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Filling In: re:Main Social

September 25th, 2016

Overhead view of Main Street from Clinton to St. Paul [PHOTO: RPL Local History Division]
By Matthew Denker

Today’s Filling in is just a little bit different than usual. Instead of looking at one building or one site, we’re going to take a look at a whole block. Namely, Main Street from Clinton to St. Paul. If you hadn’t already heard, there is a huge event called The re:Main Socialexternal link taking place there on October 1st. I hope all of you are able to make it. In the lead up to it, let’s discuss some short to long term visions for the area.

Since we’re only talking about a single block, I think the best way to look at this would be to start on one side, work all the way down, and then work all the way back. Since this is my column, I’m going to arbitrarily start in front of the Metropolitan (Chase Tower) and then work my way around and back to the always formidable Bryant & Stratton Billboard.

Metropolitan

Original Plan for Chase Tower/Clinton Square [PHOTO: Democrat and Chronicle 12/19/1967]

As many of you likely know, the Metropolitan is what Gallina is calling their redevelopment of Chase Towerexternal link into a mixed use building with rentals, condos, etc. I will admit to not knowing what their plans are for the derelict plaza space underneath the building/facing Main St., but I think it’s an excellent opportunity to liven up the space both in the short and long terms. In the short term, I think the space would make for excellent studio/gallery space for local artists. In the long run, it would be good to have Gallina add a building to the corner of Main and Clinton, restoring Rochester’s premier intersection. The building would not need to be larger than 3 stories, and could be a mix of retail and residential or office space.

Alliance Building

Alliance Building [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]

DHD are currently convertingexternal link the Alliance building into residences, with a few small commercial spaces on the ground floor. I think they should keep up the good work, but consider some kind of Wall Therapy for the face of the building visible up Main St. from the east. Otherwise, not much to say.

National Clothing

National Clothing Building [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]

This building is already a Hilton Garden Inn.external link You should stay there. It’s very nice. Also, grab a meal at L.B. Drifters, as it’s also fantastic. I don’t think there’s anything else to do here.

Hyatt

Hyatt Under Construction [PHOTO: Rochester City Hall Photo Lab]

Last building on this side of the street! They’re adding a Starbucks,external link so what else could downtown possibly need (Please consider going to Java’s or Fuego or Press first)? Anyhow, I really wish the Hyatt didn’t have that giant curb cut and driveway off Main St., but I don’t think there’s much that could be done with it now. Maybe if it could be moved to South Ave. in the distant future – that would be good. Not much else to say here. Time for the other side of the block!

Granite Building

Granite Building [PHOTO: Rochester Museum and Science Center]

Some of you probably know that the Granite Building is being remade into apartmentsexternal link by CGI. This is good news, and I don’t have anything else to say about it.

Atrium & Gateway Buildings

Gateway Building [PHOTO: Rochester City Hall Photo Lab]

CGI is remaking these buildings into offices to move out of the Granite Building. I think this is excellent reuse. I hope they are able to shoehorn a little retail in front of their offices, but this is likely a much longer term hope. Otherwise, nothing else to see here.

The First Four!

1910 View of Main Street [PHOTO: Rochester City Hall Photo Lab]

And so we come to the meat and potatoes of this venture. After the Gateway Building, there are four buildings whose best days have clearly come and gone. Unlike some people, I’d really not like any of these businesses to move. One person’s beat up dollar store is another person’s only access to a can of beans, so there’s that. Even so, I’d like to see all four of these buildings restored to their former glory. It would be good for the upper floors of all of these buildings to be converted to residences (there’s not much demand for additional office space downtown). This would go a long way to livening up the street without pushing out stores that existing shoppers are clearly already frequenting. All in all, a huge win, and hopefully doable with the historic districtexternal link that the current owners are trying to form here.

Neisner’s Department Store

Neisner Brother's Department Store [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]

So this building, to me, is the big one. I am worried it might end up being made historic with the rest of the buildings in this row, because it really is not (it was, before the new facade was put on years ago, but it isn’t anymore). I think this is the best place on this block to actually build something new and strengthen the mix of new and old buildings here. Something that is 5 or 6 stories with a few dozen apartments, no parking (GASP!), and retail on the ground floor to the street with tenant amenities behind.

The Final Three

Neisner Brother's Department Store [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]

And we come to the last three buildings. I’d like to see all three of these buildings restored as well. I’d love to see them, potentially, combined and filled with a real flagship enterprise on the order of TRATA. They can and should be the crown jewel of a downtown corner. It would be perfect to have a place that everyone coming to town says, “Yes, I just have to eat/drink/play there.” It could be the historic yin to the new building I’d like Gallina to build’s yang. It would make downtown great again (which is apparently now a thing).

• • •

Despite any of the ideas I’ve put forward here, I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks should be on this block. Our input may not move the needle on current developer’s plans, but it could really make a difference in the long term. I hope everyone here gets the chance to attend the re:Main Social event on the 1st, and maybe share the ideas that percolate up here. Let’s do great things downtown.

• • •

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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2016 at 10:07 am and is filed under Architecture, Opinion, 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 “Filling In: re:Main Social”

  1. Mark says:

    Those businesses have to go. It’s such a terrible image for our city.

  2. Brian M says:

    I run the @EyefulOfRochester Instagram account. Here are my thoughts, based on what I’ve learned from absorbing various books, history, etc. on this topic. I’m not a trained urban planning specialist but this is a cherished topic of study of mine, as I truly want our city to make a return to being a revered one where people actually want to be. Instead of a city where people just speed through to their 9-5 jobs, a city where people incessantly moan about a lack of “cityness” to experience.

    1. We could shut off this stretch of Main Street to cars and turn it into a car-free corridor, a plaza of sorts. Right now, this stretch is just another speedway for cars to speed down through. It’s nothing special. Visitors come here and they leave without taking pictures, without any memory of this particular stretch. This stretch used to be one that dignified and put Rochester on the map back then. How do we make this stretch special again? Making it closed-off to cars is one effective way of doing it, I believe — it would attract interest, controversy, etc (all the good qualities that make up a place where people would actually want to be), and incentivize people to invest into new places to be there – outdoor cafes, stores, etc. Installing bollards at each end of this stretch and plopping down a bike-share station (there’s one coming, apparently) here would be pretty awesome.

    2. Change the zoning regulations for this stretch to not require parking. Enough said. This is 2016, we have had enough with parking accommodations taking up precious space from “places to be.”

    3. Tax breaks and subsidies for building renovations & establishing of smaller businesses that would benefit a car-free plaza that would attract the displaced droves of Millennials and Baby Boomers that are actively seeking fulfilling city life.

    4. A set of guidelines that would restrict this stretch from becoming another CollegeTown (filled with corporate stores that nobody wants to go to). This set of guidelines would clearly delineate which kinds of demographics are desired to come here on a daily, consistent basis, and then stand as a reference for #3.

    Those are my thoughts. Cheers!

  3. Ben says:

    So you’re suggesting taking the ONLY complete east/west route through downtown and cutting part of it off to cars? Come on, let’s be a little more realistic. I am all for reducing unnecessary lanes/parking etc to make the city a little more friendly to things other than cars, but making the city completely undriveable is not the answer either. It’s already bad enough with some ridiculous one way streets that the city is working on slowly fixing, to just completely cut Main St in half would be a huge mistake. You only need to look an hour to the west in Buffalo to see what happens when you take cars off a Main St, it is a complete ghost town after 5 pm. They are currently working to change that though, why would we make the same mistake?

  4. Caitlin says:

    Thanks for putting a spotlight on this block! The Landmark Society’s Young Urban Preservationists will be holding the “Save the Block Party” as part of The re:Main Social event Matt mentioned above, to draw some attention to this block. We’ll be projecting past and future images onto the buildings and we’d love to share others’ visions for the block. Feel free to contact the YUPs on Facebook or Instagram for more info.

  5. Harold Frink says:

    1. Buffalo cut off of Main Street to car traffic. It was a disaster for a long time. Dead
    2.There is no parking space requirement inside the inner loop.
    3.There is already a 20% tax credit for historic properties.
    4.Corporate stores…corporate rent. Don’t try to dictate retail.

  6. Irene Allen says:

    I would like to see the historic facades restored on Atrium, Gateway, and the others that have been “remodeled”. Sadly, my suspicion is that some are too damaged.

  7. Adrian Martin says:

    I’d love a car free stretch of retail and restaurant oriented blocks downtown, but I don’t think Main Street is the right place to do it. One of the streets off of Main Street might be, or perhaps East Avenue from Liberty Pole to Broadway.

  8. Tony says:

    A car free area would be great for the city, the problem is where to do it. There are a few parking garages, but high falls parking is under utilized. I grew up in NYC, and we had a few car free zones and it was great for local businesses; however, there is so much public transit, that we never had to worry about parking. Either way, I think downtown Rochester needs more shopping and dining. If you build it, they will come.


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