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RocLinks 7/23/16

July 23rd, 2016

Midtown Plaza Rendering [PHOTO: Buffalo Courier-Express 6/5/1961]
By Matthew Denker

From local development to just plain news of the weird, here are your RocLinks for this past week…

Craven Self Interest Department

You may have heard me mention around that Parcel 5 at Midtown is no place at all for a park. Well someone else agrees with me.external link Score! But seriously, there are already a number of parks downtown. There are already a number of large, vacant areas that could be turned into temporary play-places, and downtown needs more pressure on all of this, not more open space. That’s the sort of suburban mentality (having large, unused open spaces for show), that got us in this mess in the first place.

Yeah, sure.

Have you ever wondered about people’s different definitions of walkable? I have. But this isn’t about that, per say, it’s about varying definitions of mixed use. For example here isexternal link a ‘mixed use’ development opening this weekend in Perinton. And I’ll be ‘that guy’ for you. Really?

Photons!

How’s that Photonics Institute thing coming along, you ask? Slowly.external link That shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it’s unfortunate that everyone needs to make everything sound so simple going in to get people on board, just to let them down later when things turn out to be not so simple. Oh well.

Wait Wait, Don’t Tell me

And finally, Evan Dawson tacklesexternal link the (potential) downtown performing arts center. I could get behind it if the project was programmed more like the Symphony House in Philadelphia and less like the Disney Opera House with a casino in the basement. Just putting that out there.

Midtown Plaza Interior Sketch [PHOTO: Buffalo Courier-Express 6/5/1961]

• • •

RocLinks is on vacation next week, but as always, use the comments below as open discussion for anything in these links – or let us know if there’s a topic you’d like to see us hit more aggressively in future RocLinks. Have a great weekend!

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This entry was posted on Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 at 1:32 pm and is filed under Architecture, Art + Culture, 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 “RocLinks 7/23/16”

  1. Bonus – the text of the newspaper article this came from. Part 1 eventually.

    Rochester Plaza Plans Laid in ’56
    This is the second of two stories on Rochester’s Midtown Plaza, a multimillion-dollar attempt to create a suburban type shopping area in the heart of downtown.
    By WILLIAM C. MARCUS
    NEXT YEAR—Sometime next year, a Rochester shopper will drive downtown and into the world’s largest underground parking garage.

    Whether it’s snowing or raining, she’ll be able to leave her coat in the car, take an escalator to the surface, and have In front of her a covered, temperature- controlled world designed for the pedestrian.

    Without ever going outside, she will have access to two major department stores, two hotels, one of them perched on top of a 19-story office building, two banks, 30 shops grouped around a central mall and a number of arcades, several restaurants, a sidewalk cafe, and a host of other service facilities.

    TARGET DATE—Final completion date for this mammoth shopping complex know as Midtown Plaza has been set for mid-1962—just four years after the project was first announced by its developers, McCurdy & Co. and B. Forman Co., two family owned Rochester retail stores.

    Until September, 1958, the downtown plaza was one of the best kept secrets in Rochester.

    Store owners Gilbert J.C. and Gordon McCurdy and Fred and Maurice Forman bad revealed plans for the plaza in late 1956 to Mayor Peter Barry and City Manager Robert P. Aex. They pledged to build the giant plaza —and thus help rejuvenate Rochester’s downtown — if the city would build the required underground garage. But they needed time to acquire the necessary land.

    IN SECRET—Acquisition of the land was the most crucial phase of the plaza development. The plan envisaged by architect Victor Gruen would cover 7% acres of land and involve 17 separate parcels of land.

    The store owners Investigated the possibilities of the city condemning the land for the parking garage which would be built under the plaza, but abandoned the idea because of legal problems, McCurdy said.

    In order to purchase the land by private negotiation at a reasonable price, they felt the plan had to remain a secret. For more than a year, they tried to buy the necessary parcels.

    RUMORS FLY—By the fall of 1958, rumors were flying about something big happening in the downtown area, and Barry and Aex felt they could no longer treat the proposal in confidence. The plan was finally unveiled on Sep. 25. 1958.

    Because the plan was announced before all negotiations were completed, the program was not entirely successful McCurdy said.

    The land cost the store owners an estimated S5-million—a high price, in the opinion of many. For some parcels, the final ones to be purchased, the price paid was believed to be well above reasonable market value.

    SOME REFUSED—Several owners refused to sell at any price. In these cases, the land was acquired on long-term ground leases. At the end of a fixed period of time, ranging from 10 to 35 years for the various leases, the plaza has the right to purchase the property at a price already fixed in the contracts.

    After using their own funds to purchase the land, the McCurdy’s and Formans established a development corporation, Midtown Holdings Corp.,
    and turned the property over to it.

    The idea of a shopping plaza in the heart of downtown was greeted with considerable skepticism by conservative Rochesterians. Selling the public and Common Council on the plan, as one official described it, was like trying to sell a gold brick. There was also some opposition from downtown and suburban commercial interests.

    GOES THROUGH – Private bets at the time on whether the plaza would ever be built reportedly carried odds of 10 to 1 against it.

    The city finally approved the general plan, and an agreement between the city and the Mc- Curdy-Forman group, represented by Midtown Holdings Corp., was signed in March 1959. The shopping plaza is based on this agreement which provided the conditions for private enterprise to undertake the vast renewal project.

    Under it, the city agreed to build a three-level underground parking garage in two stages. The first stage was to be started immediately, while the second stage was to begin only after Midtown Holdings had entered into a contract for construction of at least a 10-story office building.

    $1 a YEAR—In return, Midtown granted the city the right to use its land for the garage and access roads for at least 75 years in return for a payment of $1 a year.

    At the end of the 75 years, the city can decide to discontinue operation of the ramp. In that case, it reverts to Midtown and the corporation must pay the city a percentage of the original cost ranging from 10 to 25 per cent, depending on the number of years elapsed.

    This arrangement leaves ownership in the hands of the corporation, and the city with the right to tax the property—the same property on which a city facility is located. The only tax consideration is an agreement not to levy taxes on the land while construction is underway.

    FEASIBLE — The 1959 agreement protected the city even down to the extra costs for stronger foundations in the garage to support the overhead structures. It provided that Midtown would bear all the extra cost and establish a credit fund in advance to pay for it.

    The McCurdys and Foremans knew from the start they could not expect a profit on the plaza land itself. After a lengthy survey, Larry Smith and Co., a firm of economic consultants, told them there were far better opportunities elsewhere if they were looking for real estate profits. But the firm did say the proposal was economically feasible.

    RETURNS — One of the unusual aspects of the plaza, the owners say, is that they are not seeking a return on the land in the rent for the various stores and offices.

    If the cost of the land were being considered as part of the investment on which a return was expected, the rents would have to be $1 a square foot higher than they are, according to J. Lynn Johnson, Manager of Midtown Holdings.

    Rents are based solely on the construction and other development costs of the project, Johnston said.

    Although the backers may not be looking for immediate monetary returns on their investment, they do admit they have more than an idealistic interest in seeing downtown rebuilt.

    STABILIZE – “We’re looking for the stabilization and resurgence of downtown business and the effects this will have on our already large downtown investments,” McCurdy said. “That’s our monetary motivation.”

    “But there’s another. We don’t think the move to the suburbs is good for the city. We don’t think there can be a strong city, economically and culturally, without a strong heart area.”

    FRINGE BENEFIT — If the department store owners will benefit financially by bringing more business to their stores, so will the city. While assessments have not been set for the land and improvements, it has been estimated that the project will return nearly $500,- 000 a year to the city in taxes.

    And as one official put it, there are also many “fringe benefits” from a project of this type. Already, “for rent” signs have, disappeared from buildings surrounding the plaza, and a new 300-room motel is under construction only a block away.

  2. David Frier says:

    For Parcel 5 – how about a souq?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souq

  3. Ben says:

    Why would we build another market right down the street from the already successful public market? Especially when the city is already renovating the one we have now? I don’t understand all these people that keep saying to build some kind of marketplace there.

  4. Dk says:

    Well designed public spaces can be effective in creating a downtown worth visiting and businesses will follow. It doesn’t have to be a green park but a public space with a board of directors that’s set up for multiple uses. This is also cheaper and makes more sense for a downtown which is comprised of many empty building already. If you showcase that area as a place you can live work and play, than you’ll probably be more successful at creating a vibrant downtown. The goal is to soften downtowns image so the nervous suburbanites come and explore a little. I hear people talk about Liberty pole being a dangerous area, at which I laugh, but that’s the idea of it. It’s not friendly to the walker or pedestrian. Making a space that has activity is a good thing.

    Also why isn’t Liberty pole lit up all year long? Lights make an area feel safe and lively. I will never understand this.

  5. Powers says:

    I appreciate the RocLinks column every week, but this week the items seem devoid of context.

    For instance, what is it about the Perinton development that makes its “mixed-use” designation dubious? And what’s the difference between how the Symphony House in Philadelphia is programmed and how the Disney Opera House is programmed?

  6. Max says:

    How about build retail along Main St with a big winter garden behind it? I like the idea of park space but agree that it will certainly not be used 365

  7. Heya, sorry for the lack of context. In the case of the Perinton development, it’s some retail/office mixing (not different from a strip mall with a subway and a tax filing business) set apart by a large parking lot from a bunch of senior housing. This is no more mixed use than a 2,000 single family home ‘town center’ that also has a new supermarket on the edge of it. The symphony house in Philadelphia is a high rise condo building on top of a few different theaters. The Disney Opera House (in LA) is a large, single use building that sops up an entire block in downtown LA.

    I think we could do better than retail and actually build a tower on that side of the site. Rochester already has one rather unused winter garden a block from here. I’d be happy to see the commons expanded just a little on the interior of the site, but there’s no need at all for the entire site to be empty.

  8. Richard Long says:

    Perhaps I’m the one here who remembers the days when McCurdy & Forman planned to cut Sibley’s throat with their brilliant Midtown. Captive customers in Midtown with their cars in the underground gas chamber, no need for concern though the people in the booth where you paid to get your car out were supplied with outside air to keep them from falling over from exhaust fumes, and when the occasional car caught fire the Fire Department loaded equipment into the Chief’s car for the ramp ride.

    The stores, beyond Formans barely accessable from Midtown and McCurdys for the most part didn’t last long. Midtown did a fine job of creating empty stores along Main Street though.

    It had a food Court too, for those devoid of taste buds with an ever changing roster of vendors who went broke.

    Midtown was developed in a time when people with money had or were soon to evacuate the City, and Midtown sealed its fate with PARKING. People who had moved to the burbs were not about to drive downtown and pay to park with the choice of Northgate, Southtown Westgate and 12 corners all of which welcomed the shopping dollar and offered free parking. Forman and McCurdy missed the target completely.

    If things weren’t bad enough, somebody doing the adding and subtracting completely missed the number of parking spaces needed when the Prestige offices were finally rented.

    Somehow, somebody managed to get Wegmans to put a store in Midtown, and it quickly became a nightmare getting stock into the store. It also became the most expensive Wegmans to cover the additional cost of running the store in the wrong place with high rent.

    And lets not forget the genius who designed the loading docks at Midtown. No, tractor trailers would never get longer than 40 feet. Midtown was an operational nightmare from the day it opened.


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