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34 Responses to “Filling In: 18-26 Exchange”

  1. Renee says:

    I love that you are doing this series! When you look at downtown, it’s hard not to get discouraged (especially when you look at the contrast between that 1929 photo and the current one). Taking on one vacant lot at a time makes it seem much less daunting.

  2. Martin Edic says:

    Great idea for a series. My only add would be to have balconies for all units- a design challenge but it changes the fabric for the tenants. Much stronger connection to the street life and a semi-private outdoors space in the heart of the city. I’d be there with a little space to sit outside. I lived in a building with a rooftop deck. No one used it.

  3. Matthew Denker says:

    Thank you all! I’m really excited to be contributing.

    Balconies are an excellent idea, and can be incorporated into the building faces pretty nicely.

    I think part of the trick to roof decks is the programming. This is harder to control in an owner occupied building vs. a rental, though. Something to consider. From an environmental perspective, it’s better to have a lightly colored and/or foliage covered roof than just another black pitch, one.

  4. Martin Edic says:

    Green roofs, yes. Realistically, most landlords don’t do social stuff. On the other hand, an owner-occupied building is going to have an association, required by condo law, which means they are more likely to have social events.
    The roofdeck where I lived was closed off after some tenants had a drunken bash and started climbing around the edges! A little reality check…

  5. Dan Howell says:

    I can tell already I’m going to love this series…thanks for sharing!

  6. Matthew Denker says:

    Oh, sorry! I meant programming in the physical sense. So owner occupied buildings are pretty easy to get people together in (there’s an association, people in the building are on it and have social circles, there’s the mentality of a shared investment, etc).

    On the other hand, they’re challenging for placing and maintaining things in public/shared spaces (roof decks, lobbies, etc) because one owner’s treasure is another’s trash. Issues of maintenance and ownership (heh!) also come up. For example, whose responsibility is it to water the beautiful plants on the roof? In the lobby? What happens if an owner who is responsible goes on vacation and something dies?

    This is one of those situations where doing it by fiat, as the managing agent without having to answer to a board can simplify things.

    There is a definite risk factor to having a roof deck, as you point out. I am curious how the one they built over at Erie Harbor is working out for them. The views from it are incredible.

  7. Martin Edic says:

    All things to consider. Grills are another issue.
    It is too bad that the units at Erie Harbor are very poorly designed and overpriced. The ground floor units don’t even have a view of the river- it is blocked by a berm. And shoddy construction. The stairs in the townhouse unit I looked at creaked and they were brand new. I really wanted to like the place but…

  8. Matthew Denker says:

    So while I was not taken by the downstairs units, I greatly enjoyed the townhouse I saw. I think my biggest problem with Erie Harbor is siting. The lack of any appreciable street presence is an urban planning failure (carry over from old apts). This is something Corn Hill Landing does much better across the river. As for price, there are not many (any, really) comparables in the city, so it’s hard to say they are over priced (considering they’re mostly rented out, the market seems to have taken the pricing well). One could afford to rent one of those apartments and fly jetblue round trip to NYC three times a week and still not have an equivalent apartment in NYC for the money.

  9. Brian says:

    This is a great idea for a series. I’m really looking forward to the rest.

    Do have any plans on adding commercial space on the bottom floor your upcoming designs? It’ll be great to get people living back downtown, but I’m not sure if it’s possible without giving them places to shop, go out, etc. I know one of the master plans for city development recommended that all new construction include space for commercial use on the bottom floor. I’m not sure what plan it was exactly.

  10. Renee says:

    I agree with Brian. The mix of retail/commercial space on the bottom floor is a must in any future development. People need things like dry cleaners, corner grocery stores, shops and restaurants within walking distance to not only make living in downtown more attractive, but to make their quality of life while living there better.

    I’d love to know more about the development recommendation for new construction that Brian mentioned.

  11. Matthew Denker says:

    The 2003 (technically 2002) Center City Master Plan references ground-floor retail uses regularly, but does not mandate (nor promote through favorable zoning or other incentives) them in any way.

    I am open to commercial space in any of the developments I look at, although it is not always appropriate. One of the major issues with mixed use in Rochester is that frequently the density of the mix (residential) in particular does not support the necessary dollars for the other uses (commercial).

    Part of this is just an issue of being the first to market. No one downtown wants to be the first to build out space for a new grocery store. That’s a great deal of vacant commercial space before it moves in.

    Can your building above that support it? If you only need retail space at a ratio of 1 sqft/10 sqft of residential, how does one do that in a 5 story building? All challenging questions that are, unfortunately, going to be asked by a bank before they hand over money to build something. Sadly, development does not generally happen by rich benefactor.

  12. Matthew Denker says:

    Sorry! Meant to post a link to the prior master plan: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/CenterCity/

  13. Jimmy says:

    An Underground parking garage is essential to this plot of land. It might have to be a private parking garage for residents only.

  14. @Jimmy, this is where I chime in and say, “transit”. This location is at the epicenter of our transit system where you can catch a bus every 5-10 minutes to anywhere; A short walk to either Main Street, Exchange/State, South or Broad is all you need. Need to go to Top’s or Wegmans? There’s a bus leaving within 10 minutes from one of these spots I guarantee it. It would obviously have to be marketed to people who want to live and work downtown (or near downtown). But there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know what, residential units in the heart of downtown where transit is plentiful, don’t need private parking spaces. My hunch is there are enough jobs downtown during the week to make this an attractive spot for professionals to live without a car. Singles or even couples without kids. BTW, there is also a parking lot directly across the street if you want to live here and have your car. I’ll pipe down now. Great conversation.

  15. jimmy says:

    But the land across the street should also be developed. I would also like to see the small parking lot in between aqueduct and Grave st. developed. Just because there is underground parking for residents living there doesn’t mean that those residents will drive a car all the time instead of walk. Or maybe this garage could serve the people who work around the 4 corners and not the residents.

  16. Matthew Denker says:

    I’m ok with the idea of parking. There’s no congestion in Rochester whatsoever, and so a car is still the absolute easiest way to get around (if not the cheapest)

    What I’d like to know, though, is why the money should be spent to add parking here. Also, how much parking should be added? Enough to replace the spots lost? One per apartment? Two? Extra for the retail? All of the above? What would this cost? Would people pay more for their apartment with parking? How much? Would people not live here at all without parking?

    I just think we need to think about it a little.

  17. jimmy says:

    If I’m not mistaken, underground parking is costly to construct and probably not very cheep to maintain. it would be hard for me to imagine more than 3 levels on that small plot. That might be enough to replace the parking that is there right now. Maybe if a resident wants to pay for their own spot they can, and the rest of the spots can go to the people who work around there. It’s just that if you don’t put parking there, then demand for parking elsewhere will increase.

  18. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the developer should be hung if they decided to add parking levels (below, at, or above grade). All I’m saying is new on-site parking does not have to be a given every time something is built downtown. In fact it shouldn’t be. If parking demands increase, that would indicate the area is in demand… and it may be time for the City to explore other options. For example, make better use of existing parking facilities or connect them to downtown hot spots with a shuttle or street car. What if there were a car-sharing pod on this block?

  19. Matthew Denker says:

    Reasonable. Parking is about $25,000 a space for underground spots. This is equal to about $300 more a month in rent. I don’t think residents will pay it (I could be wrong! I’d hate to have an empty building with no parking on my hands!). Also, parking is so much cheaper in the area, that commuters won’t either.

    One of the issues right now is that parking utilization in downtown Rochester is abysmally low (much to the chagrin of parking owners!). You can see this based on market prices. Surface lot spaces are hardly 1-2 dollars a day. There are currently 56 spaces in this location. The garage a block away from here holds approximately 600 cars. That means that even if it is 90% utilized (it isn’t) these spots would be absorbed there without issue.

    For me, I’d like to know if renters would rent an apartment without parking. Would they be ok with the hundreds of dollars a month discount that no parking can provide (even paved surface spaces cost on the order of $10k a piece)? How much does moving a few zipcars into the Aqueduct lot behind the building change the equation? Those are questions I have less answers to than the ready availability of parking.

  20. jimmy says:

    I wonder how they managed the underground parking with the Temple Building. Those are some expensive lofts!

  21. Matthew Denker says:

    Well, when the building is already there, it’s just a case of some ventilation for running cars. The major cost in a new development is building ramps and 1-2 additional sub basements to account for both mechanicals of the building and the parking. I just got a copy (ThanksRS!) of the parking report from a few years ago, and it looks like peak utilization of downtown parking is 60% (16,000/26,000 spaces). Ignoring how sad that is, that means there’s TONS of extra space for additional cars downtown. Further, since the additional cars will mostly be residents, their usage tends to complement peak loads (remember, an RIT professor living downtown has his car in the garage off peak times, but is out of the garage at peak periods). That’s one of the joys of mixed use development. Most of the mixes tend to blend well.

  22. Jim Mayer says:

    Neat article. I would like to see a lot of development like that downtown.

    Regarding Erie Harbor, my wife and I rent a 3 bedroom townhouse there and haven’t had any regrets. It’s not inexpensive, but we have views of the river and downtown from three floors. It’s just a beautiful location. Even more importantly, it’s in an extremely walkable location with short walks to restaurants, shops, transit, etc. Heck, the Abundance Coop is less than a mile away so there’s even a grocery store. The Genesee River trail is right there and provides dedicated bicycle access to downtown, the UofR, Genesee Valley Park, and the canal trail.

    It’s a shame that the buildings couldn’t have been built up to the street. Unfortunately, there were some inherent site limitations (for one thing, there are water and/or sewage lines running along Mt. Hope. Also, they reused the old pads to save money). Still, the city has done a good job with the landscaping (almost finished now), and the entrance to the river across from Averill is going to be pretty cool come spring.

  23. Matthew Denker says:

    For a non-building development proposal, I would LOVE to see a pedestrian bridge over the river linking Corn Hill Landing and Erie Harbor. Something like the one in London would be amazing. I’ve always though two opposing support columns leaning out over the river supporting a bridge (cable stayed) with an alignment like this: http://goo.gl/maps/R9Qbs. Something to think about. Glad to hear you’re enjoying Erie Harbor. My wife and I came very close to renting the far northeast townhouse. I need to find the pics and link to them here at some point.

  24. Chris Brandt says:

    It is exciting to see a spirited conversation spark up surrounding this. My one caveat would be, that with the redevelopment of downtown, the last thing we need is more uninspired developer spec buildings like the one above, or the almost finished PaeTec building. Things that look like collegetown have no place being in the city.

  25. Matthew Denker says:

    I have to say that getting the ball rolling with anything would be better than nothing. While I’d love to see great works of architecture happen, they are usually done for the benefit of the architect, and rarely for the benefit of the people who need to be around them. There’s nothing friendly about the pedestrian experience of the Disney Opera House, no matter how great it is on the check list of things LA has. We’d be well served to improve the city with urban construction first, and aesthetic second.

  26. Chris Brandt says:

    I’m not arguing for a building of such aesthetic and stylistic bombast as the Disney Opera House…furthermore I would not consider that good architecture (who wants to walk on +110 degree sidewalks, no matter how shiny the eye candy?). You only have to look just south or North of this site. The Powers Building, Wilder Building, and Times Square Building all embody the grander ambitions of our collective american experience. They were not trying to build a mass-produced, lowest cost possible, short-term 10 year profit return kind of architecture. Instead they strove to provide their own addition to a conversation on how architecture might embody the spirit of their time, make a meaningful contribution to the community, and perhaps invent a new notion of constructed space. Furthermore, this was done with a conscious understanding that these buildings were to be constructed to far outlast their builders.

    This unfortunately is not the outlook of the many firms that produce these kinds of cookie cutter pseudo post-modern traditional buildings, and in some cases the starchitects that make buildings like the Maxxi Museum and Disney Concert Hall. What I am arguing for is a homegrown locally conscience and accountable architecture that strives to inspire and enhance the quality of life for city residents. There are certainly a few firms ready and willing to do such work (InSite Architecture, CJS Architects, Bero Architecture, and Plan Architectural Studio). Examples of this inspiring kind of redevelopment can also be seen across the nation from firms such as….

    Miller Hull Partnership
    Meyer Scherer and Rockcastle
    Allied Works Architecture
    Brooks and Scarpa
    Olson Kundig Architects

    Also as one last, but unrelated topic. It is far too late in the game to not be discussing considerations of the relation of our buildings and urban development to the environment. Where is the shading from the southern sun on this building? Why aren’t prevailing wind patterns, embodied energy of materials, access to sunlight, among other factors part of the conversation from the first sketch? The form cannot only follow the function of whats inside.

  27. Matthew Denker says:

    I must say that I love both Plan and CJS’s work. It’s important to note that they’re still companies and they still charge a fee. For any development I eventually do, I’d like to work with local architects. I can’t really afford them for plans for blog posts at the moment, though. Sorry about that!

    While I am all for forward thinking buildings that relate well to their environments, we cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good. We could say no to a development like this just to watch 60 more single family homes be built in a field in Henrietta.

    From a more technical perspective, I would imagine the installation of Brise soleils on the souther face, but it depends whether they’re compatible with the building envelope. LCD shades or good blinds may have to do. Also low e windows.

    I have to confess that I don’t have the time to make these columns exhaustive when I’m writing them. I’m glad we can continue the discussion in the comments. I’m always happen to try and work through these ideas. It’s my hope in the future to look at revised ideas from user feedback.

  28. Carl says:

    Good stuff Matt!

  29. Jason Haremza says:

    Matt,

    I commend you on your design studies and I thoroughly enjoy the discussion that comes out of these posts.

    I have to say, however, that the problems of downtown Rochester are not primarily problems of design. We have talented designers and architects in this city. The problems of downtown Rochester are those of financing. Our developers and lenders are either too conservative or too dependent on public subsidies, or the market for housing in downtown Rochester is just too weak, that I can’t imagine a building like this making a profit. Especially with a single-loaded corridor scheme you present.

    I wish it were otherwise, but the reality seems to be that Rochesterians will simply not pay the rental rates necessary for the “numbers to work” on projects like this.

  30. Jim says:

    “the problems of DT Rochester are not…”
    “the problems of DT Rochester are…”
    “Our developers and architects are too…”
    “housing in DT Rochester is just too weak…”
    “can’t imagine a building like this…”
    “Rochesterians will not pay…”

    Listen to naysayers and be ready to work hard to overcome reasonable objections. But had Edison waited for consensus, we’d still be using gaslight. If you need to break the mold then break it.

  31. Matthew Denker says:

    It’s much easier to say no than to risk it. Believe me, if it weren’t, I wouldn’t hear it all the time.

  32. Jason Haremza says:

    Jim,

    I’m not against buildings like this. On the contrary, I would love to see it happen and would enthusiastically support it.

    My point is, buildings like this are NOT happening in Rochester (or at least not happening as much as other cities) and I want to understand why. Is it our developers? Our elected leaders? Our architects? Our market? Only by understanding the problem can we hope to arrive at any potential solutions. I’m not sure that’s “naysaying.”

  33. Jim Fraser says:

    Jason,
    Okay, I’m sorry I said you were a naysayer. I know you to be a respected planning professional. I do see a certain circularity in your point about financing projects such as this, and one can see that circularity reinforcing the status quo. Frustrating when expressed by one who is among, or at least sits near Rochester’s decision-makers.

    From this discussion, it seems clear to me that the stakeholders in this issue are behaving like kids at a grade school dance – everybody’s there for one reason, yet nobody’s dancing. Everybody knows the future belongs to walkable development and transit options, yet nobody wants to be the first to embrace walking and transit. And while we know that the market will eventually punish mistakes, we continue to make them. And while we know that players in the market must consult their fears, however discredited and however petty, we expect a bit more vision and a bit more advocacy from our policy leaders. Of which you are one.

    Choose your game, sir. You can’t play at both.

  34. Jason Haremza says:

    Jim,

    I don’t mean to be obtuse, but please explain my circularity. I’ll admit upfront I’m not a “numbers” guy. I failed AP Calculus. Back in the days when most people would balance their check books, I never did.

    I’m trying to understand why walkable urban development doesn’t happen more often in Rochester and it seems to boil down to financing. I’m really trying because I passionately love cities. I love Rochester. And, more than you’ll ever know, I desperately want Rochester to be a more walkable, less car-oriented city. I’m trying to understand why it’s not and by that understanding, try to advocate for the necessary changes. Having vision is critical and perhaps my vision and passion has not been expressed in these postings. But vision is not everything; in my experience, being able to implement the vision depends on a lot of tedious, detailed, not-very-interesting minutiae.

    I also can’t really say that I’m a policy leader. Do I try and push for progressive urban policy every chance I get? Yes. Do people listen? Sometimes. Do I reach the real decision makers? Rarely. Maybe I’m too cynical, but in my view, the guys who make the decisions (and its probably almost all “guys”) are making these decisions over scotch at the Genesee Valley Club or on the 9th Hole at Oak Hill or whatever slightly more updated “smoke filled room” you chose to imagine.

    Everybody reading this website probably knows the future belongs to walkable development and transit options, but I don’t believe the decision makers know that, or want to acknowledge it. Why else would U of R and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council (whom I consider a couple of the region’s true decision makers) push so hard for a new $100 million exit from 390 instead of $100 million in pedestrian and transit investments? Now, maybe that’s more naysaying on my part, but that’s what I observe. And I’m flattered that you think I have a voice in these discussions, or even access to these decision makers, but I don’t.

    I’m not sure we get to “choose the game.” The game is there. I don’t particularly like many of the “rules.” But I still believe I can achieve more good by (mostly) playing by those rules than not.


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