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The Renaissance Square Dance

February 1st, 2009

Renaissance Square as proposed by RochesterSubway.com.
Last week, Senator Chuck Schumer and County Exec. Maggie Brooks announced that the Renaissance Square project External Link will be moving ahead, with or without the performing arts center. $45 million would still need to be raised to build the theater, and at this point it looks like that money would need to be raised entirely with private donations — HIGHLY unlikely. So what exactly are we building? A new bus station (essentially a covered parking lot for buses). New classrooms for Monroe Community College. Oh, and a big grassy area where the performing arts center would have been.

Pricetag? $230 MILLION and 10 years of planning!?

Renaissance Square as proposed by RochesterSubway.com.
I understand better than anyone the need to revitalize the corner of Main Street and Clinton Avenue, but my fervor for the current plan has completely petered out. Maggie, Chuck, your intentions are good, but your imagination stinks. This big plate-glass box is not going to bring people downtown and it certainly will not do anything for the city’s image.

We only need to look at what this corner used to be. A row of storefronts beneath layers of apartments. It was simple, it was functional, and it was alive. It’s facade was a mix of Italianate External Link and gorgeous Victorian External Link architecture. Awnings gave protection from the elements. Metallic and electrified signs lent an air of personality. The colors were natural and earthy. The textures were eclectic, visually interesting. My favorite part, the street surface was cobblestone — beautiful, timeless, and environmentally friendly because rain water is allowed to seep into the ground instead of running off into the sewer. It was the type of neighborhood that still exists in places like Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen External Link and Greenwich Village External Link neighborhoods. Unfortunately it’s also the type of neighborhood that is now extremely rare in Rochester.

Renaissance Square as proposed by Neil Bauman.
Recently, a new plan External Link was proposed by local businessman Neil Bauman. Mr. Bauman owns a section of the property at Main and Clinton (he’s also the co-founder of the entertainment Web site eBaum’s World External Link). His plan is a $50 million mixed-use development of residential towers and retail in addition to the campus and bus terminal. Here’s the best part — no public money would be needed! Great. That’s $230 million the city could use to give me my cobblestone streets. Alas, the Main and Clinton Planning Board dismissed Bauman’s plan calling it “an 11th hour announcement”. It’s just as well I guess. In my opinion, Bauman’s drawings feel just as sterile as Chuck and Maggie’s.

Here’s my point, this spot at Main and Clinton, this “heart of downtown Rochester”, should become a neighborhood again. Not a shiny styrofoam condominium — but a well-rounded, urban neighborhood. The type of neighborhood where professionals and artists live, shop, and eat. Then by it’s very nature it becomes a living, breathing, center for the arts — without having to build a stage. Young people will spend time there because they want to, not because their classes are held there. And before long, suburban families will come for a taste of the area’s culture. The problem with the current plan is that it’s been overthunk.

Our leaders have dragged their feet for 10 years. Now they’re in a big rush to build something — anything. The current plan with which Senator Schumer wants to move “full steam ahead” with is a mere shadow of what it was supposed to be. And now they’re about to build another generic looking structure that will sit empty at night and on weekends for decades to come. If you guys want your glass building, can we at least compromise…

Renaissance Square as proposed by RochesterSubway.com.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 1st, 2009 at 2:13 am and is filed under Opinion, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “The Renaissance Square Dance”

  1. petersigrist says:

    Great points! I really like your idea of street life becoming the entertainment center. It’s important that we make sure this project brings the area to life, because when it’s done it will be with us for years to come. I also like the thought of apartments and open storefronts throughout downtown Rochester. Thank you for articulating this so well.

  2. Tim says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to convert that entire downtown area into an area that feels like Schoen Place in Pittsford, or like Park Ave? Or better yet, like the Riverwalk area in San Antonio. A place with shops, galleries, restaurants, and housing. A place like…………well, what it once was.

    Build a bus terminal?? I just don’t get it. Don’t get it at all. Do the buses not drop people off efficiently enough right now? The only people riding them in to downtown are people who work in the towers. There is no shopping remaining down there. Are there that many people taking buses into downtown anymore?

    Sometimes I feel like our city and county governments are run by a bunch of chimps. The day they announced the incredibly flawed and stupid ferry plans, I called that it would be a miserable failure. It was immediately obvious to me that no one on the “board” that made that decision had ever actually been to Toronto and/or Charlotte. What reason did people from Toronto ever have to come here??? And what were they going to do when they were dropped off in Charlotte? Go to the Penny Arcade?

    Or how about the brilliant building of another stadium in a horrible part of town for a sport in which the fans are all suburbanites who would never drive into that neighborhood. It doesn’t matter that it is perhaps a matter of discrimination by those fans, it’s just reality. That stadium will be boarded up and gone within 3 years……just like the, oh yeah, like the last soccer stadium that was a miserable failure and we had to tear down – Holleder Stadium.

    Has anyone in city or county gov’t ever spoken to someone in their 20’s and actually asked THEM what they would like to see in the city?

    Has anyone in the city/county gov’t noticed that the only areas that DO work and become interesting in this city are ones that they have nothing to do with? Imagine if they actually supported some of those areas and efforts with incentives and/or resources! Instead they fight against them (East End, as example).

    This Renn Square deal is another one of those idiocracies in action! My favorite description of it to-date was in the recent Rochester Business Journal poll about the plans when someone called it a classic rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  3. Matt says:

    This is a great blog! I am someone who wishes there were enough people who cared in Rochester to start a movement to END idiotic plans like this which are serving nobody (like they even asked anyone). Instead, I would like to fight for reinstating a subway/light rail system. Who is with me?

    Where can one go, who can one call, and how can one protest this?

  4. admin says:

    A LOT of people are with you Matt! Unfortunately there are great forces working against us. But, if we put our collective weight behind the right projects, we can make Downtown attractive again and begin to rebuild our population. At that point, light-rail will begin to make sense. In the meantime, RochesterSubway.com is working to get Rochesterians thinking again—in positive and creative ways. In upcoming blogs and emails, we will introduce you to some local groups of people that share our vision. People with very interesting ideas…

  5. Matt says:

    I disagree that any changes need to be made before a light rail makes sense. I believe there are several “hotspots” in the city, that with a lightrail station in the immediate vicinity would jumpstart exponential urban growth. Connecting crucial areas in a network and having the walkablility of this city increased 10 fold is what we need at this point, because the neighborhoods themselves have been undergoing a revival on their own. That was phase one.

    Phase two really needs to link these points of interest. The most crucial points of interest that would be outlying stops or stations, are the Airport and colleges. A rail line to the west would fill both requirements, which could utilize the canal for it’s tracks and would stop at both the airport and the U of R. From there it could continue north along the canal and stop at the South Wedge, before continuing now to the innerloop which would have to house it’s tracks overhead. Along the innerloop line we would have stations at points of interest such as Monroe Avenue (perhaps connecting to Genesee hospital by skyway), East Avenue, Park Avenue, St.Paul, High falls, and Corn Hill. Some subway track allready exists here and could be used in the creation of this line.

    These are the strongpoints in our city and the further reinforcement of the goods things going on here will lead to the surrounding areas benefiting from it and perhaps eventually getting more rail lines to those areas or station giving suburbs access on their outskirts.

    The fact remains that there are a lot of ways this project won’t work. Servicing downtrodden areas or linking high crime areas to areas that don’t see much crime would only bleed the bad into the good. The sure way to make this a success is simply to add to the revival allready in place in the areas that want the kind of atmosphere of the progressive urban type. We have seen both Corn Hill and South Wedge exhibit this kind of change.

  6. admin says:

    Matt, to your point, light-rail makes sense for many reasons not the least of which would be environmental, speed/efficiency, and general attractiveness. The “forces” working against light-rail in our community are largely financial. I’ve asked several city and county officials* about the feasibility of new rail projects in our area and the overwhelming response I get is that initial construction costs combined with long-term operating costs would be too great.

    The corridors, destinations, and even public support for light-rail may exist… but how do we achieve utopia on a Rochester budget?

    *I will be posting some of my conversations with these officials in upcoming weeks.


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