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Preservation v. Progress: Rematch on Main Street

June 25th, 2012

Former Westminster Presbyterian Church, 660 West Main Street, Rochester NY.
The church shown above sits vacant at 660 W. Main Street external link. It’s on the City’s list of historic buildings and potentially eligible for the National or State Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately the building’s owner is itching to demolish it… to clear the way for a new Dollar General store…

Yay! Another dollar store coming to Main Street, Rochester! Save Time. Save Money. Everyday. In Rochester NY!
On July 19, the City’s Zoning Board will hear public testimony and decide whether or not to approve the owner’s variance application. But not everyone is happy with the owner’s plan. Neighbors, including some from adjacent properties, are getting ready to make their arguments in opposition to the demolition. And they’ve asked RochesterSubway.com for some visual assistance to help make their case…

Here's what 660 W. Main St. could look like with a little elbow grease.
So this is what the little church could look like with some elbow grease (shown above). It certainly is pretty. But frankly, I don’t think it will help and I’ve probably just wasted a weekend in Photoshop.

I mean let’s not forgot, they’ll be making their plea to the exact same Zoning Board external link that voted to demolish this external link.

Here, as with the historic Cataract Brewery external link, we have a vacant building and an owner who has a plan to replace it. I assume we also have neighbors who will almost certainly stand with the owner in the name of “progress.” Plus, the City’s zoning code hasn’t changed since January (I don’t think). Doing things the same way and expecting different results – isn’t this the definition of insanity?

Perhaps. Or perhaps enough of the neighbors in the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood, unlike High Falls, will unite to somehow tip the balance — from “progress” to sanity.

The Liederkranz Club building, formerly the Westminster Presbyterian Church, as it was circa 1916. The address, 320 West Avenue, was later renumbered 656 W. Main Street and again, finally, to 660. Westminster Presbyterian moved to Arnett Blvd., ca. 1915.<br />
 [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 25th, 2012 at 8:19 am and is filed under Rochester Images, Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “Preservation v. Progress: Rematch on Main Street”

  1. It seems that cities in upstate are finishing the job started in the 50′s.

    The more economically desperate these cities become the more of these great ideas – demolish good buildings to build temporary sheds when there are vacant lots in every neighborhood in the city that need to be filled but are not the “low hanging fruit” that old buildings, especially churches, represent to property owners and developers – will be proposed…and approved.

    We are feeling the early effects of a smoldering wildfire of greed, desperation and ignorance that threatens to rend unlivable those pockets of the old city that urban renewal and modernism left untouched.

    The grandchildren of the “experts” who ruined our cities after WWII are now the experts in charge, and see what they have learned: to put the occasional arch on the crappy new buildings being built…progress.

  2. Jason Haremza says:

    I’m very conflicted about this building. On the one hand, my default position is almost always preservation. On the other hand, if we thought it was hard to get a deep-pocketed corporation to spend money we all know they had on a neglected brewery building in a spectacular setting, it will be much much harder to get a small scale local property owner to spend money he probably doesn’t have on a neglected church in a mundane stretch of West Main Street. Of course, he could sell it to someone with resources and vision to restore and re-use, but is that someone out there?

    Also, unlike the brewery, which we only have pieces of another one, we have dozens if not scores of historic religious buildings in the city, the majority of which are suffering from deferred maintenance and owners with minimal resources. Unlike, say, old factory buildings, religious structures do not often lend themselves to easy adaptive reuse. Yes, we can all point to examples in Toronto where churches have become condos, but when Rochesterians are willing to pay Toronto prices, then perhaps developers will start to do those conversions.

    I’m not advocating for Family Dollar. All I am saying is that preservation is complicated and there are no easy solutions. At the end of the day, SOMEONE, whether public, private, or non-profit, has to spend money on these buildings. Our current system of identifying, prioritizing, and processing preservation cases is not serving the community well.

  3. I think our property tax rate should be variable… the more improvements you make to your property the lower your taxes. Conversely, the more you allow your property to sink into disrepair the higher your taxes go. Is that un-American?

    Anyway, here are two recent cases (both in New Hampshire) of residents resisting Dollar General and fighting the demolition of historic properties…

    In Marlborough, the Zoning Board denied a request for a special exception to allow demolition of a 150-year-old building to be replaced by a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General.

    And in Winchester residents are challenging a zoning board decision to allow demolition of a 200 year old house.

    And more thoughts from New Hampshire here.

  4. exJebbie says:

    Isn’t there already a Dollar General on Main Street…across the street from this church? Does the community really desire this store in this location? It’s hard for a municipality to deny a landowner the opportunity to “exploit” their property. However, the first crappy idea isn’t the only one. Perhaps with more effort, and some outreach into the community, other ideas might come forward. Lastly, the Dollar General format is ugly, cheap and disgusting. It cheapens a neighborhood. The City should consider that too.

  5. CJ Grimes says:

    I grew up in this church when it was the Bibleway Healing Temple through the 80′s and late 90′s. This place has so many memories that come to mind and such a rich history. Unfortunately when Bibleway moved to it’s new locating in Henrietta, NY the location began it’s demise. The building was well maintained and in decent shape for it’s age. I’m reminded of the many Saturday’s that we held car washes and other church fund raising functions just to keep up with the large cost associated with this building.

    To see this building be demolished for yet another chain store would be horrible. The history alone should allow it to stand. The neighborhood is yet another one of Rochester’s poorer areas and not too many residents will seem to care what happens either way. It’s my hope that the place be reconditioned and turned back into a house of worship.

  6. UPDATE: You can speak out against the demolition of the church at 660 W. Main St. tomorrow at City Hall.

    The Zoning Board Public Hearing begins at 9:30am. But the church demolition / Dollar General case could begin anytime between 10:30 and 11:30. Be smart and arrive as early as possible.

    See you there.

  7. @dbaman… OMG! That church is stunning! Thanks for the link.


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