The Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s Arnie Rothschild and Morgan Management’s Robert Morgan cited economic growth, downtown revitalization and the storied history of Rochester’s arts community as they made their case for the ambitious performing arts center at the site of Midtown’s Parcel 5.
“For years in Rochester, nothing got built without Xerox, Kodak or Bausch and Lomb’s involvement,” Rothschild said, speaking to the Rochester Rotary Club on Sept. 19. “No matter what we say, someone says we can’t do that. This is not just a performing arts center, this is downtown revitalization.”
The massive, $135 million undertaking, which would include a 3,000 seat theater, a 150-unit housing development and a 1,700 parking space underground garage, has been the subject of contention among city residents since Mayor Lovely Warren accepted the proposal in April. Critics and proponents of an open civil space at the cite, under the name “Free Parcel 5,” call the project a glassy boondoggle that will further economically segregate an already divided downtown and only benefit suburbanites looking to spend an evening in the city. Many have compared the project to former mayor William Johnson’s infamous “Fast Ferry” project: a gaudy taxpayer burden destined to have its curtains drawn early just as the ferry was economically sunk.
Rothschild refutes this claim vehemently, arguing that the PAC will serve as a critical economic driver.
“Rochester is a great arts and entertainment town, just as Syracuse is a great college sports town and just as Buffalo is a great professional sports town,” Rothschild said. “This will create a huge number of jobs.”
The vision of Rothschild’s Golisano Center for the Performing Arts, an homage to the billionaire Rochester native who has pledged $25 million to the project, features a piazza-themed outside area with regular outdoor festivities, an outdoor stage and a massive display of performances within its walls able to be viewed from East Main Street. Rothschild looked to Golisano’s dedication to the project on proof of its feasibility.
“Tom Golisano has never been involved in a project like this,” Rothschild said. “Yet, as he reviewed the project, he agreed that it was important.”
Morgan, whose company is developing the lofty high-rises that will cap the center, called the project “iconic.”
“It’s definitely needed by the city,” Morgan said. “I’ve traveled to a lot of different cities, and it became clear to me that we need something like this.”
While a matter of dispute, with opposition to the project claiming the economic impact would be negligible, Rothschild estimated three-fold economic impact for each ticket: for every $1 dollar in tickets sales, $3 of economic impact will be clocked in the form of restaurant, shop and hotel sales. With a projected $18.5 million in ticket sales, Rothschild estimated a total of $55 million in economic impact per year.
However, the argument that the project will not support the local economy shows the disconnect between the proposal and the residency of downtown. According to a 2016 study by the Broadway Theatre League, from 2015 to 2016, 71 percent of touring Broadway show attendees were female, 91 percent were white and 52 percent reported an average income over $100,000. Rochester’s population, according to the U.S. Census, is 51.7 percent female, 43.7 percent white and 33.5 percent below the poverty line. The average age of attendees was 54, compared to an average age of 31.4 in Rochester.
Morgan argued that this project will attract new, more affluent residents back to Rochester.
“Downtown is coming back strong, and as it grows, people are going to want to live here,” Morgan said.
Ultimately, it was Rothschild’s stance that this project, with the promise of housing large-scale touring acts that are currently lost to Syracuse or Buffalo, is the future of downtown.
“Those who say it can’t be done need to get out of the way so we can do it,” Rothschild said.