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Rochester rediscovers its riverfront

Roc the Riverway seeks to leverage city’s natural attraction

Broad Street, left, runs atop an abandoned Erie Canal aqueduct. At right, the Rundel Memorial Building of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. (RBJ file photo)

Broad Street, left, runs atop an abandoned Erie Canal aqueduct. At right, the Rundel Memorial Building of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. (RBJ file photo)

For lifelong Rochesterians, it may be easy to visualize what downtown will look like when its revitalization is complete, for it may have had a similar look and feel decades ago: Millennials heading out to a hip new restaurant, flanked by Baby Boomers walking their dogs; spacious offices and apartments filling Tower 280 and the Metropolitan, overlooking downtown streets designed for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to share safely; and a beautified riverfront that touts Rochester’s natural beauty.

In the 18 months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $50 million award to the city of Rochester to revitalize its riverfront, much has been accomplished, but much work remains. ROC the Riverway consists of 13 projects that range from a skate park to an aqueduct overhaul. Another 15 projects of the initial proposal remain unfunded, but officials have said they expect private and public funds to pour in once the first phase of ROC the Riverway is complete.

The initial 13 projects include:

Aqueduct Re-Imagined ($4.5 million)—The project will commit to removing the Broad Street Bridge top, with funding dedicated to complete final design, including new riverway segments on both sides from Court Street to Main Street.

Rundel Library North Terrace ($1.5 million)—Funding will make necessary repairs to reopen the North Terrace for outdoor library rooms, café spaces and programming opportunities.

Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial ($6 million)—Funds will create an exterior river terrace, opening up views to the river from within the arena, as well as other major renovations to the arena’s dated infrastructure.

Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center ($5 million)—Renovations to make the facility more competitive with other convention centers and attract more business, with a renewed focus on connecting the facility to the riverfront.

Riverway Main Street to Andrews Street ($20 million)—This project will renovate Charles Carroll Park, Crossroads Garage, Crossroads Park and the Sister Cities Pedestrian Bridge, significantly enhancing connectivity for non-motorized modes of transportation on both sides of the river.

Front Street Promenade ($1.25 million)—Funding will be used to build a promenade along the river from Andrews Street to the Inner Loop.

ROC City Skate Park ($1 million)—A new public skate park will be built under the Interstate 490 Douglass-Anthony Bridge with direct access to the Riverway Trail and adjoining downtown and South Wedge neighborhoods. Rochester also has received a “Built to Play” grant for $250,000 for the project from the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Genesee Gateway Park ($2 million)—Funds will improve the existing Genesee Riverway Trail by expanding park river access to the South Wedge neighborhood.

Corn Hill Navigation ($250,000)—Funding will provide resources to replace the retired Mary Jemison, a historical wooden vessel that ran from 2005 to 2013 at Corn Hill Landing.

High Falls Terrace Park/Brewery Line Trail ($1 million)—Funding will create a new trail, the Brewery Trail Line, which will be located along the park and near Genesee Brewery.

Pont de Rennes Bridge ($4 million)—Funds will be used to make needed structural repairs to the existing bridge and improvements to the bridge.

Running Track Bridge ($500,000)—Funding will modernize the abandoned former rail bridge for future phases to link pedestrian access between neighborhoods.

Downtown/Riverfront Management Entity ($3 million)—Funds to create a management entity, which the governor’s team called critical for the long-term success, sustainability and programming of riverfront activities and construction. The funding will be used to study what kind of management group would work best for Rochester.

“ROC the Riverway is actually the overarching moniker for a significant number of development projects, some smaller like building small boat launches, some mid-sized like the ROC City Skatepark, and some large like a new development on the former Radisson Hotel site (due to be demolished in Spring 2020),” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp. “Each individual project has its own design, development issues and timeline. Some projects will require multiple public and private funding sources to move forward, and securing that capital plus the design and engineering phases will take time.”

The aqueduct project is perhaps the most complicated of the initial 13, said Alex Yudelson, chief of staff for the city of Rochester, because of its scope and funding.

“That’s the only project we don’t have construction money for that would be part of a future phase of ROC the Riverway, but the design process would get underway with public input in the coming months,” he said, noting that what was funded through the $50 million in state money was the design for the removal of the Broad Street Bridge and the connecting trail pieces between Court and Main Streets.

Because the aqueduct is a public works project, the city must go through procurement, engineering and design, as well as a bid for construction and finally the construction itself.

“Right now we’re in the procurement phase, so we’re getting the money secured, scoping out what we would ask the folks if we did an RFP or some sort of design competition to actually design the aqueduct project,” Yudelson said. “Probably at some point toward the end of this year or early next year we’ll be going out to get someone on contract to design the aqueduct project and go through a robust community engagement process, since that really is one of the centerpieces of the project.”

Total cost of the aqueduct project will be “significant,” he added, likely in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

As part of the Blue Cross Arena renovations, the city has worked closely with Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which manages the arena, because funds for upgrades have come from outside the ROC the Riverway funding, including from Pegula Sports.

“That’s going to include an expansion on the Exchange Street side that’s going out to bid soon,” Yudelson said. “We’ve been talking to the Pegulas about plans for the waterfront side of it, looking at a potential restaurant, hoping that the building would engage with the river a little bit more than it does now.”

That aspect of the project would go into construction toward the end of next year, he said. Some parts of Phase I are happening now or have already happened—like the new scoreboard—while other facets of the project have been designed. Phase I was funded by the city and the state prior to ROC the Riverway.

“One of the other big ones, Charles Carroll Plaza, we are in the design phase now,” Yudelson said, noting that the city had a bit of a head start on the project because it already had been working on a design, knowing that the park and parking garage were in need of renovations. “That one we’re pretty far along with a design for a good portion of it.”

Yudelson expects construction to begin when the weather turns warm next year.

“That’s the single biggest funded project in ROC the Riverway, and we think one of the most transformational,” he said. “It includes renovating the parking garage, completely redoing the park on both sides of the river and redoing the Sister Cities Bridge. That will be getting underway relatively shortly.”

Yudelson said the closure of the Rochester Riverside Hotel, formerly the Radisson, is an opportunity for the city and the ROC the Riverway project.

“That hotel has been an issue in the city for a long time. I think it’s hurt our ability to attract conventions, which obviously have a great economic impact,” he explained. “So it’s an opportunity for us to do something better there.”

Its proximity to the convention center and Charles Carroll Plaza, and the investment going on there, make the property appealing, he said.

“We’ve been in touch with business leaders and our partners in government about the need to make sure that as a community we ensure that this site produces something that’s beneficial for the city,” he said.

Yudelson noted that a ribbon cutting will be held soon for the convention center north terrace project, and the ROC City Skate Park should break ground shortly.

“The trend is, some of the more transformational projects are going to take a year or two. We want to move as quickly as possible because everybody’s pretty excited about ROC the Riverway, but some of these more transformational ones will definitely take a year or two,” he said. “But the river at the end of this year will already look different. And that’s thanks to ROC the Riverway.”

Although the original ROC the Riverway proposal included conceptual drawings, those will need to be turned into actual designs, Yudelson said, and public input is key to that.

“We take the conceptual drawings that we have in the ROC the Riverway vision plan to the community, figure out exactly what budget we have and try to make those two things work,” he said. “We don’t control the construction costs; we go out for bid, and we are to some degree at the mercy of what we get back because of the procurement laws. We try to make the cost work and we go from there.”

Yudelson said the original ROC the Riverway plan really was a 10- to 15-year vision of what could happen. And some of the original projects would require work from elsewhere to be completed in order for them to happen.

“Down in High Falls in the gorge where RG&E is still remediating, we would love someday to have activity down there. Whether that’s development or park space or a concert venue, that remains to be seen,” he explained.

He said the ROC the Riverway advisory board—headed by Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc.’s Robert Duffy and Monroe Community College’s Anne Kress—looked at the first phase of the program as one that would strengthen the core of the Riverway project, which is the downtown area, with some investment in the High Falls and the south river areas.

“I think once we see the success of Phase I of ROC the Riverway we’ll really be working to expand the scope of this up and down the river,” Yudelson said.

Added Zimmer-Meyer: “What has already appeared to change is our collective relationship to the river. We’re in a new era. There is an electricity now that many of us didn’t feel before, and it’s as if a deep and emotional desire to get closer to the river and experience its natural power has been reawakened. Generations later, we are rediscovering the Genesee and its value is being redefined. It’s all very exciting.”

vspicer@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4021 @Velvet_Spicer

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