Last Friday, June 16, Rochester woke up to rain. Instead of canceling Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the movie scheduled to kick off the summer Movies With a Downtown View outdoor, evening series at Parcel 5, organizers moved the event — part of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation’s Downtown Definitely programming — to the Theater at Innovation Square in the former Xerox Tower on South Clinton Ave.
While the change of venue may not seem entirely newsworthy — especially post-event — it represents collaboration between local stakeholders in downtown Rochester.
Collaboration driving downtown revitalization
“We’re all getting our momentum back,” said Evan Gallina, partner at Gallina Development Corporation, which owns Innovation Square. “The pandemic slowed things down, but we are all starting to grow together. There’s a sense of all of us working together and, when appropriate, a friendly competition that’s healthy.”
Amanda P. Shisler, vice president, commercial real estate relationship manager for Evans Bank, also experiences that collaboration firsthand. This spring the bank teamed up with Serendipity Labs — a private office and flexible coworking space within Innovation Square — to provide free Lunch and Learn sessions on myriad topics such as commercial insurance, wealth management and homeownership.
Some attendees are among the record number of 10,000+ residents who currently live downtown, including at Innovation Square — a creative living and learning space designed as a collaborative campus for students attending Rochester’s many colleges and universities.
“We love our partnership with Serendipity Labs at Innovation Square,” said Shisler, who notes that millennials and members of Generation Z are hungry for experiences that have a lifelong learning component and communal feel.
Evans Bank is also one of many employers that participates in CollegeFEST at Innovation Square. Founded in 2021, the event (which will be held on September 23) is a Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce program. It draws about 1,000 local college students and recent alumni downtown for a career fair, games, live entertainment, food trucks, and hands-on activities from member businesses and organizations.
“CollegeFEST plays a vital role in bridging the gap between our talented college students and local employers, creating valuable connections that can lead to meaningful career opportunities,” said Bob Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, who notes another goal of CollegeFEST is to keep Rochester’s college students living and working downtown.
Building for the future
Duffy believes downtown must continue to “build for the future” and “focus on the next generation,” which he sees happening in many current projects, including the 90,000 square-foot expansion of the Strong National Museum of Play, which celebrates its grand opening on June 30, 2023; the planned creation of the NYS Park at High Falls; and the continued improvement of the ROC City Skatepark and other Roc the Riverway projects.
ROC the Riverway, which began in 2018 with a $50 million investment from New York State, is aimed at revitalizing the Genesee River corridor for economic and recreational purposes. There are over two dozen transformational projects completed, in the works, or planned — the most recently started being the Aqueduct District Street Improvement project (separate from the Aqueduct Reimagined project).
Galin Brooks, president and CEO of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, is also excited about the work and attention being paid to parks in public spaces downtown, like the Charles Carroll Plaza revitalization project (part of ROC the Riverway) which is slated to wrap up in Spring 2024 and will include a pedestrian walkway over the river, public art, and open green and recreation spaces.
“It is tangible and material and near term in terms of the ROC the Riverway implementation that’s been moving along at a steady clip,” Brooks said. “Then there’s also the longer-term work to get the rest of the projects done and to focus on and do a thoughtful job with the Inner Loop North removal that’s a really big infrastructure project.”
The Inner Loop North project will convert the moat-like highway on Rochester’s north side into 25 acres for redevelopment and a reconnection with neighborhoods that were severed from downtown 60 years ago. Work is expected to begin in 2024 and is four times larger than the completed Inner Loop East project.
“It’s a big chunk of space and it’s really exciting for the city as a whole,” Brooks said. “It’s a project to address a scar in the city that shouldn’t have been put there in the first place.”
With all the activity, growth and collaboration happening downtown, local stakeholders acknowledge there are challenges that remain.
“First and foremost, you have the reality — and perception — of crime,” said Duffy, who noted that statistically, downtown is one of the safest places in the city, but that it is important to discuss ways to enhance public safety.
Duffy supports bringing back Rochester’s Red Shirts — unarmed, retired and off-duty police officers, who patrolled the city on bicycles or on foot offering directions and assistance to the public from 2007 to 2015.
Brooks noted the lack of a grocery store and pharmacy downtown as an enormous challenge for current residents — a third of whom live in subsidized housing or regulated affordable housing.
“It’s a real barrier that is impeding the quality of life for the people who live in the downtown core and anyone who lives in a food desert,” Brooks said. “It is definitely an issue and something that, despite it, people still want to be here and people are choosing to live here. But it’s a pretty basic human need that needs to be addressed.”
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.-