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We should talk about Renaissance Square.

I join you in wishing we never, ever have to talk about the failed project again, but this week’s events make it necessary.

Renaissance Square would have combined a performing arts center, bus station and Monroe Community College campus on the northwest corner of Main and Clinton. A bunch of eyesore buildings would have been knocked down. The $230 million project was funded with the exception of a performing arts center.

The project was led by Republican Maggie Brooks. Democrats (and the public) never warmed up to it. When then-Mayor Robert Duffy finally became engaged with the details – after $24 million and years of planning – he had major reservations. Bickering over performing arts center funding and the size of the bus terminal ended up dooming the project.

Did I mention Renaissance Square was funded??? The bus company told the city if money for the theater never materialized, the city would get that parcel back for development. A clean shovel-ready site at Main and Clinton. (I’ve always believed a theater could be funded if the mayor and county executive truly championed it.)

But City Hall effectively killed Renaissance Square. Brooks could have continued negotiations with the city, but she’d had enough. She shares some blame for walking away, but it’s not like Duffy went running after her to salvage anything.  The whole thing left Senator Chuck Schumer, who fought for project funding, truly baffled.

Fast forward two years. The bus terminal will be breaking ground this spring in the same Renaissance Square location with essentially the same design.  MCC is saying “good riddance” to Main Street, putting in jeopardy plans to develop the Sibley Building. A performing arts center hasn’t raised any funds and would be more expensive to build at the preferred Midtown site. The eyesore block at Main and Clinton still stands, with no development proposals ostensibly in the works.

Killing Renaissance Square had major consequences. The biggest, we now see, is MCC’s departure from the heart of downtown. Unless developers come out of the woodwork to revitalize Main Street, the death of that project still looms large.

3 Responses to Renaissance Square Regrets?

  1. December 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm Carlos Mercado responds:

    It died of its own shortcomings. A city is built for pedestrians, just as the suburbs are built for cars. City streets require abundant entry and exits to stores, businesses, retailers, and residences. The purpose of transportation is to extend the range of the pedestrian. Big Box projects like Ren Sq. are misguided attempts to apply suburban mall solutions to urban needs. These projects end up with large dead spaces like South Avenue from Main St. to the Inner Loop. The historic buildings along the north block of Main are structurally sound and can be adapted to new uses while restoring and retaining their late 19th and early 20th century facades. As far as the Midtown site, take a look at Gateway Center in downtown Salt Lake City or Country Club/Alameda Plaza in downtown Kansas City. Adaptations of these are what will make the center of Rochester vibrant once again. Big Boxes with limited access and things like gambling casinos are not the answer.

  2. December 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm Jimmy C. responds:

    No No No! This article is bad! Renaissance Square would have been an epic failure! The bus station was the major issue because many of the people who ride the buses are poor and criminals. Having sketchy people hanging out around main street would ruin midtown. Also those buildings are historic and you cant replace that history. History is one of the only things downtown rochester has left! Who wants to shop and spend money and go to school around poor people?

  3. OMG! Resurrection Sq.

    Well, after Safdie went home with all the loot because he actually stuck to his belief that putting three incompatible activities on a site with a common glass enclosed entrance and atrium was a good idea(where’d he think he was? Ottawa?), a bunch of local design folks bit the bullet, shed the glass, separated the access to the 3 functions and turned the theater site around to give it entrances on it’s surounding avenues. I know I wanted the glazing contract for that first facility design.

    OK, so the second intial cost-cutting design made it look a tad like a Border’s and prolonged the mauve Medina stone motif we seem to be stuck on around here. But at least granny wasn’t going to have to slice her way through jr. college students and HS bussers on her way to the Weds. matinee of the 8th re-run of Jersey Boys.

    Speaking of theater funding, there were those of us who were actually watching the Community Chest-like fund raising thermometer on the RBTL’s web site. That red mecrury never moved on that thing during the whole ren. Sq. debate. Folks, it ain’t no Lincoln Center we got going here.

    PS: The then mayor sandbagged the deal all the way to the end when he nixed it because it was a County re-development proposal on city turf. Years earlier, the city did the same thing with the County’s Lyell/Otis redevelopment initiative. It’s all about whose rubber chicken dinner tickets get bought by the redevelopment team during the life of the project.

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