This Wednesday the Preservation Board will decide whether or not to sponsor a citizen’s request to nominate 13 Cataract St. for Landmark Designation. If they sponsor the nomination it will move on to a public hearing and to the Planning Board for consideration later this month. If they don’t, it could spell the end for this valuable piece of our history and any possible redevelopment on the eastern rim of the High Falls gorge. In the meantime, North American Breweries, Inc. continues to move ahead with work on their visitor center across the street. No problems posed so far by the big bad historic building across the street.
I’m also sending copies to:
Carlos Carballada, Commissioner
Bret Garwood, Director, Business & Housing Development
If you would like for 13 Cataract to be preserved, you should do the same. Use the email addresses above. And feel free to steal from my letter if you’d like…
Dear Mr. Warfield and Board Members,
I am writing to ask you to support and sponsor the application to nominate the buildings at 13 Cataract Street for Landmark Designation the historical and architectural for the following reasons:
- The structures at 13 Cataract Street are historically significant and architecturally unique. The castle-like victorian/gothic structure was designed and built in 1890 by A.C. Wagner as a storage and brewhouse for Standard Brewing Co. Wagner designed over 50 brewery facilities across the country but only 3 remain: Weisbrod & Hess Brewery (Philadelphia, PA), Steigmaier Brewery (Wilkes-Barre, PA), and 13 Cataract (Rochester, NY). He also designed the American Brewing building (Rochester, NY) which once stood on Hudson Ave. Wagner was not just an architect but also worked for many of the country’s largest breweries including Weisbrod & Hess Brewery (Philadelphia), Anheuser-Busch (Philadelphia), Bavarian Brewing Company (Wilmington, DE), and Steigmaier Brewery (Wilkes-Barre, PA). The public continues to express strong and widespread support for the preservation of these buildings as demonstrated at previous public hearings, via petitions, and letters/articles/photos/videos which can be found at https://rochestersubway.com/savecataract .
- In the larger context, 13 Cataract Street is situated in a historically significant part of the High Falls neighborhood. The High Falls gorge itself should be considered a world-class site, ready for sustainable development – a showcase for the world to see what can, and what must be accomplished in such a stunning setting. Because of the singular nature and challenges of this site, with a raging waterway and falls, steep shale cliffs and an incredible wealth of biodiversity, any development within the site must be carefully considered and planned. Therefore, the demolition of ANY buildings in this area, in isolation from the larger vision taking shape for the entire Gorge – through the work of Friends of the GardenAerial, RG&E’s re-development of the BeeBee Station, the Germanow-Simon efforts on St. Paul Street (among others) – should be postponed until a master plan for the entire Gorge is accomplished. This site is part of a larger community. Directly to the west, the High Falls District is a successful historic district. Yes, all buildings are renovated and occupied… And several of these buildings have walls that are 2-3 feet thick (a problem which the Brewery has said precludes renovation). RG&E has begun the RFP process to re-develop the abandoned BeeBee Station into mixed-use space. Directly to the east, Germanow-Simon Corporation is restoring their buildings because they recognized the value in the historic assets. The demolition of 13 Cataract diminishes all of these community efforts.
- The High Falls Re-development Plan (2006) includes the mixed-use re-development of these very buildings (see attached illustrations). The re-use of these buildings represents the possibility of two job-creating development projects instead of just the one Brewery visitor center. However, the decision to demolish these buildings is one driven by short term economic growth, and largely benefits the NYC brewery owner. Preservationists, planners, and concerned citizens believe that long term economic growth and sustainability comes from preserving the assets that make Rochester unique. We need to look beyond the next ribbon-cutting.
- Saving the building is important, but almost as important is what is replacing the building. To allow yet another waterfront property to be turned into surface parking would be irresponsible.
- Another parking lot in this location will create another void in the urban landscape, attracting more criminal activity, not less. If the buildings are a safety concern from squatters and trespassers, that is only because the buildings have not been secured and maintained. Blaming a building for criminal and other social problems is like blaming a dog for its poor behavior when it has not been properly trained.
- Even if these buildings were unremarkable architecturally, it would still be important to retain them. The buildings “frame the street” and create a unique and intimate public space at the intersection of Platt and Cataract, which remain public streets. Any number of vibrant and successful places from North Water Street and the courtyard at Village Gate Square in Rochester, to Stone Street in Lower Manhattan, to the Distillery District in Toronto, take advantage of the unique ambiance and intimacy of enclosed outdoor spaces. Without the buildings at 13 Cataract, the site becomes, in effect, a sub-urban site with the destination set behind a large surface parking lot.
- The people of Rochester listed these structures as ‘Designated Buildings of Historic Value’ in 2003. While the local brewery management and new NYC brewery owners have done great work in turning around a struggling business, out-of-town owners should not be allowed to demolish one of the few remaining iconic structures of Rochester’s nineteenth-century brewing heritage. They have received public benefits to keep the brewery operating – including forgiven unpaid taxes and water bills (up to $9.4 million). It is precisely because they are profitable today that they have an obligation to the community that has sustained them for well over 100 years.
- At the very least the Brewery should give the community time to assemble the kind of public/private/non-profit deal that can save these structures. The buildings have stood for 25 years with little to no maintenance. According to the Brewery’s own Structural Conditions Survey (12/9/2011, PDF), another 6-12 months will not cause the building to crumble.
- If it is the goal of the Brewery to engender brand affection and loyalty in the Rochester area, it may not be in the Brewery’s best interest to turn off, by demolishing a piece of Rochester’s heritage, a vocal and sophisticated segment of the beer drinking population. A petition asking the Brewery to save 13 Cataract recently collect over 1,100 signatures.
- Nothing about the Brewery’s visitor center requires the demolition of these buildings. If 13 Cataract is harboring squatters, then secure the building. Light it, paint it, and tarp the roof to stop the water damage. And there is ample square footage in nearby existing parking facilities to accommodate the Brewery’s projected parking needs. The City of Rochester is not letting “red tape” get in the way of the visitor center component. That part of the project could be approved administratively (no boards, no public hearings) within a few weeks. It is this proposed demolition that could cause this project to be delayed. Having been counseled otherwise by city staff, the brewery is choosing to pursue the demolition component on its own.
And, as you consider whether to sponsor this Landmark Designation, and in keeping with Section 120-193 of the City Code, I trust you will consider that the following should not dictate any decision by the Preservation Board:
- Any threat (by the building owners, KPS Capital, NAB, Genesee Brewery, or otherwise) that the Brewery Visitor Center project will be halted or cancelled as a result of the preservation of these buildings (see #10 above).
- The timeliness of the application, which has no impact on the historical significance or other standards set forth by Section 120-193 .
- Previous failed attempts by the current building owner to find a solution for reuse of the buildings. The current owner has demonstrated that their only interest is in converting the buildings into surface parking – not to preserve the building.
- The fact that KPS Capital / NAB only acquired Genesee Brewery in 2009. These buildings are significant regardless of who owned them and when.
- Any previous decisions made by the Zoning Board or any other entity, which is not concerned with preservation matters. During the two previous ZBA public hearings, at least one ZBA member stated publicly and on the record, “we are not a preservation board.”
- Any arguments in favor of demolition which may be predicated on the false belief that these buildings would be cost prohibitive to repair or are structurally unsound (see #8 above).
Very truly yours,
Tags: A.C. Wagner, architecture, Cataract Brewery, Genesee Brewery, KPS Capital Partners, North American Breweries, Rochester, Rochester NY
This entry was posted on Sunday, March 4th, 2012 at 4:54 pm and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.