester
This is a lot of money for something that will not deliver much. There are a lot of negatives like crime, deteriorating structures, maintenance, vandalism, graffiti, weather and more to deal with. I don’t think the payback is there.
I think it would be a great idea to make our city the once vibrant place it was 50 years ago. The community needs to respect the city and recognize that if it wasn’t for the city the rest of the surrounding communities would not exist. I hope this can bring the surrounding communities together as a gathering place for all. Suburbanites are afraid to come into the city for many reasons. I hope we can change their thinking and make the city a safe place with attractions that will bring families to town.
—Maryann Alaimo Allen, Rochester
If we build it the people will come? Does the city really think that people will come to watch water flowing? Does it want to proceed with Phase I just because federal money is available? Phase I is projected to cost up to $24 million. Does this mean the actual cost will be $50 million or more? Does using someone else’s (federal) money make it OK? Isn’t it really our money? And if it were the last $24 million the city had, would we spend it on this? What are the city and the county doing to revitalize the city and really make Rochester a draw and an attraction? We need a vision and a comprehensive plan to address drawing businesses back to downtown so growth will be possible.
—Keith B Robinson, CFO Diamond Packaging
There needs to be something done for the sake of the city. Otherwise people will continue to move out —there will be no retail, no residential—it will turn further toward the ghost town that Rochester is most days.
—Ed Stevens, Stuckey Associates
While the restoration of the historic aqueduct could result in an important attraction, the more important element being proposed for the Broad Street Corridor is the Canal District mixed-use area would result in a new lifestyle community being created in downtown Rochester. More people living, shopping and working downtown in a unique, canal-themed neighborhood linking Corn Hill with the Susan B. Anthony district is critical to continuing improvement and expansion of the area.
—Bill Condo, Broad Street Corridor Citizen’s Advisory Committee
What a delightful project! If you want to revitalize downtown, you need to look at why it used to be a popular destination—and what happened, what you lost, that made it what it is today. A new bus station and college campus will do nothing— BUT this project and other such as light rail from the city center to the lake, to the rail station, would absolutely be inviting and useful. Imagine art fairs, music and weekend flea markets thriving by the water during the summer, ice skating and other winter events during the snowy times. This is the most sense I’ve seen coming out of Rochester for a long time.
—Richard Stevenson, co-Founder and CEO, CobbleSoft International Ltd.
Rochester needs an architectural revival of its downtown in many ways. The city and county are derelict at developing the available beauties of the city, the river and parks to the gems that they are. The historic downtown buildings really need at least a cleaning from their present lousy state. Re-opening the canal would be a small step forward to also develop the sides of the Genesee River. Adding some snazzy high-class stores to Main Street to attract visitors from the suburbs and surroundings, improving the parking situation, and adding visual police or security to downtown (instead of cruising in their limousines) would also help. The $26 million could not buy any better visual improvement to add to our new beautiful Genesee Bridge. Much more money has been wasted in the past on invisible downtown activities. I would recommend using the European cities for comparison. A river like the Genesee and a canal like ours would there be considered jewels! Here, it is mud.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
The Erie Canal is unique to our area. We need to capitalize on what we have to offer. The canal provides recreation, ambiance and history. Its potential has been too long ignored.
Developing our waterfront is a critical piece of enriching our city. Many other cities stand as examples of the success (San Antonio, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pa., etc.). These developments draw people and dollars to the area. The dollars filter through the economy and create many secondary opportunities for the area to grow.
Absolutely. This is a wonderful project and, when completed, will be a wonderful tourist attraction that will significantly contribute to the economic welfare of the city.
—Dyke Smith, Dyke Smith and Associates
Making downtown attractive is essential to its continued rebirth. This is on the order of Providence, R.I.’s fire on the water. And should have that kind of special aspect attached to it.
—Jon Wilder, H & W Technology, LLC
I think that reestablishment of the Erie Canal in Rochester can be a vital contribution to ultimately cleaning up the city, and attracting more people to downtown. Calling attention to Rochester’s thriving past, which grew from the canal and river can make a very positive contribution to tourism, as well as a renewed interest in downtown from suburban residents. Building cultural/leisure area such as High Falls, in the canal area can augment the East End, and have many parts of the city attracting visitors.
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.
I am not sure why this would become an international destination. I would use the money to remove the inner loop which I think devastated to city and it isn’t even a loop when you consider there is no access to the east side from 490 west and it also does not access State Street from the west.
All plans designed to revitalize the city should be reviewed. It’s also important to note that this is one small piece to a much larger puzzle.
Rochester already has several great reasons to visit; including the theater, wonderful museums and sports events. By creating a more vibrant heart of the city, it is possible that we could entice visitors to come and stay longer. However, we also need to ensure that the costs equal the return on investment. Keep the plans realistic and avoid the over-the-top designs.
—Nancy May, Alliance Precision Plastics
We have three important components necessary for revitalizing our downtown. One is a river system to attract people, the second is a lot of cost-effective property which makes such projects economically feasible and the third is people of vision in leadership positions to affect a plan of action. If you want to bring people downtown, you must attract them with "unique" and an aqueduct is certainly that. However, the mayor should be cautious and seek out local business leaders to evaluate this plan for economic feasibility before moving forward; because we have learned two things from the Fast Ferry; one is "unique” alone is not enough and secondly, good politicians rarely make good business decisions.
—Scott Hept, Accurate Acoustical, Inc.
This may be a terrific project as long as we learned from the mistakes of High Falls. This cannot lead the city resurgence but it can enhance it IF residential, business and retail can get a foothold to support the endeavor. I hope we do our homework and due diligence learning not only from our own past but the successes and failures of other like-sized cities before we go forward.
—Peter Short, Pittsford
I believe that there are more important places to spend city money. The city has a lot of other places where money well spent would enhance the environment and make the city more pleasant.
This project, if done right and not compromised into oblivion like the Fast Ferry, has the potential to create a dynamic destination corridor and spur downtown redevelopment, especially on the neglected West side. This sort of project has met with success in communities not unlike our own. Rochester’s downtown has already seen appreciable redevelopment, with thousands of new residents coming here the past few years. But it needs a critical mass to tip the balance towards major new growth. This canal project could be the catalyst to push downtown towards its potential. That said, it must be implemented in such a way as to allow for adjoining rail transit, a major incentive to redevelopment that has sadly been lacking from Rochester’s recovery planning. Other more dynamic cities (or rather cities less choked by the inertia of their politics and bureaucracies) have made far more progress in providing their citizens with the advantages of modern transit, even cities smaller than Rochester. The canal project and modern rail transit needn’t be mutually exclusive—in fact they would complement one another. Both are proven ideas that have potential to revitalize the city’s downtown on a human scale, unlike the late politically-motivated bus garage (RIP). Having lived elsewhere, I have points of comparison between Rochester and more successful cities. Our city had a Golden Age in the 19th century that continued well into the 20th, based on the accomplishments of radical business and social visionaries. And the often-ignored fact that our leading businesses were monopolies. But the world has changed and the successful communities are those that change with it. The attitude of "we tried that 50 years ago and it didn’t work" won’t get us very far. A century ago, the Erie Canal was a filthy sewer that rightly needed to leave downtown. But times change and now it’s one of our leading attractions. Our region has a traditional quality that many Americans hunger for. Rochester has great charm that surprisingly few of its own residents recognize. That quality (certainly not our weather) can attract young and dynamic people back here, first as visitors and then as residents. We need more visionary projects like this.
—Gary Bogue, independent consultant
What does the marketing plan look like? How will it be promoted? $24M in cost is not much if it generates $24 million annually in out-of-county tourist revenue, but is quite a bit of money to spend if it only generates $24,000 in annual revenue! There are a lot of details missing before we can make an objective assessment of support.
I’m a huge history buff and have studied the Aqueduct area quite a bit. However, Broad Street is more valuable as an automobile thoroughfare. Making it a stagnant reflecting pool, or a short packet boat course to nowhere is silly. It might be better if the Aqueduct was weatherproofed and turned into part of the skyway connecting the Library to the War Memorial, and put historic photos, old diary entries about the amazing trip over the river, and other Aqueduct displays in the old canal bed.
—Todd Fisher, Thomson-Reuters
I enthusiastically support this plan to redevelop the Erie Canal Aqueduct in downtown Rochester. This is precisely the type of development that the city, county and region could benefit from—a unique Canal District that would draw visitors, residents, and businesses to a new neighborhood in downtown Rochester. San Antonio, Texas, has its Riverwalk, a highly popular and unique area of the city that attracts visitors and local residents on a daily basis. The Erie Canal Aqueduct and the Canal District could become Rochester’s "Riverwalk."
—Ted Benjeski, Henrietta
The best use of this right-of-way would be a light rail system/subway. RTS has come a long way, but it still doesn’t go where most people would like to go. A commuter rail system might. That said, though, I would support a plan to re-water the canal—it’s better than filling it with dirt.
—Steven L. Smith
A better use for that space would be to turn it into something like Fanueil Hall in Boston: a food court that would serve the lunch crowd and the War Memorial crowd before events.
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