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Imagine, Rochester’s Historic Brewery Square

December 4th, 2011

A view of what could one day be Rochester's Historic Brewery Square and entrance to the GardenAerial trail (right). [RENDERING: RochesterSubway.com]
Rendering of renovated buildings and GardenAerial trail

I realize that sometimes it’s a bit difficult to see the potential in something. Especially when that “potential” is hidden beneath layers of mustard yellow paint, rusty corrugated siding, and 25+ years of plain old tired…

The original panorama photo set used to create the rendering of Brewery Square. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The way things look now (click for larger views)

Why, just the other day Howard S. Decker, FAIA said, “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder.external link” Mr. Decker is former Principal of DLK Architecture (Chicago) and former Chief Curator of the National Building Museum (Washington DC). He knows a thing or two about buildings, and places that are worth saving for future generations. His highly experienced eyes see the potential in 13 Cataract Street and the neighborhood it lives in.

But what about the rest of us? How can we be sure this building is worth the money and effort it will take to bring it back to life? What is the alternative to demolition? And will we lose our Brewery Visitor Center if we don’t tear this other building down??

Let’s start with an excerpt taken from a document filed by the Landmark Society in 1984 with the New York State Parks and Recreation Division for Historic Preservation…

The building as it was in 1899. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]The building was built for the Standard Brewing Co. as its brewhouse in about 1889. During Prohibition it was occupied by a bottling company and a malt producer. After Prohibition ended, the building again was a brewhouse, for the Cataract Brewery; it was acquired by Genesee Brewing Co. in recent decades. Of the three major breweries on the east side of the river…Genesee, Bartholomay, and Standard…only the Standard brewhouse remains intact. Bartholomay’s has been demolished; Genesee’s has lost its tower and has been almost buried in more recent buildings. This tall structure is a strong visual element from St. Paul St. and from the area of the Urban Cultural Park (the river). Its height, visibility, and Romanesque Revival style make it architecturally as well as historically significant.

That certainly sounds like a building worth holding on to. But the aforementioned building is 13 Cataract Street; the same one KPS Capital Partnersexternal link (the current owner of Genesee Brewery) is moving swiftly to demolish.

When KPS purchased the Brewery in 2009 they knew this building was listed as a Designated Building of Historic Value. This section of Rochester’s Zoning Code clearly forbids the demolition of any building designated as having historic value. 13 Cataract was given this status over 25 years ago.

As the City’s zoning manager, Dorraine Kirkmire, told the D&C newspaper recentlyexternal link “To get the variance Genesee Brewing must show there is no alternative to demolition.”

What RochesterSubway.com has learned however—and something that no one at the Brewery has mentioned—is that they have been presented with more than one alternative to demolition.

Imagine yourself and a few friends enjoying magnificant views, great conversation and cool Genesee brews in Rochester's Historic Brewery Square. [RENDERING: RochesterSubway.com]

In the few months this building was up for sale, at least one local non-profit group had offered to take the property as a charitable donation so that they could begin to take steps toward restoration and reuse. Lewis Stess and Michael Philipson, principals of local marketing company Philipson Groupexternal link have been working for several years on a plan to turn the High Falls gorge into an attraction not unlike the Highlineexternal link in NYC (below).

The Highline, New York City.

The GardenAerialexternal link as it is being called, would be the Rochester version of this concept; transforming the perimeter of the High Falls gorge, including the Ponte de Rennes bridge, into an outdoor arboretum floating above the Genesse Gorge. A second pedestrian bridge would be built directly over the falls to create a looped trail, encircling the entire gorge and linking Brown’s Race on the west side, with the St. Paul Quarter on the east. (Click on the image below for a larger view of the project area)

A bird's eye view of Cataract Street and Historic Brewery Square overlooking the Genesee River gorge and proposed GardenAerial Trail. [RENDERING: RochesterSubway.com]

At the center of the GardenAerial plan is our historic building on Cataract Street. The Friends of the GardenAerial say they would renovate it, add a glass enclosed public wintergarden at the rear of the building to overlook the new trail and High Falls, and create a gallery/information center to showcase aspects of the Genesee Riverway eco-system and green technologies. A portion of the building could also become professional office space.

As it happens, Senior Students from Cornell University’s Landscape Architecture Program, have been working with Friends of the GardenAerial to create a master plan, site maps, and creative displays to help us all visualize this new vision for the Genesee Gorge at High Falls. This work will be on public display at various locations (TBD) around Rochester over the coming months. And on December 9th an invitation-only event at Stantec’s newly renovated offices in High Falls will be held to preview these concepts.

Plan view of the proposed Genesee Brewery Visitor Center and parking lot. The historic buildings would be removed for approximately 27 additional parking spaces.

Not only is there private interest in the building, but the City of Rochester has also offered additional assistance to see that the Brewery’s project can be successfully completed without demolishing the landmark buildings. On November 15, 2011 representatives from the City met with the Brewery and offered them:

  1. Approximately $150,000 of improvements to Platt Street in the form of enhanced/decorative paving, enhanced sidewalks and street lighting
  2. Approximately $30,000 of improvements to Upper Falls Terrace Park in the form of an expanded parking lot to serve the entire High Falls area amenities, including the park, Pont de Rennes, and the visitor center

The planned visitor center and ale room is a great idea. But there is nothing about this plan that requires the demolition of the two historic buildings across the street. Parking would not be an issue if the Brewery accepts the City’s offer of additional land. And clearly the vacant buildings do not have to sit empty and continue to deteriorate if a deal can be worked out with GardenAerial. So what is the real issue here?

The Brewery is concerned about the eyesore located across the street from their new visitor center—that’s understandable. So let’s work to fix that!

I’d ask the Brewery to allow the City (or GardenAerial, or Landmark Society, or someone) to secure the building, paint it, tarp the roof to stop the water damage, and move swiftly to pull together funding for its rehabilitation. The Brewery Visitor Center can be completed and the historic preservation can begin across the street. The only thing standing in the way seems to be Brewery itself.

I want to be clear… The Brewery ought to be commended for turning around a failing company and adding much needed local jobs. However, they have also received public benefits to do so. In February 2009, to clear the way for KPS to purchase High Falls (Genesee) Brewery, the City of Rochester settled $9,468,347 in taxes, water bills, and loans owed by the Brewery. KPS agreed to a discounted payment of $500,000. This agreement may well have been necessary to save the company and those 300 jobs. And I’m certainly glad we did. But it is precisely because the Brewery is profitable today that they have an obligation to the community that has sustained them for well over 100 years.

To KPS and Rich Lozyniak (CEO, North American Breweries), here is your chance to show Rochester that Genesee is still a local brand that values community and celebrates its roots. Make the turn-around of Genesee Brewery complete by showing us (your customers) that this is a forward thinking company. Seize this emerging opportunity. Work with Rochester to build something truly remarkable for future generations to experience and enjoy.


How You Can Help:

Plan to attend and speak at the Zoning Board’s meeting on Thursday, December 15, 2011. The start time for the Public Hearing is 9:30 AM in City Council Chambers, Room 302A, City Hall, 30 Church Street. Cases 1-5 will be heard beginning at 9:30 AM. The Genesee Brewery Application is Case #5 and will begin at 11:30 AM.

Share this event on Facebook.

Sign the Petition to Save 13 Cataract Street

See also:
Genesee Brewery to Demolish This Building
Dear Genesee Brewery: Inspiration From Baltimore
Brewery Unveils Official Plan
Help Save Brewing Landmark
Imagine, Rochester’s Historic Brewery Square
Landmark Society Urges Brewery to Rethink Demolition
Prohibition in Rochester

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2011 at 2:28 am and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, 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.

24 Responses to “Imagine, Rochester’s Historic Brewery Square”

  1. billyudi says:

    This is great. My family would come downtown just to use this looped trail, and of course bring out of town visitors. Most likely stop in and grab a beer at the brewery too!

    This is so much better than the isolated plan the brewery has put out there, and I think would be instrumental in making the brewery’s plan a success.

  2. @billyudi, lots of people feel the same way. Thanks for commenting.

    You can help by signing the online petition and, if you can make it, come to the Zoning Board meeting on Thursday, December 15, 2011. The start time for the Public Hearing is 9:30 AM in City Council Chambers, Room 302A, City Hall, 30 Church Street. Cases 1-5 will be heard beginning at 9:30 AM. The Genesee Brewery Application is Case #5 and will begin at 11:30 AM.

  3. Cathy Clarke says:

    [...] RochesterSubway.com also has a great post about some proposed solutions and development plans for the building and surrounding area. [...]

  4. Jim Fraser says:

    Mike, your renditions here are incredible. The GardenAerial trail concept would clearly improve the connection between the two assets (High Falls and the brewery), which fit hand-in-glove to be sure. Getting people to walk or bike around adds significant time and interest to the experience, which can only increase the district’s value as a destination.

    To me, a major point in favor of keeping the Standard buildings is their huge potential to catalyze development along that section of the Saint Paul corridor around the brewery. It’s easy to see those few blocks with the interesting and richly authentic industrial Victorian structures becoming part of the mix over time.

    Nor do I think that should be left to chance. The deal to save the Standard could include a provision for setting up an agency whose mission would be to promote and plan the further development of the corridor. It could start by expanding the period street lighting (offered to the brewery by the city) to include that part of Saint Paul.

    Development would follow an investment in infrastructure, if the development group’s work goes as planned. I think that’s a good argument in favor of keeping the Standard building. Work separately, think small, stay small. Work together, think big and all parties win big.

  5. The time to finally take action and speak against the destruction of Rochester’s heritage is upon us. Plan to attend and sign up to speak at the Zoning Board’s meeting on Thursday. We need to fill that council chambers on Thursday; and that means we need all of YOU. If you and I don’t stand up to fight for the city our grandparents and great grandparents broke themselves to build, no one else will.

    DETAILS:
    Thursday, December 15
    City Council Chambers, Room 302A
    City Hall, 30 Church Street

    ADDITIONAL INFO:
    The start time for the Public Hearing is 9:30 AM but the Genesee Brewery Application will begin at 11:30 AM so you don’t have to be there at 9:30. Just be sure to arrive well before 11:30 to sign up to speak. I don’t know how long the meeting will go. Depends on how many people speak out.

    Everyone will have 3 MINUTES at most to speak their mind. So get your thoughts together in advance.

    Please RSVP and share this event on Facebook.

  6. While I’ve supported historic building preservation in the past (the stage coach stop in North Chili), the old Standard Brewery Building is beyond saving:

    http://www.13wham.com/news/local/story/genesee-brewery-building/fslH_EXM5ki8_1FSnQVt8g.cspx

    The costs for rehabbing it would be exorbitant. I’ve heard of estimates of that it would cost upwards of $8 million to rehab the building.

    Genesee wants to make improvements and enhancements to THEIR property and a visitor center and brew pub would be a huge improvement over what’s there now. To add $8 million to the project cost would make it cost prohibitive to continue and we’d be back to square one.

  7. Rochester Veteran:
    I appreciate your past preservation work and your interest in preservation. I actually share you view in the sense that basic economics sometimes makes saving odl buildings very difficult. This was not the case here. Not sure where you heard the rehab costs. We sought stabilization costs, from our reputable sources, seasoned contractors and architects with sound historic preservation experience, and that stabilization was about $1 million. Further we had private dollars, with a private developer ready to complete the entire inteior with private dollars. In one week we were able to close some of that gap. It is not uncommon to have a gap in these deals . . . most large projects have gaps. The problem here is that the timeframe was so short. Plus, our position was that the brewery is spending almost $1million to demolish the building. I can assure you, without any hesitation in the very least, that if the brewery would have donated some funding toward stabilization, instead of spending it for demo, a project would have moved foward. And, the building would be saved and the brewery would have saved a ton of money.
    I wanted to try and explain a bit more detail. I do appreciate all your interest in preservation. But, this project was not beyond saving. Actually, it was not even close to being beyond saving. But, I do appreciate your comment and interest. Interest and respectful discussion/debate is one good thing about these dilemmas.

  8. rochester_veteran says:

    Thanks for replying back, Landmark Society. 13 Cataract has been a giant pigeon coup for over 30 years. It’s a dump and an eyesore. It’s wise to pick your battles carefully and this one’s a losing battle. LNA is trying to improve the property for the first time in eons. Let it be…

  9. Let it be. We should put that in lights high over the city. “Welcome to Rochester. Whatever. We don’t give a shit.”

  10. rochester_veteran says:

    Wow, RochesterSubway.com, talk about twisting my words. You’re not going to win many supporters with that sort of attitude.

  11. Not attitude. That’s pretty much what you said. You’re welcome to your opinion. I’m welcome to mine. Now you’re welcome. That’s how this works.

  12. Jay says:

    Well if we want to play RochesterSubway.com rational…..

    We can put up a sign that says Welcome to Rochester…we don’t care if you own that property…we want to tell you how remodel or rehab it…and we don’t give a shit what you have to spend.

  13. Jay, the building was listed as a DBHV when KPS bought it. The rules are clear and I didn’t even write them. They’re in the City’s code if you care to crack it open and start reading.

  14. kevin knapp says:

    Sign all the petitions you want.It will not go anywhere.The Rethugs in the suburbs,Gaggie Brook’s voting block,won’t be happy until the entire city of rochester is nothing but a pathetic vision of linked together Walmarts,Tim Horton’s,and last but not least Starbucks….just sayin….

  15. kevin knapp says:

    What does Pizza and wings have to do w/ a Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ…???? Google works well….Rochester does not have,and never had, any clever vision about what to do as far as it’s once very cool city.Why in hell Rochester did you not back in the day just leave the city as it was back in about 1948 ????. The freaking yuppies in this this “Bullshit Bingo” 2013 society,I say would just love the now long gone Front Street.Ah Duhhhhhh!!!!!

  16. kevin knapp says:

    Rochester,seems to catering to this disgusting crowd of Latte’ and stock options, post Woodstock Boomer crowd,that back in the day,had a lot of fun traveling up to Midtown on the ww11 parents quarter on a bus, to spend a day there.What Happened Boomers???

  17. Revisiting this issue, two years later, it seems like the brewhaha (pun intended ;-) was all for naught. Have any of you visited the Genesee Brew House, been up on the roof and the awesome view of High Falls, partaken of their brews and foods (love their pretzel sticks and BLTs)? Not all redevelopment is “evil”. :-)

  18. Rochester Veteran, I have been there yes. And I don’t see it that way. Sorry.

  19. So RochesterSubway.com, are you saying that all redevelopment is “evil”? Again, I’ll repeat from my post to the Rochester Historical Society that 13 Cataract was a disaster waiting to happen. After what they found during the demolition, that support walls were on the verge of crumbling, it probably would have cost more than the $8 million that was estimated to “restore” the building. It would have made no economic sense to proceed with the project and it would have been snuffed out if NAB was forced to include restoration of 13 Cataract. We would have had nothing there but a crumbling old utility building. To the contrary, we now have a place that’s a new Rochester destination and it’s providing people with jobs! When I was there with my family, it was a beautiful summer day and we spent an hour up on the roof taking in the beautiful view, along with other patrons, locals and out of towners. The Brew House is one of *the* places to be in Rochester!

  20. BTW RochesterSubway.com, although we disagree on this issue, I want to compliment you on this blog. It’s the best in Rochester, hands down! Hat tip to you!

  21. Veteran, don’t put words in my mouth. If you follow this blog you certainly know I am pro development. At no time did I ever ask that NAB be forced to take on the restoration of 13 Cataract. I wanted them to make good on their original plan which was to sell the building and let another developer take it on. The new brewhouse is fine. But let’s not kid ourselves that it’s the greatest place in Rochester. On the other side of the street now is a massive field of asphalt. That’s what I would have liked to avoid. Also, the walls weren’t crumbling. I watched the entire demo process. I thank you for reading. But I’ve let this topic rest for a year and a half. It’s time to move on.

  22. That’s cool, RochesterSubway.com, best wishes to you from my wife and I, from the rooftop deck of the Genesee Brew House, glad the project went forward!


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