As the Democratic primary creeps in, carrying with it a possible end to Mayor Lovely Warren’s time in office, she looks back on her time in office with pride. Warren passionately details the funding, policies and programs she has brought to the Rochester community, vowing to continue the ascension of the Flower City’s development should she be reinstated.
As Warren outlines her progress, including securing funding for a litany of projects throughout downtown, center city and underserved communities, a theme of building from the bottom, rather than the top, becomes increasingly evident.
“The goal is really to improve the entire community, and because the needs are different in each neighborhood, the funding we can go after to tackle that, we know where it is,” Warren said. “I’ve been in government 17 years, I know state government, I know the funding mechanisms, I know where the money’s at and I’ve been able to go after it and I’ve been able to get it. No one else has been able to bring the type of dollars I have brought in three and a half years to this community.”
In particular, Warren points to a few specific projects as evidence of her push to bring business, jobs and crucial infrastructure back to the city. She points to the Sibley building, which received $24 million in renovation funding in 2015 to jump start High Tech Rochester’s Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative, intended to be a haven for tech start-ups and small business enterprises. She touts the renovation of Tower280, which was recognized by the Urban Land Institute of New York for excellence in repositioning or redevelopment in 2017, one of only two structures recognized in the annual awards outside of New York City. She takes pride in the secured funding for the inner loop, funded in total by $16,781,036 in highly competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) federal grants, $3.8 million in state funding and $414,000 from the city level.
All of these and more, Warren says, are a part of a term-spanning, necessary development past leaders have neglected to fulfill.
“A lot of people look around now and see the streets and every part of Rochester are under construction, why is this happening now?” Warren said. “It’s happening because we made it happen.”
In what she describes as a “holistic approach” to revitalizing Rochester, Warren emphasizes that revitalization does not rest only on development, but rather on improving communities that have long been neglected.
“People believe that people who live in challenged neighborhoods want out, that they want to leave, that they’re stuck there,” Warren said. “When we started talking to the residents…we realized people don’t want to leave their neighborhood, they want their neighborhood to be improved, they want investment to happen there.”
Under this ethos, Warren has pushed funding into projects which aim to curb the issues challenged communities suffer from, from crime to vacant housing. The latter is a tall order—with over 2,400 privately owned, vacant properties calling the city home—but one Warren has not shied away from tackling, with $1.2 million invested into vacant property demolition in the fiscal year 2017 budget, and an additional $1.2 million later tacked on to demolish all 175 blighted properties on the list by June 30, 2018. Additionally, in 2014, the city established the Rochester Land Bank Corporation, a Board which purchases vacant properties for renovation or demolition. Since its inception, the Land Bank has built six homes, renovated 86, sold 16 blighted properties under obligation of rehabilitation and subsidized 32 demolitions.
“You have to demolish those properties that have to be demolished, you have to rehab those properties that need to be rehabbed and turn those over to, hopefully, first-time home buyers,” Warren said. “Or make it an affordable house that a family can live in and take care of.”
Development, rehabilitation and economic revitalization, however, do not rest solely on the shoulders of housing, as Warren acknowledges. Rather, it is a complex organism that needs to be nurtured by a wealth of economic stimuli. In particular, as Rochester grows to lean on small business ventures as an economic crux, the need for vocational and entrepreneurial training becomes increasingly evident.
Taking pride in a wide range of partnerships, Warren points to programs such as Kiva Rochester. Kiva, a national crowdfunded micro-lender, partnered with city in August 2016. Offering zero-percent interest loans of less than $10,000, Kiva, along with partnerships with PathStone Enterprise and the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, Warren says, offers up opportunity which otherwise may float past underprivileged neighborhoods.
“What we looked for is the gap, where do we look to help people who want to be entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs, how do we help them sustain themselves?” Warren said. “We have one of the largest Kiva programs in the country, right here in Rochester, that’s how you do it.”
On the path to rehabilitating neighborhoods, Warren touts the need for structure reform and expanded business opportunity. However, she recognizes that the point is moot if the people who call these neighborhoods home are not having their voice heard.
“A lot of people have opinions, but they keep silent. They’re afraid to use their voices, to speak up, so what have we done?” Warren said. “In everything we’ve done in the city, we’ve gone door to door. I won’t wait for you to come.”
Stressing the importance of civic engagement, Warren insists that that process can not begin and end in City Hall chambers.
“One thing that I know being in government all these years, the same people come to these meetings,” Warren said. “The same 50 people come to meetings, and if you only listen to those people, you’re doing something limited.”
What remains from outlining the policy and programs Warren has enacted in the past three and a half years is a record she defines as consistent progress, playing into a spirit of Rochester that dates back to the very foundation of the city.
“When I look at what we’ve been able to do, Rochester has always been a city that led,” Warren said. “Whether it was our city as the Flour City, and then the Flower City, image capital of the world. We lead, we don’t follow.”
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