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Pop-up marketplace comes to Parcel 5 on Sept. 9

Downtown Definitely’s Market Place, a pop-up shopping plaza in the heart of the city of Rochester, debuts on Parcel 5 from 4 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The event features 40 retailers with a variety of product lines, from apparel and jewelry to home décor to confections.

Free classes will be conducted between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. by creators and business owners, giving shoppers a chance to learn how to make some of the products being offered for sale.

Class hosts include: 81 Degrees Beauty Parlor & Jewelry, Elaine Schmidt Jewelry, Hive Creative Works, Jusmixit, Lorraine’s Natural Hair & Products, Pease in a Pod Treasures, The Groom Room Men’s Spa and Redemption Wellness Therapy.

Wine, beer, cider and spirit tastings will be available for free from Bellissima Organic Wine, Black Button Distilling, Citizen Cider, Glenora Wine Cellars, Great Lakes Brewing and Living Roots Wine & Co.

The participating businesses: 81 Degrees Beauty Parlor & Jewelry, Anamora Candles, Beaute Noire, BlakeRyan, Butter Me Up Body Care, CMS Aromatherapy, Designs by Val, Eastside Dog, Elaine Schmidt Jewelry, Fleet Feet, Fresh Did It, Geo Grown Rochester, Gods N Gladiators, The Groom Room Men’s Spa, Hive Creative Works, Indie Rose & Co. Boutique, Innova Girls Academy Charter School, JCD FluidArtWorks, Jusmixit, Light My Candle Co., Little Red Door, Lorraine’s Natural Hair & Products, Love, Lo Lo, Lulu & Juju, MansaWear, Nayam Ama’s Waist Beads, Pease in a Pod Treasures, Props and Pots, Redemption Wellness Therapy, Revampnation1, The Robyn’s Nest, Savvi, Self Care Essentials by Liz, Skin’d and Scalp, SmoovByNature, Sweet Treats by Momma K, TMobile, Viotea, Wanted Jem and The Xen Barkery.

Downtown Definitely is a joint initiative of Empire State Development, ROC2025, the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., Rochester Downtown Partnership and the city of Rochester that strives to grow economic vitality in downtown.

[email protected]/(585) 653-4020

Parcel 5 a new staple of Festival City

The ROC Women’s Music Fest in July 2017 was just one of the events to use Parcel 5 over the past few years. (Photo by Dick Moss)
The ROC Women’s Music Fest in July 2017 was just one of the events to use Parcel 5 over the past few years. (Photo by Dick Moss)

As daylight hits the graveled lot of Parcel 5 on crisp early September Rochester morning, anything remarkable about the barren sliver of downtown directly across from Sibley Square is hard to see.

But for two days beginning Sept. 13, the space became a veritable floating aquarium, as French inflatable art company Plasticiens Volants performed its “Pearl: Secrets of the Sea,” a dance of momentous sea creatures wavering to music above the East End featuring, among others, a 60 foot whale. A kick-off to the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival’s 2019 weekend, it was the second run of the tethered balloon puppet show at Parcel 5, following up on 2017’s tribute to the universe, “Big Bang.”

“That was their U.S. premiere,” said Erica Fee, founding producer and board president of the Fringe Festival. “This is a world-renowned French inflatable company doing huge, giant inflatables that move and react. They’re not like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at all.”

In acts like this, or Trombone Shorty at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, or everything-Rochester food festival ROC the Taste, we find the current station of Parcel 5.

First, a quick history lesson. Parcel 5 is a former piece of Midtown Plaza, which began its demolition under Mayor Bob Duffy in 2010 with support of a $44 million state grant. Since then the parcel has likely been the most hot-button piece of real estate in the city of Rochester. In April 2017, embroiled real estate mogul Robert Morgan and Rochester Broadway Theatre League (RBTL) president Arnold Rothschild had their proposal for the Golisano Center for the Performing Arts approved for construction on Parcel 5. That $135 million project was sprawling, including a 3,000-square-foot theater alongside a 150-unit residential tower and a 1,700-space underground garage. Last November, Tom Golisano, who had originally pledged $25 million to the project, pulled out as the project found a new site at the Rochester Riverside Hotel, tacking on even more ambitious components, including 3,000 seats in two theaters, a restaurant and a retail center, driving the price tag up to $250 million. The future of that project is, also, decisively unclear.

As for Parcel 5, community advocates have long petitioned to reserve the space as a community commons, not unlike the Boston Common, under the “Free Parcel 5” banner. Mayor Lovely Warren is now in support of a $23.5 million development of a year-round festival site, similar to Kansas City’s Power and Light development. A request for comment for this story from the mayor’s office was responded to with “we have nothing new to report on Parcel 5.”

In the eyes of Richard Glaser, founder of Roc Growth, there are plenty of new things to talk about at Parcel 5.

“The traffic is changing, it’s happening, and it’s happening organically,” Glaser said. “People are being drawn back into the city. This is an American town, and fortunately, Rochester has amazing bones, the city is designed in many ways with infrastructure that’s incredible.”

The land at Parcel 5 has not been designated as any particular development in the long-term, but of note to Glaser is that it has naturally filled the role advocates for a commons had argued for. For organizers of festivals like Fringe or the Jazz Festival, Parcel 5 is convenient. It’s central, relatively easy to set up shows in and fills a growing need for space.

“If we have a location like Parcel 5, that’s there, that’s available to us, are we going to use it? Yeah,” said Marc Iacona, executive director, co-producer and co-owner of the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. “I think we were the first to have a major event and use it.”

Iacona takes it as a compliment that other Rochester festivals have seen the potential to use the space for their own events. Fringe has, for its past several years, found use for Parcel 5 for a number of events, and while there are challenges to hosting shows in an undeveloped lot without easy access to running water or electricity, Fee said it has served a pivotal role in the festival’s growth as, what she calls, a “bifurcated model.”

“So what we do is we organize some big, free outdoor headline events and headline comedy, and we do that to drive people downtown,” Fee said. “We hope that those big outdoor events will drive people to venues, whether it be Geva Theatre or Black Friars or wherever else.”

It’s very similar to the Jazz Festival’s model, where big, free shows bring people downtown, giving them quick, easy access to paid shows. Spaces like Parcel 5 or nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park are then invaluable. They serve the role of veritable festival hubs. But for Iacona and Fee, there’s nothing specific about Parcel 5 that makes it a superior venue space. Its advantage to them is, simply, its existence.

“There’s a time and a space for what we do, and I feel that if that parcel is going to be developed into that type (commons) of venue space, we’re going to utilize it,” Iacona said. “If it doesn’t and it gets developed, we’re not going to quit, we’ll find another space. In addition to Martin Luther King, there are other spaces, we’ll find a space.”

Fee had a similar view. That, once all of the political arguments surrounding Parcel 5 are over, it’s far less about the space itself and much more about getting the festivals to survive and thrive.

“I’m not necessarily in love with Parcel 5, but I am in love with the idea of there being a downtown event space,” Fee said. “So, events and activities and festivals have been known to be transformative. There are plenty of studies that show the more you focus on events downtown, the more you focus on unique events downtown, the more chance there is of really revitalizing a community.”

For example, a 2006 University of Purdue study found that festival attendance had a notable impact on perceived quality of life. While nowhere near the impact of perceived personal health or income, festival attendance had contributed to a slight increase in quality of life, based on the 4,592 individuals surveyed.

Glaser sees the number of people filling Parcel 5 for these events as a key indicator of how the process for development should be carried out—listen to the community. In his view, the goal of Parcel 5’s development should be, regardless of how it plays out, to satisfy the needs of the community through a thorough, transparent process.

“That parcel was where Midtown Plaza was, there’s a reason that one of the first, and very famous, indoor malls was placed there,” Glaser said. “Here on Main Street, where there was once the largest department store north of New York City in the Sibley Building. This was a city that deserved that. We self-flagellate and forget that, but as a transplant, I see it here.”

In seeing the proposals at Parcel 5, Iacona has his own views, but prefers to stay positive, to think of how the festival can continue to serve the city regardless of what happens to Parcel 5.

“I choose to hear everything and stay positive, and it’s a negative, I think about whether it’s valid and how to fix it,” Iacona said. “I love having it there, but if tomorrow they said they’re putting a shovel in the ground and RBTL is going there, I would be happy for them and figure out how we can work with them. If it’s another developer that says there will be no entertainment…we’ll find another plot of land.”

That sentiment is echoed by Fee. While she has wishes for Parcel 5, namely, that it had easier access to infrastructure, her goal is to continue to put on Fringe and make it the best festival it can be. Officially, the board of Fringe has no opinion on the future development of the parcel, stating in an Aug. 2017 statement “in regards to the City’s current proposal for a performing arts center at Parcel 5, Rochester Fringe Festival has no opinion either for or against. We simply wish to reaffirm, as has been previously stated, that open space for downtown festivals is critical–not only to us (as an annual festival that drew more than 68,000 attendees downtown in 2016 and will continue to be a banner event for Rochester)–but for other downtown festivals as well.”

“These public events, these public spectacle events, gatherings in general, we’re so tuned into our phones and working on our own that these gathering places are becoming even more important for a sense of community, but also our sense of self-worth,” Fee said.

That, at its core, is where Fee, Iacona and Glaser all find common ground. While they have their own thoughts and beliefs on what should go at Parcel 5, what they agree is that whatever does go there must be something that serves the community. It must be something that draws people downtown, both for financial reasons—the Jazz Festival, for example, now reports economic impact at over $180 million—or for the simple sense of rebuilding community pride.

“We’re just one component, there are several other things that are driving profit each year in downtown,” Iacona said. “As long as that space is there, we’re going to use it as part of our footprint.”

[email protected] / (585) 775-9692


Plasticiens Volants returns to Rochester Fringe Festival

The big, weird balloons are coming back.

Organizers of the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival announced this morning the return of Plasticiens Volants to the festival on Sept. 13 and 14.

The French street theater group last appeared at Fringe in 2017 with tethered balloon puppets that floated above the crowd at Parcel 5 and transformed from one shape to another. This year’s show, “Pearl: Secrets of the Sea” will start with a 15-minute promenade of sea creatures, including a 60 foot whale, and continue on Parcel 5 with a story involving a sea serpent, octopus and pearl – all giant sized.

Plasticiens Volants’ 2017 BIG BANG at Parcel 5 during the Fringe Festival. (Photo by Erich Camping)
Plasticiens Volants’ 2017 BIG BANG at Parcel 5 during the Fringe Festival. (Photo by Erich Camping)

“We’ve saved the best for last,” said Fringe producer Erica Fee. “We’re thrilled to announce an amazing treat for Rochester!”

The rest of the festival schedule, with more than 570 events and performances and more than 100 of them free, was announced on June 17. The finale weekend includes a return visit from Massaoke, the singalong band from the United Kingdom, performing a rock anthem show on Sept. 20 and a musical theater  show on Sept. 21.

The festival runs from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21

A full listing of programs is available on the Fringe Fest website.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275



Salvatore’s marks 40 years with both change and consistency

After 40 years in the business, 26 stores, 1600 employees and recovery from a nearly devastating stroke, Sam Fantauzzo may be taking it a little easier in the future.  But don’t sign him up for a rocker just yet.

Sam Fantauzzo
Sam Fantauzzo

The 58-year-old founder of Salvatore’s Pizzeria wants more time to enjoy life while still having a very active role in the business he famously started as a home economics project while still in high school.

Active is the key word here. Though surprisingly low-key in person, the man who shouts and sings “SALVATORES! DOT COM!” in his pizzeria commercials seems to never stand still business-wise. His says his wife enjoys spending time in Florida, but he’s not so crazy about the state. He passes part of the time they’re in the Sunshine State by scouting out the business landscape.

“His brain never stops. He’s constantly coming up with ideas and something new to try,” said Fantauzzo’s cousin Ray Lo Re, a Salvatore’s franchise owner.

In Florida, Fantauzzo came up with this: “There are dozens of yogurt shops in every city. They dabble in cafes.” But he didn’t see a plethora of independent pizzerias like back home in Rochester.

As a result, he developed a concept that can diversify a small business and bring Salvatore’s pizza to non-pizza stores, whether in Florida or New York or elsewhere. It’s a pizza alcove of sorts, in which he would add a small pizza oven and counter to a 12 feet-by-3-feet space to an existing store. Fantauzzo would set up the mini pizzeria and then supply it with ingredients, either under the Salvatore’s name or the store’s name.

“In 24 hours you can be in the pizza business.” Fantauzzo said.  “The goal is to set up a pizzeria in any bar, any yogurt shop.” Similar to his “Speedy Slice” concept  — a low-frills and lower-cost pizzeria —  the menu would be compact to make the concept less labor intensive.  And the state-of-the-art, high-temp oven would cook pizza in just a couple of minutes.

“It’s a brand new concept. It’s our future,” Fantauzzo said during an interview in his still-new corporate office on Empire Boulevard in Penfield. The office is new, he explains, because he never felt the need before when he was working more intensely in the pizzerias.  But now that he’s working more on business development and training, the time has arrived for a headquarters.

The former house includes a training center in the basement, where coaching on delivery methods and classes on safe food handling practices are held. Part of the ground floor and the second floor are devoted to offices. The east side of the ground floor is part conference room, part demo of the new alcove pizza shop concept. And the whole place is a showcase for Fantauzzo’s soccer memorabilia.

In July, the company that Fantauzzo started when he was 17 turned 40 years old. To celebrate the milestone, Fantauzzo had considered a huge bash – a 70s-era disco band headliner, renting the Blue Cross Arena. But then he ran into Gary Mervis, the founder of Camp Good Days and Happy Times at a Lancers game – the soccer team that “Soccer Sam” Fantauzzo owns.

“He does so many great things,” Fantauzzo said of Mervis. Suddenly the idea of a big party seemed a bit silly.

“I felt kind of weird giving myself a party….But giving to a non-profit made me feel good,” Fantauzzo said. So he decided to give $40,000 to Camp Good Days, and plans to raise $41,000 in the business’ 41st year for the Breast Care Coalition of Rochester.

“I’m a Rochester guy, so I want to keep it in Rochester, “ Fantauzzo said. He was talking about his charitable donations, but he could have easily been talking about some of Rochester’s eatery institutions. First there was Donuts Delite, which he and some partners bought several years ago and saved by adding his Salvatore’s menu to the original doughnut recipes. (It’s now run by Salvatore’s franchise owner Nick Semeraro)  Salvatore’s similarly brought back the Arthur Treacher’s brand, again pairing it with pizza, and the 1872 Café, a coffee shop in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.

“He’s very passionate for this city. He’s very passionate for soccer and our Salvatore’s brand,” Lo Re said.

Lo Re attributes Salvatore’s success to Fantauzzo’s marketing and careful marshaling of franchises.  “He’s a marketing genius,” Lo Re said, coming up with catchy phrases and practices that patrons remember. One is the promise to make the “pepperoni kiss,” meaning applying the pepperoni slices so they all touch, ensuring that every slice has thorough pepperoni coverage.

Many of the 26 Salvatore’s stores are franchises owned by relatives or long-time workers or both. Lo Re was a child when he started working for his older cousin at the original store on East Main Street. “When he first opened up, I was a little kid. He used to come pick us up on a Saturday. We would help do some prep work,” Lo Re recalled. He became a franchise owner himself in 2001.

Lo Re said Fantauzzo takes pride in the appearance of all the franchises and their personnel. The workers wear black and red uniforms and not flour-covered aprons, while serving customers.  And Fantauzzo hires a company to come clean the windows at each location. In recent years, beer and wine service have been added to some of the restaurants, along with eat-in facilities.

“A lot of us owners take a lot of pride in the Salvatore’s name,” Lo Re said.

Not everything has been rosy as the chain has grown. Two recent projects in particular have been thorny ones for Fantauzzo. He bought a location in the building adjacent to Parcel 5 expecting he was getting in on the ground floor of a downtown renaissance.

“I thought it was a done deal,” he said of the proposed performing arts center slated for the site. While nothing has happened on Parcel 5, the “Coming soon” signs at the Salvatore’s location haven’t changed either in nearly a year.

First there was an issue with getting a single bathroom approved for such a small restaurant. Then, Fantauzzo said, a plumbing contractor accidentally set off a fire alarm early in the construction, causing the entire building to be evacuated. That violated his lease for the space which prohibited bothering the other tenants of the building with construction.  It’s been hard to find construction workers, Fantauzzo said, who are willing to take on the small job nights and weekends to avoid furthur disturbances, Fantauzzo said.

Attempting to revive another once-popular hangout, Fantauzzo bought the Dog House on West Ridge Road near the former Kodak Park, planning to turn it into a pub and hot dog restaurant. Major renovation issues have come up and there’s an approval process required for a patio he’d like to have at that location. “I grow frustrated and say ‘I’m not going to worry about it now,’ ” Fantauzzo said.  Still, he is planning to open both locations, just later than he first thought.

“Our industry is a challenge,” Fantauzzo said, starting with the long hours. “Everyone wants to eat pizza when everyone’s off work.”  It becomes harder and harder to find workers who want to make a life out of running a pizzeria, he said. His simplified store concept aims to create smaller locations that can be operated with fewer people and perhaps even within regular working hours, “almost like a normal job,” he said.

Now it’s rare to find a worker come in at the entry level and aspire to become a franchise owner, Fantauzzo said. A notable exception is a Bonsian refugee, Edina Kemetz, who started working at Salvatore’s when she was 15, planning to do that for a while until she worked in another field. Instead, she fell in love with the pizza business. And  on Sept. 18,  Salvatore’s will be holding ribbon cutting at the Spencerport store to celebrate Kemetz, and the first franchise entirely owned by a woman.

Fantauzzo has kept the chain limited to fewer than 30 locations for now to avoid reaching the state’s minimum for being required to pay higher wages and offer calorie counts on its menus.

“It’s very expensive for a small company to do that,” Fantauzzo said. And, he notes, two of his three main competitors – Wegmans and gas stations – don’t have to meet those requirements aimed at fast-food restaurants.  However, if he can make a go of the pizzeria-alcove in a store, he won’t be beating his competitors, he’ll be joining them.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Fringe Festival to feature audience participation band

London band Massaoke performs a Bon Jovi song. (Photo by Tony Virgo)
London band Massaoke performs a Bon Jovi song. (Photo by Tony Virgo)

Audience participation band Massaoke will headline the seventh annual KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival in September, festival organizers announced this week.

Massaoke, a live band that started in London in 2011, plays the best-loved “hairbrush” anthems—songs you know by heart and can sing into your hairbrush—from the ’60s to today. The crowd is invited to sing along, guided by big-screen lyrics.

“Part of our mission is to bring exciting, different, renowned outdoor experiences to Rochester, and we think Massaoke is exactly that,” said Fringe Frest Producer Erica Fee. “We’re expecting Parcel 5 to feel like one last, great, summer party.”

This year’s Fringe Fest will run 11 days, rather than 10, from Sept. 12 through Sept. 22. Rochester’s festival is one of the top U.S. Fringe Fests and bills itself as the largest multi-genre arts festival statewide.

The Fringe Festival will offer more than 500 performances and events, with more than 150 free. The performances will take place in more than 30 venues in downtown Rochester. Last year’s U.S. debut of French street theatre company Plasticiens Volants’ Big Band show drew more than 20,000 attendees to Parcel 5.

This year's Cirque du Fringe performance will feature SideShow, a blend of curiosities and feats of human performance inspired by the golden age of American circus. (Photo by Erich Camping)
This year’s Cirque du Fringe performance will feature SideShow, a blend of curiosities and feats of human performance inspired by the golden age of American circus.
(Photo by Erich Camping)

Other Fringe headline acts include comedian Eddie Izzard, as well as the Cristal Palace Speigeltent and the world premiere of a new Cirque du Fringe, which will feature SideShow, a blend of curiosities and feats of human performance inspired by the golden age of American circus.

A list of performances and ticket information is available here.

The vast majority of Fringe productions, performances and events are booked by Fringe venues from applications submitted to them by artists in April. This year’s venues include the Avyarium in Village Gate, Blackfriars Theatre, Central Library, Eastman School of Music, First Federal Plaza, Garth Fagan Dance Studio, Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage, Java’s Café, the Little and several others.

“The 2018 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival will be bigger and better than ever,” said James Barger, KeyBank Rochester Market president. “This will be our second year as title sponsor and we are so proud to help support this unique celebration of art and culture in our city.”

Rochester’s Fringe Festival connects and empowers artists, audiences, venues, educational institutions and the community to celebrate, explore and inspire creativity via an annual, multi-genre performing arts festival. The nonprofit was pioneered by several local cultural institutions including Geva, the George Eastman Museum and Garth Fagan Dance, as well as PUSH Physical Theatre, Method Machine, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Some 78,000 people attended last year’s Fringe Fest.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Summer pop-up restaurants return to Midtown area

Midtown EATS, a mobile restaurant row near Parcel 5, is back for the summer.

The collection of pop-up restaurants will be available every other Thursday through August for lunch and dinner starting this week.

According to the organizer, Rochester Events, the Midtown EATS vendors will be on the pedestrian walkway connecting Broad Street and Elm Street, adjacent to Tower280. Lunch will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and dinner will be from 5 to 9 p.m.

Wine and beer will also be available and the vendors will serve rain or shine.

Last summer 22 different establishments participated and several are returning.

The line-up for Thursday, June 14 includes: Chefs, The Cub Room, Sapori Café and Catering, Frozen Flavors Dessert Emporium, Rob’s Kabobs, Branca Midtown, The Tavern at Gibbs, Raj Mahal Indian Restaurant, Ludwig’s, Roll’n Deep, Eat Greek and Buta Pub.

Additional dates for Midtown EATS are June 28, July 12 and 26August 9 and 23.

Free parking is available in the Midtown Garage during the hours of the Midtown Eats events. For more information about the weekly line-up, participants can check the Midtown EATS website or Facebook page.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

New festival coming to Parcel 5

In a city of festivals, what’s one more?

Summit Federal Credit Union and Galaxy Events announced this week that Rochester will have a new festival this summer, the ROC The Taste festival, combining food and live music. The event is scheduled for July 27 and 28 at Parcel 5 downtown.

Plasticiens Volants’ 2017 BIG BANG at Parcel 5 during the Fringe Festival. (Photo by Erich Camping)
Plasticiens Volants’ 2017 BIG BANG at Parcel 5 during the Fringe Festival. (Photo by Erich Camping)

Summit Federal Union is the festival’s title sponsor. Galaxy Events is the events arm of a communications company based in Syracuse that owns the Taste of Syracuse and organizes a number of other annual events.

“We’re looking forward to shining a spotlight on Rochester’s food and music and raising funds for two local charities that share The Summit’s goal of strengthening our community,” said Cheryl Pohlman, vice president of marketing and community relations for The Summit Federal Credit Union. Summit, along with other festivals sponsors and vendors, will be raising money for Honor Flight Rochester and the Wilmot Cancer Institute.

ROC The Taste will feature food sampling along with full size portions available from an array of vendors. Participants can also make a donation to earn a limited edition wristband that will allow them to purchase half-price food samples on Saturday of the event. Admission to the festival is free.

“We’re excited to organize the inaugural ROC the Taste,” said Galaxy Events General Manager Carrie Wojtaszek. “Rochester has incredible food and outstanding live music, and we can’t wait to showcase it!

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Much ado about Parcel 5

Parcel 5
Parcel 5

Drive down East Main Street during any hour of the day and you will surely pass the desolate site where Midtown Mall once stood. Of course, it’s not always quite so desolate. During Rochester’s beloved Fringe Festival and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, the humble 1.2 acre plot of land swells to life, brimming with dance, laughter, musical vigor and, occasionally, monstrous balloons liberated from the contentious plot of land, hovering in the night sky above.

Parcel 5, as it’s referred to, has been possibly the most highly debated subject in the City of Rochester over the past couple years. Every time the City Council takes up the subject, citizens pack the room, voicing their concerns about the future of the site. Just about everyone who lives in the city has an opinion they’re eager to express. Rightfully so, whatever project ends up on Parcel 5 will undoubtedly define downtown development for decades to come. As it stands now, that project is set to be the Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s Golisano Center for the Performing Arts, or GCPA.

Part of Rochester’s Midtown Rising project, Parcel 5 and adjacent acreage has already received $44 million in state funding used to demolish Midtown Plaza.

The Performing Arts Center

Decided in April, the Golisano Center for the Performing Arts and an adjoining tower is a project spearheaded by RBTL President Arnold Rothschild and real estate magnate Robert Morgan. It’s quite an undertaking: a 3,000-seat theater for RBTL mixed with Morgan’s 150-unit residence, plus a 1,700-space underground garage and a sprawling high-definition display facing East Main Street. In total, it’s a project expected to cost $135 million, $25 million of which has been pledged by native billionaire Tom Golisano. In line with city stipulations, RBTL has to purchase the parcel from the city for $1.05 million and be barred from receiving any city funding for the project.

“It’s going to be a venue that will be used 180 to 200 nights per year, and that’s without conventions that will come and use the venue, or corporate meetings, because Visit Rochester at one point projected they could get an additional six conventions here if they had a 3,000-seat meeting room,” Rothschild said. “So all in all, there’s a lot of moving parts, but we’re working on it diligently, and it’s all coming together.”

The GCPA will be a successor to the Auditorium Theatre, which is increasingly suffering from the ravages of time. The need for an updated Auditorium, originally built in 1928, is palpable. Wooden pillars are jury-rigged in the wardrobe room beneath the stage, holding up the weight of increasingly bigger and more lavish performances. Drummers are often moved out of the orchestral pit into another room, playing to the scenes via a microphone. Add to that a green room looking more at home in a YMCA and a leaky roof that requires repairs in the six-figures each year and you have a good grasp of why the RBTL has rallied for new digs.

Simply renovating, RBTL CEO John Parkhurst said, is an option that logistically is not in the cards.

“Off the top of my head, the cost would have been $25-30 million,” Parkhurst said. “And the biggest thing is we needed to add seats to make it affordable. If you compare our prices to something like the Jazz Festival, our prices are very reasonable, and we want to keep them that. But if expenses keep going up, prices go up.”

In response, Jean Dalmath of Dalmath Associates, who handles public relations for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, noted that a club pass selling for $184 up to December 31 equals out to around $7 per show, for an average attendee attending five shows per day for five days, with a total of 221 shows. Tickets for Seal and Allison Krauss’s shows stand as the priciest in the 2018 season, running at $70 on the low end. Comparably, a three show season pass for the RBTL’s 2018 season runs at $115 on the low-end.

Additionally, XRIJF made ready use of Parcel 5, with both Trombone Shorty and Hooligans performing free shows at the space over the past two years, attracting 25,000 festival goers.

“We can’t afford to miss a season,” Parkhurst said. “We’ll go out of business, plain and simple. It’s not like we can shut down for two years and do a renovation.”

For Rothschild, that makes creating a new, state-of-the-art theater all the more reasonable, and would, in his view, serve as a boon for downtown. The Auditorium, meanwhile, will be used for local art troupes and comedy acts and will remain under ownership of the RBTL.

GCPA would generate a variety of different jobs, Rothschild said, and what projects like this “typically do is (create) a tremendous amount of increased demand for hotels around them. People come into town, stay over, stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants.”

It’s a major claim—possibly the most important question when discussing the future of downtown development. Will GCPA bring people here? For the answer, the RBTL offers an economic impact statement comparing GCPA to other projects in cities of similar size. Take, for example, Durham, North Carolina’s Performing Arts Center, known as DPAC. According to DPAC officials, the total economic impact made by the theater in the 2015-16 season was $109 million, with $79.8 million added to Durham’s economy. Durham is slightly larger than Rochester, with a population of 263,016 to Rochester’s 208,880. However, Rochester has a larger metro area: 1,082,284 compared to 547,710 in Durham-Chapel Hill. This matters for a critical reason: three out of four attendees of DPAC in that season came from outside the city, and Rochester has almost twice as big a pool to pull from in the immediate area.

“The Broadway League has a formula that for every dollar in ticket sales, there’s about $3 in economic impact, from people going to restaurants, and parking, and buying clothes and going out for dessert after,” Rothschild said. “What we believe you’re going to see is somewhere around $45 million in economic impact just from Broadway, and then all of the popular entertainment events that will come to the building as well will be important.”

The economic multiplier effect is one Rothschild views as unique to performing arts centers.

“In a sports venue, people go to the venue and they eat in the concessions and then they go home,” Rothschild said. “But with entertainment events, they go out for dinner before, they go out for dessert after, they go out for drinks, whatever.”

GCPA is expected to have its own, third-party restaurant on site. Ultimately, the goal is to keep momentum going downtown, growing the number of performances from 125 a year at the Auditorium to 180 at GCPA, and presumably the city would reap the economic benefit.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re going to have more different shows,” Rothschild said. “But we will be able to get those big name acts, like Hamilton, and keep them here for longer.”

Right now, GCPA is in the process of securing funds for the project, including $20 million from the state. If all goes according to plan, Rothschild hopes to have the center up and running by late 2020.

Revolt of a community

Visitors who came to City Council meetings the past few months were likely greeted by swarms of green T-shirts, adorned with the phrase “Free Parcel 5.” They likely heard vivid, passionate speeches about the future of Parcel 5—this coveted piece of land in the beating heart of Rochester. And likely on hand was Alex White, a three-time mayoral candidate on the Green Party ballot and owner of Monroe Avenue game shop Boldo’s Armory. White has been a vocal critic of the project since its inception.

“My problem with the theater is: Where’s the money?” White said. “This is a scheme. They’re kind of hoping it works, and I don’t like business plans based on hope. I’m a business owner— I’ve made a business plan. In fact, I’ve done it a couple times. I understand how this works, and their business plan doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t finance itself.”

As White and every other opponent of the project is quick to point out, last year’s process of choosing a future for Parcel 5 was ripe with controversy. In their estimation, GCPA was given special treatment, with Morgan’s piece tacked on after the window closed for submissions.

Gallina Development offered a mixed-use proposal for the Parcel 5 space. Lauren Gallina, marketing director, explained the merits of their project.

“One of the things we saw for our project was 24/7 use, daily activity, people coming and going at all hours of the day and night,” Gallina said. “Versus, the performing arts center only has so many performances per year, and the majority of daytime hours it would be dark, it would not be in use. So creating that daytime vitality, coming and going, supporting local retail as well as commercial office users that would be coming and going from the building, versus people coming in for a performance and then leaving.”

The Gallina project included a 14-story mixed use space featuring 31 condominiums, retail spots and 50,000 square feet of commercial office space for use by the owner. The idea, as Gallina described, was to create a vibrant downtown, where people would not just come for an attraction, but rather for long-term investments as condo-owning residents.

“At this point, 96 percent of people living downtown are renting or leasing; only 4 percent are actual homeowners,” Gallina said. “It’s a very small percentage of people that are actually investing in downtown long term, where when you have people owning their homes, they have a sense of pride in their neighborhood and what’s happening there.”

The Gallina Project is not going forward at Parcel 5, but another concept is still alive for many. A Rochester civic space, or Visionary Square, has been the main focus of people behind the “Free Parcel 5” banners. The concept is simple, and akin to what the space is currently being used for: an open space for the community meant for people to freely shop, play, gather and, essentially, hang out.

“We’re using the vacant space there multiple times a week for things already,” White said, “showing that there is a need for a space like that. And (the city) ignoring their own use of it. They did a fundraiser for Puerto Rico over at Parcel 5, partially because it was easy for the city to use the space for that with virtually no notice. Why are we giving up a space we find so valuable for a plan that is the worst thing we could put there?”

Much like RBTL’s economic impact statement, the civic space advocates have brought to the table their own economic parallels to projects in other cities. Take, for example, Columbus, Ohio’s Columbus Commons. The Commons is a six-acre public park, though privately owned, which opened in 2011 and includes a concert stage and hosts 250 annual events. Eerily familiar, Columbus Commons sits on the site of a defunct 3-story City Center mall, which became a high crime area as the mall neared closing. Since its opening in 2011, the area around Columbus Commons in downtown Columbus has received over $400 million in private investment in apartment complexes, retail and commercial space.

The argument for a civic space also is boosted by the argument of who the GCPA is being built for. If the Broadway Theatre League’s statistics are correct, it certainly isn’t for the average Rochesterian. 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.

“I don’t know what it will take—whether it be sidewalk trampolines, adult playground equipment or, what about a skatepark?” White said. “These are simple things, things that can bring a community together and make a more vibrant downtown, where startups want to come to, where Amazon might want to come to.”

Rothschild and Parkhurst aren’t reluctant to admit that the project would bring more people from outside the city to downtown. They believe that opening something that can bring people from Pittsford, Brighton or Webster to see what the city has to offer will increase foot traffic, change perceptions and, ultimately make for a better Rochester.

For now, Parcel 5 remains vacant, although in reality it teems with life. It hosts frequent pop-up events from protests to art exhibitions. The heart of Rochester beats at Parcel 5. Perhaps only time will tell how that vibrancy might change as development of one of the biggest capital investments in the city gets underway.

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Snap Poll: Majority disagrees with Parcel 5 selection

Parcel 5
Parcel 5

Last week saw the first public forum on the future of Parcel 5 since Mayor Lovely Warren announced in April that the Golisano Performing Arts Center had been selected for the site.

People packed City Hall to debate not only that plan, but the process for selecting it. Since the winning project was named, some have decried the lack of government transparency and minimal opportunity for public input.

The $130 million performing arts center—a joint venture between Morgan Communities LLC and the Rochester Broadway Theatre League Inc.—is expected to create a combined 776 jobs—610 construction jobs and 166 permanent jobs.

Some have questioned whether the project will really benefit the city, and have wondered about its impact on the local arts organizations that already operate downtown.

Geva Theatre Center Artistic Director Mark Cuddy noted that there are more than 500 permanent arts and cultural jobs at just three downtown organizations that could be affected by the new project. “Will this project have a negative impact on the existing jobs in this community?” Cuddy said. “Arts and cultural jobs should have just as much importance as construction jobs.”

This week’s Snap Poll asks readers their views on the process for deciding on a project for Parcel 5. A majority—60 percent—disagree with both the process and the winning project.

More than 350 participated in this week’s poll conducted Aug. 15 and 16.

How do you feel about the selection process for developing Parcel 5?

It was fair, and the performing arts center should move forward — 16%

It was fair, but I don’t support the performing arts center — 6%

It was unfair, but the performing arts center should move forward — 18%

It was unfair, and I don’t support the performing arts center — 60%


While I support a Performing Arts Center in the Rochester area, I question whether Parcel 5 is the right location and whether it should be part of a project including housing and retail establishments. I grow more disappointed each day with our society’s dependence on getting funding from state and local governments to complete projects, many of which have failed after receiving the funding. If a Performing Arts Center is to survive, it will need to be strategically located where it can secure the widest and most profitable usage and it will need to be financed by people whose stake in the game is corporate and/or personal and not through government funding.

— Robert Zinnecker, Penfield

The performing arts center on Parcel 5 will complement the other arts centers and should move forward. As a frequent supporter of RBTL performances, Geva theater plays and RPO concerts, there is room for all of these entities plus Downstairs Cabaret, etc. The new PAC and accompanying entities will add excitement and give us another reason to come to the Center City of Rochester. I am looking forward to it and am loving seeing the new face of downtown unfold.

— Laurie Sagona, Sundance Marketing

A process that started open and transparent ended up closed and opaque. This is a great example of everything that is wrong in city government.

— Aaron Hilger

“If you build it they will come” is NOT a good business strategy…

— David Lamb, Rochester

We have elected officials to make these decisions for us. If we bog it down in endless discussions it will never get done. Additionally, we need a revenue producing project there not another public park. This is important not only for our residents but for tourists as well as potential new residents to our community.

— Bob Cherry

For more than ten years, there has been little community support for a 3,000 seat theater, and I am very concerned that the Auditorium will be abandoned if a new theater is built. The property by Main & Clinton holds real value in the years ahead, but there is no need to make a poor decision in haste. Let some of the projects nearby come to fruition, and we will have a better answer as to what is best for Parcel Five. Walkability is the key to a vibrant downtown, and I hope to see a mixed-use building erected on that site. Street-level retailing, business offices above, and residential on the upper floors. About 12-15 stories high. Retain the existing green space behind it.

— Carlos Mercado

Although inspiring to have a nice theater like this in ROC, it is impractical. Does this make Geva and other venues that have community support obsolete? RBTL estimates there will be a show around 180 days a year, really? Seems like everyone is putting up the money from my readings except RBTL who appears will own and operate it and will get a lot of parking revenue. Why should RBTL own it and gain any tax advantages with minimal skin in the game? Minimal risk in and all the rewards when the net is tabulated. It’s nice to build this castle but what happens when maintenance costs cannot be met? Will Mayor Warren or other community supporters make up the difference? I think not …

— Hugh Rundle, Webster

I support the use of Parcel 5 as a flexible and welcoming public space with small vendors and significant open space for events, not unlike Public Market Squares found in many European cities. This sort of use has been tested over centuries and tends to bring cities together for common purposes. This sort of use is accessible to the larger urban community and not just to a small elite community of users. A theater could easily be built nearby, in a less central location, if it is even needed. A public space also serves to make the center city more attractive to downtown residents, especially the younger technical and entrepreneur class that our city has been trying to retain for decades.

— Gary Bogue

I do not agree with the performing arts center going there, but I don’t understand why some think the process to select was unfair. Seems like everyone had the chance to provide input and present ideas. I am always in favor of usable green space, especially space that can be used year round for various festivals. If it was up to me, I would use the money available to improve our existing facilities and expand where needed. Rochester already has some incredibly unique and interesting historic sites for performances, shows and music. Parcel 5 should tie in nicely with Inner Loop development and improvements to MLK Park.

— Keith Newcomer

So many issues here—the selection process, the actual design itself, the lack of community input into the outcome, the rush to push this through, the impact on existing cultural institutions and the lack of financing. It just doesn’t seem that this project was well thought out. I fear another fast ferry debacle with the city and its taxpayers paying the bill in the end.

— Irene Burke

Sparks fly at first Parcel 5 public forum

As the first public forum on the future of Parcel 5 began, droves of attendees clad in green T-shirts, embossed with “Free Parcel 5” across the chest, flooded into the Rochester City Hall council chambers. Amid them, politicians, local activists, theater executives and business owners all awaited their chance to voice their visions of the future of the Midtown gravel lot.

The controversy surrounding Parcel 5, an acre lot where Midtown Mall once stood, stems from a perfect storm of perceived lack of government transparency, minimal opportunity for public input, a vacancy of feasibility studies and a belief the estimated $130 million performing arts center and residential complex, presented by the Rochester Broadway Theater League, decided on by Mayor Lovely Warren in April, would be a massive boondoggle.

Many in attendance compared the creation of the performing arts center to the infamous failure of the fast ferry under former

Crowd gathered at the first public forum for the future of Parcel 5.
Crowd gathered at the first public forum for the future of Parcel 5.

Mayor William Johnson.

“If we’re serious about the arts, the city should invest in a fund,” mayoral candidate Rachel Barnhart said. “It’s clear we need to go back to the drawing board, and in the meantime, why not make it a temporary park? Downtown is for everyone.”

Following Barnhart’s statement, City Council president Loretta Scott read a statement from absent councilmember Adam McFadden. McFadden voluntarily declined to attend the forum, claiming its timing was motivated by politics rather than legitimate public concern, a sentiment met with boos from the crowd.

“There are numerous reasons I’m opposed to the public forum, it’s nothing short of election year politics,” McFadden stated.

William Sullivan, finance chairman for the RBTL, echoed this sentiment, pointing to the failed $230 million Renaissance Square Project falling victim to “political squabbling.” Sullivan also referred to statements from the Geva Theatre Center Inc.’s art director Mark Cuddy, who spoke Monday on the need for better studies on the proposal, as “self-serving.”

“The Rochester Broadway Theater League firmly believes this performing arts center belongs downtown,” Sullivan said.

Vocal on pure opposition to the performing arts center, members of the Free Parcel 5 group, a grassroots collection of activists petitioned to turn the lot into a shared community green space. Ray Ray Mitrano, a city resident living nearby Parcel 5, argued the performing arts center would only create temporary visitors downtown from nearby suburbs.

“We live in a segregated city, we need a cultural hub that brings our city together and integrates ideas,” Mitrano said. “A performing arts center may bring people downtown, an openly accessed, diverse public space will keep them there.”

Focusing on the logistics of the performing arts center project in comparison to the demographics of Parcel 5’s neighborhood, many members of Free Parcel 5 argued the project would be made for city dwellers, but rather to attract people from surrounding suburbs. For example, according to a 2016 study by the Rochester Broadway Theater 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. The average age of attendees was 54.

Comparably, according to the U.S. Census, 51.7 percent of Rochester’s population is female, 43.7 percent are white and 33.5 percent live below the poverty line, with a per capita income of $19,158. The median age is 31.4 years.

For other local staples of the arts community, the performing arts center project was met with concern for the health of their own operations. Ingrid Stanlis, chair-elect for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Inc., expressed concern about the new theater stealing audiences from the RPO’s offerings, which in recent years have expanded beyond the bounds of solely classical into more modern and experimental performances. Stanlis suggested better feasibility studies be done to understand the impact.

“Let me be clear, the RPO does not take a position on Parcel 5. but our successful new offerings may be the same as offerings at the performing arts center,” Stanlis said.

Despite scrutiny from across the city spectrum, RBTL held steadfast to its belief the project would prove an economic benefit to the city as a whole.

“Over the past three decades, we have put on over 300 productions and brought in a staggering $350 million,” said Linda Glosser, RBTL vice president

Glosser pointed to the loss of an opening touring production of “the Lion King” at the Auditorium Theater due to a lack of air conditioning, the opening going to Syracuse instead, as an inevitability that will happen again should the center not be constructed.

Despite a stark contrast between stances of proponents of the center and supporters of an open green space, the forum carried with it an air of satisfaction and revelry in  that public voices, silent in the selection process for the future of Parcel 5, were being heard.

Ken Sato, a member of Free Parcel 5 who had submitted a request for a civic square on the lot in 2015, used the majority of his time at the podium to celebrate the democratic process in action.

“No matter what happens with Parcel 5, this process will make this city better,” Sato said.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email [email protected].