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A new anchor of prosperity for Rochester

On Sept. 9, as part of City Hall’s request-for-proposal process, a diverse group of Rochesterians will recommend that Parcel 5 at Midtown become a multi-use, flexible, small business and recreational public green space. We are calling it Rochester Visionary Square.

Our group is made up of real estate and business owners, urban planners, marketing experts, architects and economic development professionals. What we share is a clear understanding of the economic impact this project can have on downtown Rochester. We understand that the heart of a city must be vibrant with activity to attract tourists, businesses and residents.

Our idea is not new; it is proven. Our idea is not naïve; it is based on numerous independent studies. Our idea is not costly; it requires no investment of taxpayer dollars either for startup or operations.

Our idea is not another big brick-and-mortar building in an already crowded urban landscape. It uses art, nature and low-impact structures to allow people to relax and enjoy the unique architecture of downtown Rochester.

Our idea is not exclusive. It invites people of all economic groups, ages and backgrounds to share in downtown Rochester. Our idea is not restricted by time or seasons. It will be open 12 months a year, day and night.

Our idea is not just about fun. It is about providing startup space for at least 30 small businesses while providing them with educational, financial and community support. This plan will have direct economic impact, promote job creation and help the occupancy of buildings like Tower280, Sibley Square, Windstream and the Metropolitan.

Simply put, Rochester Visionary Square has the potential to have a strong economic impact on Greater Rochester, based on evidence from hundreds of other spaces across the world. Some financial benefits include:

  • creation of jobs;
  • tax revenue;
  • an incubator for small retail businesses that can then move into the vast amount of retail space available downtown as they grow;
  • a destination spot for tourists and locals, enhancing hotel and restaurant revenue;
  • a showcase for area products and services including restaurants, wine and beer; and
  • quality-of-life improvement that increases occupancy rates and real estate values.

    Other cities recognize how multi-use, public green space can reinvigorate the economic and social core of their urban centers. Within 300 miles of Rochester, major metropolitan areas—including Cleveland and Toronto—are making investments to create public spaces in the center of their downtowns.

    Again, this is not a new concept. The two-acre Campus Martius in Detroit is a similar size to Parcel 5 (1.17 acres). This formerly unused green space, surrounded by car traffic, was developed by a small nonprofit as a public square and contains gardens, stages, an ice rink and an outdoor cafe along with many seating options.

    Many events are specifically created for Campus Martius, which is exactly what we have planned for Rochester Visionary Square. Campus Martius has been credited with bringing new jobs to the area—Compuware moved its headquarters and 4,000 jobs adjacent to the park because of its desire to be part of a “lively district.”

    Active public green space also can increase the value of nearby real estate. In Chattanooga, Tenn., property values rose as high as 127 percent in areas where the city had invested in public space during the 1980s. That, in turn, increases tax revenue.

    We believe that our plan of creating a diverse center of social and economic activity best supports the city of Rochester’s vision for the center city as highlighted in its master plan by “creating an urban community of lively streets and public spaces that is a desirable place to live, a desirable place to work, and because of that, a desirable place to visit.” And, as the master plan points out: “Projects, public and private, will be evaluated on how much they add to streets and public places.” We believe that our proposed Rochester Visionary Square provides the anchor and the best way to meet that vision.

    Benjamin Woelk is founder and principal of Slow Road Consulting, a placemaking consulting group that specializes in marketing, tourism and small business development. Kathy Palokoff is founder and chief igniter of goFirestarter, a marketing and business-building engine that helps entrepreneurial organizations get unstuck.

    8/26/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


  • One comment

    1. Read last weeks Op Ed to understand the dilemma facing City officials in the event there is a strong proposal for a Performing Arts Center submitted, at the same time there is an outpouring of public support for a Public Square on Parcel 5. Should that happen, a solution could be found by re-opening the Performing Arts Center Feasibility Study, and demanding to know why an alternative site was not studied.

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