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Housing tops downtown development priorities

With 57 percent, development of owner-occupied housing topped the list of priorities for downtown Rochester. A grocery store and restaurants tied for the second spot, each being chosen by 46 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll.

Retail and performing arts venues round out the top five.

Since Rochester’s Center City Master Plan was adopted in 2002, a number of economic and political factors have affected the region’s urban hub. And with Midtown Plaza demolished to clear the way for the Windstream Corp. building and other redevelopment, downtown Rochester is dramatically different from what it was a decade ago.

City Hall recently embarked on a process to update the master plan, which it describes as “a business plan for downtown.” Its timeline calls for drafting of the new plan to begin in April, with adoption of the updated Center City Master Plan by the end of 2013.

Nearly nine in 10 poll respondents say downtown Rochester is important to the entire Rochester-Finger Lakes region, with 58 percent characterizing it as “very important.”

The percentages were higher among those who live or work in downtown Rochester; 93 percent say it’s important, with 69 percent answering “very.”

Roughly 720 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Jan. 28 and 29. Among 13 items, respondents were given the opportunity to select all that applied.

What types of development should be the highest priority for downtown Rochester?
Owner-occupied housing: 57% 
Grocery store: 46% 
Restaurants: 46% 
Retail – specialty shops: 44% 
Performing arts/cultural venues: 41% 
Rental housing: 32% 
Nightlife establishments: 28% 
Class A office space: 26% 
Outdoor festival site: 23% 
Retail – chain stores: 23% 
Park/recreation area: 22% 
Casino: 19% 
Other: 9% 

In your view, how important is downtown Rochester to the entire Rochester-Finger Lakes region?
Very important: 58% 
Somewhat important: 31% 
Not very important: 9% 
Not at all important: 2% 

Among those who live or work downtown:
Very important: 69%
Somewhat important: 24%
Not very important: 7%
Not at all important: 0%

Among those who do not live or work downtown:
Very important: 53%
Somewhat important: 34%
Not very important: 9%
Not at all important: 3%

Do you currently work or live in downtown Rochester?
No: 65% 
Yes: 35% 


The city needs a center city complex. The former Midtown Plaza site has all the potential and needs to be developed accordingly. Having a revamped Sibley’s building with the MCC campus still inside would be (could have been) a great start to the center city complex. MCC could/should have shown the vision to stay and be an integral part of the city’s future.
—Mike McDermott, Röchling-Advent Tool and Mold

I live one mile from downtown within the city of Rochester. This means that downtown is my city. I drive into it and do business there several days each week. I believe that downtown will revive in spite of the controlling, moneyed 1 percent who reside in the suburbs. There are already so many pockets of revival that are unnoticed by the masses. Go to Central Avenue off Clinton. There you will find Designer’s Library, open only to the design trade, residing in the Cable-Wiedemer Building. The owner, Bob Brissinger, installed a garden in a vacant triangle of land adjacent to the building, along with renovating the entire structure. In the coming year he plans to open a retail home decorating shop that will rival New York and Toronto in high-end design. Next to Designer’s Library is an architecture firm with a dramatic sculpture displayed outside. It literally shouts, "We are here and open for business and proud to be in Rochester." Across the street on Central Avenue is a state-of-the-art woodworking shop that just restored and recreated cabinets, molding, etc. for the Frank Lloyd Wright Boyton House on East Avenue. And on State Street across from the Rochester Plaza Hotel, Frank Moretti runs Diva Shoes and Hats. This shop is a Midtown Plaza survivor. It rivals boutiques in great cities of Europe and North America. So, in spite of the foot-dragging, botched, negative-talking, lame ideas of supposed “leaders” of the community, the “revival” of downtown Rochester is taking place quietly because of the brave, courageous, risk-taking “pioneers,” visionary individuals who know that life is not truly lived in a mega-mall. It is these people who are the true leaders of revival.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design, Interior Design Services

The only way a critical mass can be established in downtown Rochester is through encouraging more housing, both owned and rented. This will encourage a grocery store, other retail, restaurants, Class A office space and specialty stores to migrate toward downtown, creating a living community.
—Michael L. Harf

I don’t think that retail, nightlife or a grocery store will bring people into downtown. A casino, on the other hand, will bring people not only into downtown, but into Rochester, from all surrounding areas. This will be dollars spent in Rochester that otherwise would not be spent here. What are we waiting for?
—Natalie Summers

We can throw all the money we can imagine at our downtown. Until we improve the public schools, who but a couple of hundred empty-nester yuppies are going to want to live there? Until we have a thriving residential core—which means families with decent schools—then which of the list (except a festival tent and a casino) is going to have any measurement of success there?
—Jay Birnbaum

We need to build a complete, livable community in downtown Rochester—or nothing will improve, and we’ll be doing this survey again 10 years from now.
—T. Baker, Henrietta

Live, work and play. Make it conducive to all three, but please no more High Falls projects.
—Myron Kowal, Response Care Inc.

Downtown Rochester has great potential, but the issues regarding public safety and ample parking have to be addressed first before any substantive progress can be made.
—Scott D. Upham, founder, president and CEO, Valient Market Research

By advantage, we are between two large cities, Buffalo and Syracuse, and not to mention a lake that should be a destination in the region. Our venues here in Rochester should accommodate the flexibility of large-scale festivals and events. Rochester is a unique community built upon the residents who are rich in culture, art and talent. Rochester should reflect that. We shouldn’t be asking for chains to come; they should be asking to be part of us.
—Anna Souannavong, Rochester native, librarian

How come there’s no industrial work occurring in the city as a priority?
—D. Kumor

To get young families to buy homes and stay in downtown Rochester, part of the solution lies in the public school system. See West Philadelphia for a great example of a public-private partnership between the university and the public school district that injected new life and economic activity into a dying section of the city. A healthy urban core makes for a prosperous region.
—Ana Liss

We must learn from the past 60 years. While suburbs are developed as "drivable communities" around the automobile, center cities do best when they are developed as "walkable communities." This means an abundance of entry/exits into shops, offices, residences, theaters, etc., and avoiding "big-box" development like inwardly-oriented casinos and buildings with long solid walls at street level. Downtown also needs a good circulator, such as an urban streetcar, to help reduce the need for 60 percent of downtown land for unproductive parking lots.
—Carlos Mercado

A number of baby boomers I know are already downsizing, and would certainly move downtown to lofts, condos or apartments if downtown became a real neighborhood; a pharmacy, grocery store, nice shops and parks within walking distance. We have enough entertainment and cultural sites. What’s needed is a feel like Park Avenue, only downtown. I’ve lived and worked downtown, and I’d probably go back if I had all the amenities I have in my current neighborhood.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

Parking is one of the biggest hurdles to bringing people downtown. Make it convenient and free and people may come back.
—Dan Rienholtz

Housing drives everything, period. Without housing in an urban setting, businesses can’t survive. A neighborhood and its residents (as a whole) needs to be a social destination, not just a few restaurants or night clubs. High Falls is the perfect example. When it first opened years ago, it failed. Only six residential units were available and it was "open" just four nights a week. During the other three nights, it was empty because there was no social life. Residential density (whether it sprawls or is vertical) is critical.
—Rich Calabrese Jr.

The most common barrier to community "buy-in" is the lack of parking. Any revitalization component must include easily accessible affordable parking.
—Ira Korn, CCIM Coldwell Banker Commercial Meridian

Downtown Rochester should be a place where theatre is alive, and coffee house music is plentiful in the streets. It should be an experience, not just a walk-thru. Downtown Main Street should excite the mature crowd and make them detour on the way home just to enjoy that cocktail they weren’t even thinking of. Right now downtown and I have a loveless marriage; I hold on to the memories of the Sibley’s holiday display, but I’m not very hopeful that I will be that exited again. I’ve lived in Rochester my entire life and I do love it, still. But like a room in your house you’ve been wanting to redecorate for years, it may just need a fabulous coat of paint!
—Brenda Porter

Fix the $100 million hole in the ground that was made in haste without a real plan for success. I don’t gamble, but a casino is a good idea; it creates action. You need housing so people who live downtown spend downtown.
—Karl Schuler

Maintaining the vitality and attraction of our city core as the hub of this region is critical to this region’s strength and growth and prosperity. All civilizations depend on strong urban cores for commerce and culture. Maintaining this strength requires public/private collaboration and an on-going commitment from all stakeholders to make this happen, to bring it about. In my opinion, this IS happening. One only needs to look back 10 years to see the great improvements that have taken place during that time frame and are in progress today. We must all benchmark the best cities and work to bring best of class thinking forward all the time and not to become apathetic in our planning efforts. Strike out with a bold vision of what is possible and work to achieve that vision. Rochester has incredible assets and all the capabilities to make this city the model.
—David Beinetti, president, SWBR Architects and Chairman of RDDC

I see downtown as the hub for several neighborhood spokes, providing recreation, cultural and educational events and venues, a destination for visitors to our region, a portal to the Finger Lakes Region. This is where organizations want to hold conventions, summit meetings, etc. Good minds, good resources and lots of beauty and recreation opportunities within a 50-mile radius.
—Carolyn Gray

The mix of owner-occupied, rental, and specialty shops and restaurants in the Park Avenue area is a good model. It is driven mostly by private investment, it draws young and old people to street level events and it has a reputation for safe fun. The key to downtown revival is housing and shopping. If we do build a casino put it in an area like the Finger Lakes Race track, NOT right smack in the middle of Rochester.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

A cultural center with two to three stages and space for several eating and drinking establishments, along with easy accessible and parking, would create a magnet center to allow for growth. It needs to be funded privately and through donations.
—Garry Geer

For visitors or business people, who for short or long terms are in Monroe County region, the city is the "attracting" location. We want choices within a well defined "walkable" area; easy to venture around, easy to get to, easy and safe to enjoy.
—Stephen Fowler

You need to make it safe first before you do anything. Make Rochester the cultural art center of Upstate New York.
—J. DeMeis

These questions could use some rework. No. 2 should ask "currently, how important” or “how important would a developed downtown be.” The way it reads it, are you asking now or future—big difference. No. 3: Define "downtown"—another big difference.
—Donna Gillespie

2/1/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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