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Filling In: Tops Plaza

February 27th, 2015

Tops Plaza on Winton Rd south of Blossom [PHOTO: Google Streetview]
By Matthew Denker

Some of you may know that there is a shiny, new-ish, giant Wegmans in Rochester. It’s over at East and Winton. Savvier readers may know about another grocery store nary a block away (but clearly on the wrong side of the tracks!). That’s right, there’s also a Tops. In addition, it has come to my attention that there are plans for an Aldi across the street on the site containing the old Roly-door building and Jim’s. For a city with few urban grocery stores, there’s food for everyone over here…

Tops Plaza Satellite Image [PHOTO: Google Maps]
Not surprisingly, Tops is the odd man out in this menage-a-épicerie (being neither as cheap as Aldi or as nice as Wegmans). With that in mind, let’s bulldoze it and rethink (Fill In) the entire area!

Tops Plaza Proposed Reconstruction

Boom! Get a load of that. What have we got cooking here?

1.) New roads (un-labeled – black lines) – We’ve turned the former super block site into a collection of smaller block sizes that increase walkability and maintain street parking for customers of the new businesses.

2.) Structured Parking (teal) – This garage would replace the surface lot for Harris and provide employee and resident parking for the new buildings to be constructed on the Tops Plaza site. If a deal could be worked out, it would also become the employee parking for Wegmans, allowing customer parking to be put under the store and liner buildings to be constructed in the surface lot across University. That’s outside the scope of this plan, though. A portion of the top level of the 4 story parking deck would be the park, offering connections to the north side of the tracks.

Seattle Art Museum Train Overpass [PHOTO: Google Streetview]

3.) New Park Space (green). The park will extend from next to the Harris office building, up and over the parking garage, over the tracks, and then back down to street level on the other side of the tracks. This will bring a much needed lighter and friendlier method for crossing the tracks than the current Winton Rd underpass offers. It also offers some much needed green space to new residents and a place to eat and socialize for local workers, residents, and shoppers.

AND time for new buildings (orange).

4.) 3 stories – First floor retail, second two floors offices.

5.) 4 stories – First floor retail, top 3 floors apartments.

6.) Double height single story – All retail.

Example Buildings [PHOTO: Google Streetview]
7.) 6 stories – First floor retail facing the two street extensions, but not artisan works. Resident entrance facing artisan works for floors 3, 4, 5, and 6. Hotel entrance facing Winton for floor 2.

8.) 5 stories – Residential.

Example Buildings [PHOTO: Google Streetview]

9.) 4 stories – First floor retail, top 3 floors apartments.

Based on a really rough estimate, this comes out to approximately:

  • 60,000 sqft of retail (approximately half the square footage of an average Target)
  • 20,000 sqft of office space (barely 1 floor in the Xerox tower)
  • 20,000 sqft of hotel (this is a 60 room hotel, at average hotel room sizes, or 2/5ths the size of the Strathallan)
  • 200,000 sqft of apartments (at an average size of 1,000 sqft, this is 200 apartments, or about the same as what will be in Midtown Tower when complete)

So if Tops were to come down, what would you put in this space? I went looking, and historically, there was nothing here except lawn/parking for the industrial buildings, so unlike many sites in Rochester, there is not much precedent for the site beyond the low intensity retail/parking morass that is here now.

Finally, thanks go out to Scott W. for inspiring me to put this column together.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 27th, 2015 at 12:08 am and is filed under 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.

21 Responses to “Filling In: Tops Plaza”

  1. George Conboy says:

    Before the Tops was built, there was for many years a car dealership at that location.

  2. Thanks for throwing this out there, it’s a fun exercise to think about the possibilities. Clearly, the idea of pushing development close to the street and getting rid of a large surface parking lot is appealing. Mixed use along with the existing residential population provides some market for whatever retail concepts you bring to the area. I’m curious about the interaction of parcels 8 and 9 with the train tracks right there. I don’t know enough about the train schedule, but with residential development will it be rattling the china at regular intervals? Is there a better use that might work as a buffer?

  3. Vicki says:

    Aldi is not a done deal, and there is a great amount of community consternation over what a “big box” will do to the character of Winton Road north of Blossom. (That’s where Aldi will go, if it goes at all.)

    As a Browncroft resident I have a kind of kneejerk reaction to such major development on Winton Road; replacing Tops would be no real loss to the neighborhood, but we kind of like our early 20th-Century storefronts. Speaking only for myself, I’d like to see Winton look more like Park Avenue than Collegetown.

  4. Carmen says:

    Build some really nice apartments, like the lofts downtown only with balconies and some green space. I’d move in!

  5. Dan Buddy says:

    You know, some of us do not belong to the Wegman’s cult and find Tops to be an uncrowded, convenient alternative. Price Rite is also around the corner (and in my opinion a great addition to the neighborhood and the city). I don’t know that an Aldi would add anything to the neighborhood but just garner the same derision people hold for Tops.

  6. kmannkoopa says:

    I like buildings on the street as well, but where do these people park?

    The City of Rochester became very progressive by having a small minimum parking requirement (and by having a maximum requirement in its 2003 code revision. A quick analysis of the numbers above would require the following requirements (http://ecode360.com/8682809):

    80,000 SF of office and retail (2 spaces per 1000 SF): 160 parking spaces
    60 Room Hotel: 60 spaces
    200 (assumed 2 Bedroom Apartments at 1.6 spaces per apartment): 320 Parking Spaces
    Total: 540

    My rough count of the aerial from Google Earth showed that there are 230 spaces or so for Tops/CVS and 320 Spaces or so for Harris. For a total of 550 spaces. In other words the site is about as dense as you can get without considering massively expensive and ugly parking garages.

    I realize we want a transit oriented city, but we are not there. Outside of the largest, oldest cities (NYC, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia) but not newer cities (Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix), people still need to drive and park.

    Look up other mid-sized cities, I don’t think you can find a city requiring less parking outside of its Center than Rochester (and Rochester even acknowledges its excess downtown parking by not requiring any parking anymore downtown).

  7. 1.) Hey Matthew – Modern construction techniques can be used to mitigate this issue significantly. Nothing some triple or quadruple pane windows wouldn’t fix, and conveniently, these would be the apartments with a view (and thus the most expensive). It could be worked out well, I think.

    2.) Hi Vicki – I love the neighborhood, and am sympathetic to the concern over Aldi. I think it can be done right, though, and that in conjunction with the removal of Tops plaza could actually be much better. Bear with me a second. Imagine the aldi were actually built to the street and with windows (ala the CVS on Monroe). This would be a significant improvement over the curb cuts for the gas station (which should also go) and the 60s-retail–abandoned-chic of the RolyDoor building (note you can’t win them all, and I don’t think this is an improvement for Jim’s if it has to come down. It would be nearly impossible to grow a new Park Ave. organically from a parking lot in front of Tops (and there’s nothing Park Ave about the stuff immediately north of Blossom and west of Winton), but a development like this would go a long way to supporting the preservation and improvement of the existing stock on the east side of Winton from the tracks all the way to Atlantic.

  8. Maranne says:

    I love the Roly Door building and wondered what next entrepreneurial business would occupy that space. Who owns the property. I’d hate to see that building go, it’s so representative of the fabric of the neighborhood.

  9. Kmannkoopa – The teal building with the number 2 on it is a parking garage. There’s nothing progressive about parking minimums or maximums, it really should be market based, but indeed, I’ve proposed to build at least that many spaces (plus the additional on street parking that comes with the new streets).

  10. kmannkoopa says:

    I did miss the parking garage in my first read. I’ll just say for now that the inconvenience of the garage will drive customers away.

    As to minimum vs maximum parking — cars are the reality and expecting free parking the norm. Changing this attitude is needed, but until then it needs to be accommodated. The City of Rochester is the only municipality I have found in Upstate NY that actually caps the number of parking spaces that can provided, which is the first step in this struggle and a progressive ideal.

  11. Rich Tyson says:

    I would LOVE to see some new residential, for purchase, development in this neighborhood! My wife and I own Fahsye at the corner of Winton and Blossom and would love to see new condo/retail across the street.

  12. Gary says:

    This is some great thinking, Matthew. For a dozen years, I lived on nearby Hampden, also worked at Logical Operations when it was in the Artisan Works building. I never had any love for that Tops, which was never very friendly. I always felt like a suspected criminal when I shopped there and the big lot is just plain ugly. I left the neighborhood because it never felt like one. There were no destinations except Jims and a couple places up Winton (great hardware store though).

    Two responses to others’ comments: 1) I like living near a railroad – which I have done. You get over the sound in a few hours and it becomes a reassuring component of urban life. 2) While they did some things right, College Town is still bad fake urbanism. The alternating colors don’t mask the fact that it all looks the same: boring and oppressive. Rochester can do better.

  13. Vicki says:

    Matthew, thanks for your reply. I also think that to organically grow a Park Avenue scene from what’s there on Winton now is a fantasy. A pleasant one, but a fantasy. And I agree that the present west side of Winton from Blossom up to the Betlem building isn’t attractive or functional, and could stand to be replaced. If the Aldi is going to be built, I think I could live with a store that comes up the sidewalk and has all the parking behind, if the facade were appropriate to the feel of the neighborhood. But multi-story mixed use development? While I reluctantly acknowledge that it could work for the Tops site (and I agree that the Tops site isn’t a part of the historic landscape of the area), I really do fear that substantial development of Winton north of Blossom would just start the dominoes falling. I remember when there were houses on Ridge Road in Greece and Ridge Road itself was two lanes in each direction. I’d really hate to see Winton Road fall victim to the kind of evolution that happened in Greece. Plus, the traffic at Winton and Blossom is already atrocious at rush hour; I can’t see moving lots of people into living and working near the intersection improving things. I’d be in favor of one or two story retail with living units on the second storey that harmonize with what is already there (which is where Park Ave. comes in). It wouldn’t be organic, as you say, but as long as it wasn’t an earnest (read: Disneyfied) attempt to look just like the older buildings, it could work. I’m not sure that the ROI would be worth it, though.

  14. Carmen says:

    In regards to College Town. Could Rochester do better? Yes, but we won’t, so we’re lucky we got that!

  15. Hi Vicki,

    I think your example of Ridge Road shows what the proplem is, and it’s not multi-story housing/commercial (of which there is practically none on Ridge Road). It’s one story commercial surrounded be a sea of parking. Look, anything with a bunch of parking serves people who are not from the neighborhood. The traffics isn’t bad because of people who live in North Winton Village, it’s bad because of people driving through there to Penfield. I know people will fight me on this, but they’re wrong. Do you think subdivisions in Penfield are crowded? No, because a few hundred houses doesn’t create that much traffic. A simple 2 lane road (blossom for example) can handle on the order of 20,000 cars a day, or very roughly 1,000 an hour. Even if every single person living within a half mile radius of blossom over here hopped in their car and drove to work at once it wouldn’t be that traffic-y. Winton Village is not the source of the traffic. This is actually an argument for denser development with more people living in it. Traffic would not get much worse. The people from Penfield would find another way to whatever it is they are driving to. It sucks right now for the people living over there, because you have to deal with someone else driving, and it hinders your ability to do so, but that’s what cheap driving does (in fact, if parking cost more downtown while alternatives were provided -> express bus, etc), there would be less traffic as well. Anyway, you are correct that I do not believe there needs to be any large development north of Blossom, and I really like the east side of Winton south of Blossom to the tracks. The return on investment of 2 story, res above commercial is never worth it. It’s not dense enough to support the commercial (you’d still need a TON of parking somewhere close), while not being tall enough to recoup fixed costs like foundations.

    As for college town, the aesthetics aren’t the problem at all, it’s the absolute devotion to covering every inch of land that isn’t a building with parking. Let’s build a giant garage AND a surface lot for people too stupid to park in the garage! Success. If instead there were some greenspace for people to go sit and eat and play and have all of the pressure of being surrounded by apartments, it would be a completely different game. The good news is that, physically, this isn’t hard to do. The bad news is, everyone lives in constant fear of not having somewhere SUPER CONVENIENT AND FREE to store their automobile while they go about their business doing whatever it is they do. Which means it will never happen.

  16. Carmen says:

    < express bus, etc), there would be less traffic as well.>>

    The problem with this way of thinking is that in a city like Rochester, where there’s little, if any, advantage to working downtown, it doesn’t take much for businesses to up and move to the ‘burbs. Increase the cost and inconvenience of driving downtown, and boom, employers relocate. We need to always be mindful of that!

  17. I’m somewhat sympathetic to this view, but I think there is more advantage to being downtown in the long run than we generally give it credit. I mean, sure I could move my business to Greece, but then everyone needs to drive all the way around the city from Pittsford. Same goes for moving the other direction. The benefit of Rochester is that it is central. That, and a little bit of regional planning and you can make great strides to tamping this down. There are only so many businesses that could relocate to Wayne or Orleans and maintain their employees (and frankly, these businesses have probably already done that – Midtown is gone and there is a huge mall in Victor, no?).

  18. Carmen says:

    Note that there is not only a huge mall in Victor, but a rampant housing boom too. In our region, where commutes are relatively painless (compared to bigger cities), and jobs are scarce, people either move to where they want to be, or they get up every morning and drive there. I’d rather work downtown…certainly my commute would be shorter…but not shorter enough to pay for parking.

  19. Vicki says:

    Matthew, thanks again for the perspective on the traffic on Winton. It’s a view I haven’t considered, but it makes sense.

    I am also mildly amused at Rochesterians’ attitudes towards paying for parking downtown. I grew up in Chicago, and my Chicago family laughs in envy and disbelief at how inexpensive it is to park here. Just for grins, I looked up monthly rates at Chicago’s Grant Park North garage (right downtown); it’s $245 to $305 per month. At the Mortimer Street garage it’s $53 a month. Parking in Rochester is an enormous bargain compared to big cities. Of course, Chicago has excellent public transportation from the outer regions to the Loop. Reliable, direct, and inexpensive (especially compared to parking.) I’m not sure what that proves, but it should mean something!

  20. Carmen says:

    It’s true it is cheap to pay for parking here…but it should be. It’s supply and demand. My son lives right downtown in Boston. Yes, if he had a car, it would cost $400 a month in the ramp that is closest to his loft. But…he’s in BOSTON not Rochester. He’s making about $25k more there as a new engineer (master’s degree) than he’d make here…and he has plenty of job mobility options. He walks or bikes to work. As long as we live with the disadvantages of a mid-sized city (it’s not just Rochester…) we expect, at the very least, cheap, convenient parking (and housing!). Otherwise we might as well all move to a more vibrant city!

  21. Alan says:

    Actually that Tops was one of my favorite stores. I always thought that the egotistical Wegmans cult was kind of creepy and the East Avenue Wegmans cult was creepy squared. All the non-Beautiful People went to that Tops, and I felt right at home there.


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