The city of Rochester is reviewing options for the historic Broad Street Aqueduct, which crosses the Genesee River in downtown Rochester.
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents to this week’s Rochester Business Journal Daily Report Snap Poll say redevelopment of the aqueduct is important for future downtown economic development.
Built in 1842 to enlarge the Erie Canal as it crossed the river, the aqueduct was abandoned after the canal was diverted in 1918. The Rochester Subway used the old canal bed under the Broad Street Bridge for nearly 30 years. Currently the aqueduct is in disuse.
A group called Broad Street Underground Project LLC has proposed redeveloping the aqueduct and its adjacent tunnels into a year-round venue that would include shops, restaurants, services and entertainment. The passageway would connect the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial. The group says private and public funds and grants would cover the estimated $25 million cost.
Three quarters of respondents favor this proposal, with more than a third saying they “strongly” support it. This compares with 10 percent who strongly oppose the idea.
Others envision rewatering the aqueduct and removing Broad Street. The administration of Mayor Robert Duffy in 2009 outlined a plan that called for a mixed-use Canal District with the aqueduct restored to its look in 1842, with a pedestrian promenade on each side and a plaza at each end.
To be developed in phases, the entire project had an estimated cost of nearly $200 million.
Rewatering garnered less enthusiasm from poll respondents, with 60 percent opposed to the plan.
The city is talking with state officials on possible funding scenarios for tourism-focused redevelopment in the area.
More than 650 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Feb. 9 and 10.
A local group has proposed redeveloping the aqueduct under Broad Street into a year-round retail, entertainment and cultural venue. Do you support or oppose this idea?
Strongly support: 36%
Strongly oppose: 10%
Others have proposed removing Broad Street and rewatering the aqueduct. Do you support or oppose this idea?
Strongly support: 16%
Strongly oppose: 24%
In your view, how important is redevelopment of the Broad Street Aqueduct in terms of future downtown economic development?
Very important: 32%
Somewhat important: 42%
Not very important: 16%
Not at all important: 10%
For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.
A successful downtown requires a variety of destinations for both downtown residents and the metro population. A historic recreation is something a tourist visits: Once! A unique eating and shopping experience retaining the character of the old aqueduct has the potential to enrich the center of our metro area, but only if it is woven into a pedestrian-friendly matrix of downtown districts. Think “underground Atlanta.”
—Richard Rosen, architect, Mark IV
A restored 19th century Erie Canal across the 1842 iconic aqueduct united with today’s Erie through downtown not only creates a destination, but is a huge economic engine. Restored waterways in urban settings have a proven record of success nationally and internationally. We don’t have to look to Providence, Oklahoma City and San Antonio; we have Fairport and Pittsford as prime examples. A restored Erie Canal not only brings name recognition, it is a game changer and brings new meaning to the word transformation.
—Tom Grasso, president, Canal Society of NYS
While the aqueduct project has a “cool” factor, Rochester has a thriving entertainment district in the East End, and developing the aqueduct would drain clients and resources away from this successful area (particularly with the redevelopment of the Inner Loop). The High Falls experiment was unsuccessful, and I don’t see how the outcome of the aqueduct project would be any different.
I don’t see much good to come from removing Broad Street and adding water. Creating a viable passageway with cultural/educational impact would be best. Not wise to create competition with the Public Market, as they continue their improvements, so it would have to complement the Market and the plans for the filled-in Inner Loop
I strongly support the commercial reuse of the aqueduct, but taxpayers should not subsidize any part of the development. It should stand or fail on the basis of its own economics.
—Rob Brown, Schatz Brown Glassman Kossow LLP
As a kid, I played in this aqueduct. It extends underneath the public library and overlooks the river beneath. I support redevelopment with retail and entertainment, as well as upscale housing in the form of river overlooks of perhaps two to three stories. This is the heart of old Rochester, and unique in its access to the river and to Center City venues. However, the city can’t go it alone. The towns of Monroe County must put their weight behind the development. It’s time for Monroe County to “lean in” and be helpful instead of adversarial.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
Redeveloping it is a fantastic idea. The most important thing—regardless of the end use—is that the concept design needs to be physically and visually connected with surrounding streets and uses, for example the library, where there is daily activity. Something organically integrated into the fabric of the city will have a much better chance of becoming a vibrant place than something conceived as a destination or stand-alone. That area has huge potential. This is a great opportunity to bring life to those downtown blocks.
Connecting the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial—thus tightening part of the downtown area to address its current general disconnectedness—is a good concept and worthy of further study. I’m skeptical of the $25 million project estimate. The “rewatering” idea is not nearly so appealing, and the price tag makes it a non-starter.
—David Lamb, Rochester
This project needs to be carefully evaluated to “stand on its own two feet” and not require continuing operating support from the city, as earlier city-sponsored projects, such as High Falls, have demanded.
You only have to travel to Pittsford or Fairport—although San Antonio isn’t bad, either—to see how a waterway attracts! Retail will follow, but travelers don’t go downtown for retail, they go for BBQ, for sporting events, for festivals and fireworks. They’ll go if they can hop a boat in the suburbs, and enjoy a leisurely ride that includes downtown.
Retail in general is undergoing a major transformation as online purchasing becomes more established. Access to downtown Rochester via the canal would be unique, and I believe better use of the aqueduct. Judging from the boating traffic in Fairport and Pittsford, I would suspect Rochester would become a destination as well.
—Sam Messer, Applied Measurement & Controls Inc.
As long as not one penny of taxpayer money is used to redevelop the aqueduct, that’s fine. If the developers can’t come up with the money on their own, then don’t build it. I’m tired of taxpayers funding projects that most will never use; Yankee Stadium comes to mind.
—Jeff McSpadden, McSpadden Heating and Air LLC
Rochester needs to get more creative with its assets. I have never been in the aqueduct, but have seen many pictures. Can you make it a small concert venue in or around it? Can someone use it for a winery and wine cellar, brewery, climbing, rafting tours, etc.? I see the aqueduct as a chance to create something extremely unique in downtown.
If you’ve been to Underground Atlanta, you know the potential for developing the Broad Street Aqueduct.
—Charlie Waldman, L-Tron Corp.
Connect the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial and the Convention Center? Why? Hardly anyone goes to them separately, let alone between them. Make a destination for the many, not a conduit for the few and fund it all by seizing Sheldon Silver’s retirement assets.
Given the national recognition of our distinctive feature, the Erie Canal, we should consider this opportunity more seriously than others. To garner tourists, make sure the proposal includes the big three: parking (nearby and free), safety (evident but not conspicuous) and long-term viability (supports a reasonable pro-forma without ongoing subsidies). I would love for the aqueduct to be another destination for out-of-town family and visitors. Good luck.
—Dave Kennedy, Webster
Rochester needs to be creative to draw both visitors and permanent residents. We need things that make citizens proud. A signature. This could be it.
Two words: High Falls.
Gosh, there has to be other alternatives better than wasting money here. How about sprucing up Main Street? Is this another fast ferry?
The Broad Street Aqueduct renovation—if done well—could be a city centerpiece and a unique reason to visit downtown. Our downtown—outside of High Falls—is highly lacking in reasons to visit it. This could become one. Such a venture requires the return of foot traffic to the city core, and as such must be coordinated with things like easy access to nearby parking at a reasonable (read: free on weekends) fee. I strongly support this effort.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.
We already have way too much retail development downtown. The areas that are working (Village Gate, East End, Park Ave., The Armory, etc.) would all be impacted negatively. And didn’t we just start a big retail, entertainment, and cultural project on the Inner Loop fill-in? Why don’t people try to find ways to bring businesses to downtown where they belong, to help fill all the vacant buildings and the renovated Midtown tower?
—Tom Nairn, Rochester
I like the idea of redevelopment in general terms, and the idea of creating linkages between the Convention Center and Blue Cross Arena makes some sense to me. That said, I’m skeptical of the viability of underground retail there. You may have some influx of convention-related foot traffic, but I’m not seeing how you draw people there routinely to actually sustain a retail component. If you want to encourage retail, finding ways to foster street-level retail in our center city would be a better bet.
—Matthew McDermott, Vittorio Menswear & Tuxedo
Rewatering the Rochester Aqueduct is an idea whose time has come. Other upstate cities along the Erie Canal corridor would all love to have such a lucky opportunity. With the proposed navigation portal to the Genesee River, there could even be boating on old Erie Canal through Rochester.
—Daniel Franklin Ward, curator, the Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse
I’d love to see the “old canal” resurrected in some way! Challenge with “shopping mall”: how to drive action and fill with thriving shops and people? Building an “abandoned” mall would be embarrassing and wasteful (“Midtown”). Hence big leaning toward the fill with water; cheaper, (though city then pays). Very unique. More historic.
Rewatering is the way to go. It is historic and unusual. And it is out in the open. Little chance for crime. I have been to Atlanta’s underground retail area. It is dirty, dangerous and scary. But hey, we have been talking about reviving the aqueduct for at least 40 years that I can remember. I cannot take this seriously.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
To get more people to live, work and have fun downtown, you need reasons for them to come downtown in the first place. The tipping-point population for downtown is 10,000. Once that number is reached, the stores and restaurants and other entertainment will come without subsidies. I love the idea of rewatering part of the older Erie Canal, but I fear it would be too expensive and not supported by its own revenue. Turning the aqueduct into a year-round venue could bring entertainment and money-making restaurants and stores.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.
Seems like a waste of money, just as filling in the Inner Loop seems like a waste of money. I say leave it alone, and get Midtown redeveloped first! And as far as the Inner Loop fill-in, why not just put a "roof" on the open parts and the existing roads become a tunnel. Use the new "roof" space for green space, picnics, whatever; it worked in Boston.
—George Thomas, Ogden
What will the homeless do when they are kicked out—lol. Why don’t we spend the $200 million to help the needy (not the freeloaders) in Rochester. All I see in the news that Rochester is one of the poorest cities in the U.S.A. of it size. Give people a job and you will kill two (or more) birds with one stone ($200 million). My perception of Rochester is that if you have a skill (it could be anything) you can make a good living here. Cut the state and local taxes and you will pump more development in Rochester than this wasted $200 million proposal project.
The development of downtown is important to the health of the region and the city and will help us resolve many of the problems facing the area. The key is who is going to pay for it and how will it draw people to what currently is a moribund downtown? $25 million for the underground project seems extremely low and of course is characterized as "private and public" monies. The former mayor’s plan is estimated at $200 million coming from who knows where. Two different plans with costs miles apart, what is the real cost, after all the unexpecteds? And is this just another “field of dreams”? Build it and they will come? At least Ray Kinsella built his field with his own money!
—Keith B. Robinson, Diamond Packaging
Duh! This is NOT Atlanta, Ga. Our history is we cannot support above-the-ground establishments. How in the world are we going to support this? Do not want to come across negative or resisting change, but we are now wasting $23 million on the Inner Loop, and lest we forget the Fast Ferry and High Falls episodes!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield
No public money; just private. The city budget has enough issues in it already. If no private developer steps up, then capitalism has spoken.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit
Downtown shopping has been dead as a doornail, and adding the stores in the aqueduct will not change this. I frequently go to different places in the city. The abandoned buildings are a sore and discourages going down there. I am for clearing up the disastrous areas and making them to visually attractive, inviting places.
—Ingo Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
The Broad Street Aqueduct could be an important tourist attraction, like Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle, Boston Commons in Boston—all of which attract millions of tourist dollars. I would revitalize downtown Rochester both economically and environmentally. I strongly support this idea!
We’d be foolish not to take advantage of our unique architectural feature. In future years, it would be so sad to ask why the Rochesterians of today were so short-sighted.
Assuming it is structurally sound, this is an historical treasure not only for its roots in the Erie Canal system but of the Rochester Subway system, as well. We have enjoyed exploring the tunnels when they have been opened to the public and the link between the Convention Center and the Arena (which should be updated) could be a huge boon to tourism and convention trade. A mix of retail and historical restoration of both the canal and the subway would be a nice addition to downtown.
—Peter Short, Pittsford
By all means, develop the Broad Street area. Start planning. But first, let’s finish the work on Midtown.
The canal idea is interesting, but it’s winter here six months a year (or so it seems). An indoor venue, connecting other downtown features, would be a much better (and less expensive) alternative. If it is well designed and executed, it could be like Underground Atlanta, or any of the other destination attractions that exist in other cities, and would be a great addition to downtown.
I think this project is worth a try as long as no public money or tax breaks go to the developer. The city should offer to lease the space to the developer for a nominal $1,000 per year, payable upfront annually. If "a year-round venue that would include shops, restaurants, services and entertainment" is commercially viable, the developers will be able to justify this claim in a business plan that they present to commercial banks or to other sources of capital. One of the claimed advantages of this proposal is that "the passageway would connect the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial." These venues are already connected via the existing Broad Street and Main Street bridges. Both of these bridges have two nice sidewalks with great views of the city, as well as the capacity to carry two lanes of auto traffic.
The aqueduct is a unique treasure for Rochester. Rewatering the aqueduct could create a focus for development within the City that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the country. Do it right and it could be a jewel.
—Bruce Anderson, Alpha & Omega Parable Christian Stores
Great! Now the street fights can go underground.
—Jim W. Bloomfield
The Aqueduct is a historical and unique asset to the City of Rochester and should be developed as such. As a downtown resident, business owner, and loyal Rochesteriat, I believe it’s our responsibility to make this city better for future generations, and developing this amazing space is one way to do it.
The Broad Street Aqueduct is an historic landmark that deserves preservation in an innovative way that will serve to educate, entertain and contribute to the economy of Rochester. Renovating this aqueduct will unite the past with the present and will push this city to a brighter future.
—Tim Hansen, 5.56 Multimedia Research
The Broad Street Aqueduct could become a tourist and local year-round attraction just like the San Antonio River walk. We should open opportunities to local entrepreneurs and expand our vision—yes, let’s do The Broad Street Underground Project!
—Mary Lynn Vickers
How is this our business? Let someone with the money to take on one of these projects do it. Why are you stealing from taxpayers to do some crazy feel good project that will never make any money back for them and will only benefit a small handful of people. If the net present value of the project is above zero, someone will do it!
—Devon Michaels, Chili
If Rochester ever hopes to have a vital and thriving downtown it is going to have to develop a microcosm of the suburbs so that people who move downtown will have convenient access to the same variety of things they would if living in the suburbs.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport
Why not do it. Right now it’s a drag on the community as well as a loss of "badly needed tax dollars." If it could look anything like the "architectural rendering " displayed here how could it not be a plus for the city. I’m all for it.
While sounding appealing, the proposed aqueduct redevelopment contains a fatal economic flaw. This bridge superstructure is now nearing the end of its economic life, such that any financial return on investment will be cut short within about a decade. The 1842 stone aqueduct is in great shape, as it was in 1925 when a superstructure was constructed atop the aqueduct to carry Broad Street traffic. This 1925 superstructure lasted only 50 years, until vehicular vibrations and salt-generated corrosion necessitated its complete demolition in 1975. The current superstructure is now 40 years old, and will soon itself need complete replacement. Any commercial activity within this bridge will need to be removed completely when this demolition takes place. Investing $25 million in a project that could survive only 10 years seems highly impractical economically. When the 40-year-old superstructure is demolished in a decade, the cost comparison to be made is how rewatering the historic Erie Canal aqueduct compares with constructing an entire new superstructure. Bear in mind that the superstructure demolition cost would be part of either scenario, such that the true comparison is between one future versus the other future.
—Douglas A. Fisher Esq.
Neither Broad Street proposal will have a net positive impact on our economy. We simply must focus our limited economic development funds on projects that will grow businesses that sell goods and services outside of the region. The underground retail proposal would be nice, but we have a long way to go to increase downtown retail where we really need it: at street level. The canal proposal would be far worse: an enormously expensive landscaping project that would have huge negative impacts. The canal proposal would: Eliminate one of only two east-west through streets on the west side of downtown, which would create gridlock in the event of a closure (fire, police, parade) of W. Main. Create a 20-foot barrier for pedestrians on the bridge trying to reach sidewalk level at South Ave. Prevent reuse of the tunnel for commuter rail. Decapitate our signature and historic twin-arch Broad Street bridge. Eliminate a large supply of on-street parking. We no longer have a canal in downtown Rochester; we have a trolley subway with a street on top. Building a new canal would not bring back the economic impact of the original Erie Canal. The Erie Canal served as a valuable transportation artery long ago, but its market simply no longer exists. Instead, we need to focus our downtown transportation efforts on improving public transit, which would allow more people to access and move around downtown without the need for more parking.
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