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In her State of the City address Wednesday night, Mayor Lovely Warren said she wants to study filling in the northern portion of the Inner Loop. It’s not clear if she means from E. Main to N. Clinton or St. Paul or State St. It’s possible a study would explore each alternative.

There’s a reason the city decided to only fill in the eastern portion, at a cost of nearly $30 million. Traffic volumes were low between E. Main and Monroe. The cost of repairs and maintenance roughly equaled removing the highway. Land would be created in a very desirable area of the city.

The northern area of the Inner Loop is different. It’s got on and off-ramps to 490W. Many of those cars enter or leave the system at East Main St. The E. Main St. intersection has to be solved before such a project can even get off the ground.

In 2001, the city studied filling in both the eastern and northern portion of the Inner Loop. The biggest challenge to making the northern portion an at-grade boulevard was:

“…to develop an alternative that will balance the combined needs of the transportation system and the local neighborhoods. The segment of the Inner Loop from E. Main Street to North Street services a high volume of traffic and is considered a major link in the overall mobility of the area…Alternatives that consider an at-grade facility within this segment will add additional travel time and inconvenience to the existing and future users of this segment…In conclusion, the traffic analysis completed as part of the study supports an at-grade facility from Monroe Avenue to East Main Street. Based on the projected future operations from E. Main Street to North Clinton Avenue, this study suggests a grade separated facility will best accommodated the volumes within this segment.”

The recommendation was to raise the northern part of the Inner Loop, getting rid of those sloping walls that fill with trash, but keep it walled off as a highway.

In 2009, the city studied the idea again, hiring Stantec as its consultant. Here’s what filling in a part of the northern section could look like, using Scio St. as the main entry point for the Inner Loop. Stantec found there would be major traffic backups with this scenario:

 

Inner Loop Concept

 

Another option considered in 2009 was to drop E. Main St. below the new Union St. boulevard that is replacing the eastern part of the Inner Loop. But that would be ridiculously complicated and expensive:

 

Inner Loop

 

Anytime you have multiple intersections like this, it’s wise to consider roundabouts. The 2009 study found you would need some double-lane roundabouts. (Rochesterians’ heads would collectively explode.) The consultants also found there isn’t enough space between roundabouts. Roundabouts also require a lot of land and there would be significant impacts on adjacent properties. The consultants also didn’t think the roundabouts could sufficiently handle traffic flow. Here’s what the roundabout solution would look like:

 

Inner Loop

 

Stantec found the simplest thing to do to improve that E. Main St. corridor is to ‘T” University Ave., reducing the number of lights and improving flow:

inner loop

 

The bottom line is the area is super challenging. It has a ton of traffic and physical constraints. The state agreed. A state transportation official wrote in 2009:

 

Inner Loop

In point number 4, state suggested adding MORE lanes to an area that’s already a nightmare for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. That defeats the entire purpose of getting rid of the highway. <EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me traffic volume models have changed since 2009. Induced demand is gaining more acceptance. People will just find another way to go someplace if traffic is heavy. If more capacity is added, they’ll fill it up, which doesn’t alleviate the problem. But even if you take out the issue of traffic volume, I still suspect this project will be far more costly and complex than the eastern side.)

Before we discuss whether the Inner Loop could be raised all the way to State St. (New bridge over the Genesee River, anyone?), we haven’t traveled past E. Main St. I fear this project could be $50 million to $100 million to do correctly and get any real benefits.

There’s no question our city forefathers really screwed up when they built the Inner Loop. They destroyed perfectly good neighborhoods, parks and streets. They left an ugly, trash-strewn highway in its wake. They gutted the core of our city.

We’re fixing the eastern side. But the northern side may be a lost cause. I hope I’m wrong. It’s probably worth a study that’s far more in-depth than anything done to date to find out.

<See the city’s Inner Loop documents page for source material.>

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Every time a new downtown luxury apartment complex is announced, many people wonder, “Where are the people coming from to fill them up?”

There’s a big shift happening in Rochester and around the country. This is a demographic shift. This is a lifestyle shift. This is a shift of expectations when it comes to housing.
Here is why we need more apartments, who is likely filling the units and why downtown is an attractive option.

There are more households without children. In 2000 there were 102,033 homes without kids in Monroe County. In 2014, there were 121,016. That’s a 19 percent increase of childless households. If you don’t have children, you can get by with less space. You don’t have to live in a suburb to access good schools. You may have more disposable income.

The population is aging. Between 2000 and 2014, the median age in Monroe County went from 36.1 to 39 years old. Between 2000 and 2014, the share of the population claimed by people over 65 went from 13 percent to 15.5 percent. Seniors often like to downsize. They often sell their homes for an easier lifestyle. During this time period, the number of seniors in childless homes grew by 8,000. But the number of childless households went up by nearly 20,000. Who is making up the gap?

The Millennials are a force. The percentage of the population between 20 and 34 years old went from 19.8 percent in 2000 to 21.3 percent in 2014. That’s an additional 15,000 young people in Monroe County. Data shows they’re trending toward city living. Although they can afford houses in many cases, they prefer to rent.

There are more people not married and living alone. In 2000, 82,042 people, or 11.5 percent of the population, lived alone. In 2014, 99,959 people, or 13.3 percent lived by themselves. On the marriage front, in 2013, 44.2 percent of the population in Monroe County was married. That’s down from 51.3 percent in 2000. If you live alone, you’re less likely to want or need a house.

Home ownership rate is falling. All of the above demographic factors have led to a lower home ownership rate in Monroe County. In 2000, 70 percent of households were owner-occupied. In 2014, 64 percent of households were owner-occupied.

Good apartments in demand: The 2014 Census shows there is a 7.7 rental vacancy rate. But where are these vacant units? I suspect landlords of lower-quality apartments and apartments in less desirable and convenient areas are suffering. Rents are on the rise in Rochester. Downtown’s rental market shows a vacancy rate of 3 percent, which is considered a very healthy market.

But downtown rents are so expensive! Newer downtown units are starting at $1,000 and up. But that’s comparable to some newer suburban apartment complexes. Downtown living is easier for those who will be closer to work and entertainment. That saves time otherwise spent in a car and money on gas. The units coming online downtown are unique and special. You can’t find the views or the ambiance anywhere else.

But a house is an investment! Maybe. Studies show people think their houses appreciate far more than they really do. Some economists think you’re better off putting the money into stocks. Houses also have big upfront costs. The New York Times calculator shows if you buy a $125,000 house with a 20 percent down payment, and spend only $2,000 the first year on fixing the place up, you’re better off renting an apartment that’s $900. This doesn’t include the cost of furniture and ongoing maintenance and home projects. You’re certainly not going to buy a house for that price downtown, in the East End or Park Ave., the most walkable neighborhoods in Rochester. Houses in good shape for that price in Swillburg or South Wedge go very quickly. The bottom line is renting can be a financially attractive option for those wanting a certain lifestyle.

There you have it. All of these things taken together are why we’re seeing more apartment complexes going up in the Rochester area, particularly downtown.

Links of the Day:

 

Bus Selfie

Bus Selfie

A few days ago, I decided to take the bus downtown for jury duty. There’s a bus stop on Bay Street that’s only a block from my house. I figured spending $2 a day for round-trip bus fare beats $8 in parking. The RTS website indicated the trip would only take a half hour, door to door.

First, I had to find $2 in cash. I rarely have cash. For this trip, I not only needed cash, but I needed exact change. Fortunately, a friend gave me a couple singles the night before to save me the hassle of going to an ATM. It would be great if RTS allowed people to buy rides on their smartphones or swipe a credit card.

The RTS Bus App told me when the bus would arrive in real time. I was concerned about news of canceled morning trips, but my bus was on schedule. It arrived on time, to the minute. The ride downtown was quick, even with multiple stops.

The “Plan My Trip” feature on the RTS website indicated I could stay on the Route 39 bus for a few more stops to get off at State and Main, the closest stop to the Hall of Justice. At the transit center, the bus driver told me I had to come to the front and pay another $1. The additional half mile is considered a transfer. That struck me as ridiculous. The implication is that people coming from the eastern part of the city to the west side of downtown have to pay extra to get closer to their destinations and vice versa. It’s also not technically a transfer if you’re staying on the same bus. The bus driver was kind enough to let the extra buck slide, but for this trip only. The policy of using the transit center as THE central stop flies in the face of how people actually travel downtown. If this is how RTS wants to play it, there should be some kind of free downtown shuttle for people in this situation.

In the afternoon for my trip home, I chose to walk to the transit center to save the extra dollar. While I don’t mind walking, that extra half mile could be a deterrent for those who have mobility issues. It would also be a pain in bad weather. I’ve since learned there is an all-day pass available for $3, which makes that transfer 50 cents. This is probably the best option.

When I got to the transit center around 4 p.m., I was astonished at the number of teenagers. I was aware hundreds of kids use the transit center in the afternoon, but I was still shocked. Teens appeared to outnumber adults 30 to 1. The media has reported on the occasional violent incident and unruly behavior at the transit center, but I felt 100 percent safe. There were visible police officers and security guards. The teens were very well-behaved. My trip home was fast and uneventful.

Despite the fact the transit center was orderly, I can’t say it’s pleasant to be in an environment that resembles a high school cafeteria on steroids. The volume of teens at that hour was a big turnoff. I’m not sure why they were all there at once. I’m not sure why there were not a lot of adult passengers at this hour to provide more balance. It’s also very easy to see how a small incident could create a big problem. The city, school district and bus company are working on this issue. I think it’s great young people are using public transit and I would hate to see them restricted. This situation, however, seems untenable.

In summary, I’ll be using the bus for the remainder of my jury duty. It’s quick and doesn’t require navigating traffic and garages or paying for parking. Even though the transfer situation caught me off-guard, the bus fare is pretty darn cheap, especially compared to other cities. I would definitely recommend trying out RTS if you live on a bus line.

Related: Check out this ode to the Buffalo bus system. 

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Lessons from Baltimore: If the Bills want a downtown stadium, mass transit is key.

– Why would the company that profits from red light camera tickets develop an app to tell you where the cameras are located? Money and data.

– This is how Chattanooga is remaking itself with fast broadband. (Come on, Rochester!)

– The NCAA wanted Jim Boeheim to be a policeman, but that’s never been his style.

– NBC would be insane to let Brian Williams return.

– ‘Snowiest place in America’ title brings international fame to tiny Upstate village.

– Baby Dorothy? Vintage baby names are making a comeback.

University of Virginia data on Rochester, N.Y.

University of Virginia data on Rochester, N.Y.

 

Where is the sweet spot in the Rochester metro for wealth? Twelve miles out from the city center.

The University of Virginia did a study showing how inner ring suburbs in the nation’s cities are poorer than they were in 1990. The study also shows center cities are making a comeback.

In Rochester in 1990, per capita income peaked 9 miles from downtown. In 2012, it peaked 12 miles away. Five miles from the city center, per capita income dropped 12 percent during this time period. In fact, the only people who made more money in 2012 compared to 1990 were people living 12 to 16 miles away from downtown Rochester – and people living in downtown Rochester. The rest of us are worse off.

It appears the elderly, who typically live on lower incomes, are moving further out. In 1990, the greatest concentration of elderly lived 4 miles from downtown Rochester. In 2012, the greatest percentage lived 8 miles away.

Poverty is greater across all distances from downtown Rochester compared to 1990. The only distance where it stayed the same – 3 percent – was 12 miles out.

This won’t come as any surprise, but the data shows we’re sprawling out. In 1990, the greater number of people – 83,088 –  lived two miles from downtown Rochester. In 2012, the greatest number lives 3 miles away – 77,444.

Population density remains the highest in downtown Rochester, and declines with each mile away.

Why do we care about this data? Shifting demographics has consequences for real estate, schools, property taxes, services, planning, infrastructure costs and more.

 

5, 9, 12 mile radius lines.

5, 9, 12 mile radius lines.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The New York Times details systemic problems at Attica Correctional Facility, on the eve of a trial of three officers for a brutal assault on an inmate.

– Although RG&E should be more responsive, I don’t see why the utility or its customers should have to pay for sprawl – especially sprawl with no population growth.

– Virginia has 750 private citizens authorized to be their own one-man police forces.

– The Democrat and Chronicle demands suburban teachers come up with a plan to fix the education system. Last I checked, suburban schools were doing just fine, pointing out a huge flaw in the governor’s war on teachers. But the D&C is clearly buying his rhetoric.

“One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.”

 

– Ripping apart some positive claims about charter schools.

– The L.A. Times obained access to a foster facility for teenagers. Heartbreaking read.

– What can be done to prevent suicides at the Monroe County Jail?

– The New York Times writes up Buffalo’s massive downtown ice rink. part of the revitalization of the canal system. Pay attention Rochester! We could do this with our aqueduct.

– ‘House of Cards’ music is composed by an Eastman School of Music graduate.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

It’s becoming more likely a performing arts center and perhaps a casino will fill Midtown’s Parcel 5.

The city revealed only two proposals came in for the 1.1-acre site on Main Street. The city won’t allow us to look at the proposals and I haven’t heard back from the two developers on what they have in mind.

The city spent at least $70 million dollars to tear down the mall and get that property shovel-ready. It’s supposed to be prime real estate. It is in the heart of downtown Rochester.

It turns out, few want to take a chance, at least right now. Buckingham has yet to prove it can finish the Tower at Midtown project without founder Larry Glazer. We don’t even know what Buckingham is now capable of pulling off at the building. Glazer’s grand plans are over. Meanwhile, the office market downtown is terrible, so you can’t put that in any building plans. Finally, retail is the great big unknown.

The market just told us Parcel 5 is risky.

The city’s two top choices are likely to let Parcel 5 sit empty or try like hell to get a performing arts center built.

Here’s what may happen: The Senecas will likely look to Rochester to blunt the impact of Tom Wilmot’s Lago casino. They may offer to build a theater at Midtown along with a casino. That solves the city’s Parcel 5 problem and could easily be sold as “economic development.” (Casinos and theaters come with their own costs, of course.) The irony is that this is what Wilmot proposed more than a decade ago. Then-Mayor Bill Johnson said no. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Mayor Lovely Warren gives an enthusiastic yes.

Wilmot is not the only person to have identified Midtown as a good place for a casino.

I have reported that back in July, Delaware North, which owns the Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to put a performing arts center at Midtown. Delaware North would have run the theater, possibly even buying naming rights, per sources.

Why would Delaware North get involved? To prevent the Senecas from doing the same. The Senecas wouldn’t be able to offer a performing arts center in return for  allowing a casino. Nothing came of the MOU, as sources say Glazer’s death complicated the picture, as he was working with Delaware North on the idea. With Delaware North now out of the picture, the door is probably wide open for the Senecas.

Few developers were willing to gamble on Parcel 5. The Senecas, however, might.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Here’s a great look at the federal prosecutor who had Sheldon Silver arrested on corruption charges.

– The state won’t let schools know how much aid they’re getting unless lawmakers pass governor’s education “reform agenda.”

– Four of the top five trending jobs in Rochester are low-wage.

– Three Heads Brewing is considering building a facility on University Ave. in Rochester.

 

 

When Broad St. was a canal

When Broad St. was a canal

 

Rochester, this could be us.

We also have a canal and a river downtown. But all we’ve managed to build over the last decade is Corn Hill Landing, which is a great place to have dinner, go for a summer stroll and watch the fireworks. It’s no main attraction, however.

Last week, the Democrat and Chronicle rehashed the idea from Broad Street Underground to turn the aqueduct into a mall. Yes, a mall. Like we don’t already have a daunting task to fill up retail space at Sibley and Midtown. Even worse, this half-baked plan includes a tunnel between the Blue Cross Arena and the convention center. “Gee I wish there was an underground walkway so I can get from my luncheon to the hockey game,” said no one ever.  Continue reading

Charlotte Street

 

The city has issued a Request for Proposals for 1.88 acres of vacant land on Charlotte St. The eyesore property is currently used as a makeshift parking lot.

It’s about time.

The city began to clean up the brownfield in 1997. By 2007, more than a thousand tons of petroleum-contaminated soil had been removed from the site. The state declared the land environmentally safe.

Charlotte StreetAround 2008, the city announced Christa Development would build Charlotte Square on the property. The project would include 32 condos and 8 townhouses. It never broke ground.

Since then, the city has allowed the property to languish. It’s baffling, because it seems this is very desirable land. It’s in the heart of the East End, a stone’s throw from The Little Theatre, Spot Coffee, Press Coffee, Metro Y, Matthew’s East End Grill, Richmond’s, 2Vine, Hart’s, Eastman Theatre and a plethora of restaurants and bars. The property is also a very short distance from successful housing projects, including The Sagamore, 111 East Ave, Grove Place and Chevy Place. This development also makes sense because the city is filling in the Inner Loop and Charlotte St. is right next to land the city hopes will be developed in the future.

Proposals will be judged based on compatibility with the area, quality of development plant, financing plan and developer experience. The city estimates the land is worth $700,000 and would like to close on a land sale early next year.

The city would like to see market-rate housing. I can’t wait to see what developers pitch.

 

Charlotte Street

 

Fight Poverty Among Local Women!

 

On Sunday, I am kicking off the first annual 5k and walk for the Women’s Foundation of the Genesee Valley. This group gives women a hand up, not a hand out. It helps women get on their feet financially and become self-sufficient. Nearly half of single mothers in Monroe County are poor. Please consider a donation and/or signing up to walk. Even $5 would help. Thank you!

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Andrew Cuomo’s new book sold 948 copies in first week. (Hillary’s sold 100,000 in its first week.)

– The state’s settlement mandating better public defender services for the poor doesn’t apply to all Upstate counties.

– Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino profits from charter schools.

– A Central New York man is in trouble with this town for using an online service to rent out his home.

– A New York City man lost his job as a bus driver because he was a passenger in a car with a weed pipe on the console. 

– Film producer George Lucas battles Syracuse brewery over ‘Strikes Bock.’

– Tom Coburn’s annual Wastebook is always a good read. He calls out a worm project in the Rochester area.

– He was found living in a Rwandan dump when he was 9 years old. Now he’s a student at Harvard.

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

 

We keep hearing Millennials want to live in cities. A report is out from City Observatory that lends some evidence.

The study, called “The Young and the Restless and the Nation’s Cities,” finds 25 to 34 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly moving into city centers. They are playing a big role in revitalizing cities and their economies.

Let’s look at the numbers in Rochester.

Rochester saw a 9 percent increase in the number of 25 to 34 year olds with four-year degrees between 2000 and 2012 to 47,538. In 2000, 33 percent of 25 to 34 year olds had a bachelor’s degree. In 2012, 36.7 percent did.

Although this group is more educated, they still make up relatively the same portion of the population – 4.2 percent in 2000 and 4.5 percent in 2012. That suggests more young adults are not moving into the metro area, but it also suggests they’re not leaving.

The data shows Millennials are trending toward the city. In 2000, 9,668 25 to 34 year olds lived within three miles of downtown. In 2010, 11,552 did. That’s a 19 percent increase.

In summary, Rochester’s Millennials are more educated compared to the Gen Xers who came before them. They’re also living closer to downtown.

Buffalo is seeing similar trends, though the numbers there look more dramatic. That’s partly because Buffalo had far fewer educated young adults than Rochester in 2000. Now, Buffalo has more both in terms of numbers and percentages.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A study says downtown Syracuse will keep adding residents.

– Despite loads of criticism, the New York Times endorses Cuomo for a second term.

Albany is getting red light cameras.

– Trump predicts Upstate casinos will “go down the tubes.”

– Students are being arrested in school for what used to be regular disciplinary infractions. Perhaps it’s time to rethink having police in schools. They don’t serve the principal; they serve the law. Are schools really safer with police.

– Man will go to prison for owning sexy cartoons of children. Cartoons…

– There’s a big increase in surgery to mend ‘flesh tunnel’ earlobes.

Midtown_Parcel 5_concept design_crop_2_lowres_pmbstudio_900

 

The City of Rochester has a big choice to make about the Midtown Plaza site. Midtown Tower and Windstream are all set, but the fate of rest of the mega-block is still up in the air.

The mayor would like to see a performing arts center. Developer Larry Glazer, who is doing the tower, would like to turn the entire site into a $185 million work-live-play complex. The Democrat and Chronicle reported:

Street-level retailers in The Tower could include Urban Outfitters, LA Fitness and Bar Louie, the plan shows. A two-story addition along Broad Street was designed with a grocery store in mind.

(snip)

The central Midtown parcel extending to East Main Street would house large-scale retailers on the ground floor such as REI, the development plan shows, with a 10-screen movie theater and possible IMAX on the second level, and a 100-room hotel rising as high as 10 or 12 stories and possibly a 300-space parking garage either below ground or on floors three to five.

On the corner lot that used to house Wegmans, at Broad and South Clinton, there would be small- and large-scale retailers such as LaCoste and Steve Madden, creating a “street of shops” along a pedestrian mall area cutting between that building and The Tower. The concept shows second-floor retail, shown as a Nordstrom Rack, and 60 to 75 apartments on three floors above that.

It sounds really wonderful and I would love to see this kind of life return downtown.

But a city source points out, “We can’t have Medley at Midtown.”

Translation: What if we build all this stuff and it fails? We would have torn down a failing mall and replaced it with another failing retail complex.

I think creating a mixed use project that includes housing and entertainment provides more of a buffer against failure.  But there are many competing projects, including CityGate and College Town. Our population is essentially flat, so building more retail doesn’t create more shoppers. If Glazer can shift shoppers downtown, that would be awesome, but the last thing the city needs is a ton of empty storefronts on a new Main Street.

I’m guessing the city will require strict timelines and tenant agreements before giving the okay to Glazer to develop more parcels. He’s expected to submit a more detailed proposal in the coming weeks.

Links of the Day:

 

– Frontier is among the “Worst Places to Work.”

– Wilmot’s Seneca County casino looks like Park Point on steroids.

IKEA is raising worker wages. I wonder how many other big retailers will follow.

– The ethical negligence of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

– What does the Supreme Court ruling against Aereo mean for us? Scott Fybush and I break it down.

– It’s nice to know our state lawmakers are hard at work outlawing “tiger selfies.”

Democrat and Chronicle reporter Tom Tobin wrote a column comparing the Hyatt debacle of the 1980s to the Medley Centre mess. His point was that it will take a group effort and community will to turn the project around.

Stalled Hyatt, 1986

Stalled Hyatt, 1986

I have some problems with the comparison. The Hyatt was a scar on the city’s skyline, a major community embarrassment. If Medley Centre was operating as a mall, it would still be a big-box monstrosity along the highway. If you think Medley is an eyesore, you think all malls are eyesores. (They are, but that’s a different discussion.) Medley doesn’t impact the entire region the way the Hyatt did. Medley is not in our faces in the same dramatic way.

Tobin quotes one of the business leaders who eventually saved the Hyatt: Tom Wilmot. The mall magnate reminisces about an old breakfast club of prominent businessmen that stepped up the plate to save the Hyatt project. “We did the work and construction stayed on a pretty normal schedule,” the D&C quoted Wilmot.

There is supreme irony in quoting Wilmot as a problem-solver for the Hyatt  and suggesting he has advice to save Medley.

THERE WOULD BE NO MEDLEY MESS WITHOUT WILMOT. His company, Wilmorite, built Medley Centre, which was then called Irondequoit Mall. The overbuilding of his malls led to the situation we are in today with Medley Centre. Wilmorite also helped to create another mall mess: More than any other local developer, Wilmorite suburbanized shopping, which killed Midtown Plaza.

Sibley 220X165MEDLEY IS WILMOT’S SIBLEY PROJECT. Around the same time Wilmot was saving the Hyatt, he bought the Sibley building. When it became clear his company’s revitalization wasn’t a success (Wilmot wanted a casino and hotel), he stopped paying on his PILOT and stopped paying other city fees. The city ended up taking a $20 million haircut. SOUND FAMILIAR?

Medley FeaturedDespite not following through on his Sibley obligation, Wilmot was not villainized by politicians or the public in the same manner as Medley owner Scott Congel. Unlike Congel, Wilmot is a longtime member of Rochester’s elite with deep connections. The son of Assemblyman Joe Morelle, Joe Morelle, Jr. is a county lawmaker who works for Wilmorite. (That brings up a possible conflict for the Morelles from a political standpoint, as a redeveloped Medley could compete with Wilmorite’s malls. The elder Morelle is a major critic of Congel.)

Yes, there are lessons from the Hyatt, ones Wilmot didn’t heed when he owned a building across the street. But here’s the huge difference: When it came to Sibley and Medley, there was absolutely no urgency and few people believed they could be saved. Wilmot and Congel took full advantage.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The median home price in Rochester rose 5.3 percent last year, compared to 1.6 percent in the county as a whole.

– Wal-Mart is funneling money to charter schools.

– I did a report on charter schools and how they are struggling for space. It’s clear we are building two school systems, at tremendous cost to taxpayers.

– A former Supreme Court justice says marijuana should be legalized.

– Montreal will let bars serve until 5:30 a.m., under new proposal.

The insane, demeaning life of an NFL cheerleader.

– I didn’t realize there’s more than one way to pronounce Syracuse.

Midtown_Parcel 5_concept design_crop_2_lowres_pmbstudio_900

 

Midtown_retail_concept design_view_02_cropped_lowres_pmbstudio_900

 

Midtown_retail_concept design_view_01_revised_pmbstudio_900

 

Midtown_retail_concept design_view_04_detail_pmbstudio_900

 

Midtown_view_05_pmbstudio_900

 

Midtown_retail_concept design_view_03_cropped_lowres_pmbstudio_900

 

(The above images are from Philip Michael Brown Studio, which is working with Buckingham Properties.)

Buckingham Properties has huge dreams for the Tower at Midtown. The upper floors will be apartments. The lower floors offer an opportunity for retail and offices.

The developer is clearly is thinking outside of the box. This vision of heavy retail at the Midtown site would truly change the face of downtown. The renderings make the Tower at Midtown look like a mall that faces outward, with street-level retail.

Buckingham is very optimistic about its talks with national movie theater chains. The mayor has often talked of a movie theater at Midtown. Seeing how a private developer would be behind the project, it may not require the $1 surcharge she floated. There would still be room on the Midtown site for a performing arts center, another thing the mayor wants.

Buckingham has a track record of success. It’s hard to imagine a national theater chain coming in that hasn’t done market research. Downtown offers other entertainment options, such as sporting events, so why not movies?

Let’s remember, we all used to go to Midtown Plaza at one point. We parked underneath the mall. Midtown fell victim to the suburban malls and suburban lifestyle. But if Buckingham finds the right mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment, this grand plan to draw people downtown could work.

People will live above this complex. The East End is a stone’s throw away. Corn Hill is less than a mile away. There’s a customer base within walking distance and another one within driving distance that is sick of bland offerings in the suburbs.

(I wonder about the impact on The Little Theatre, which is undergoing renovations. The Little will still likely be cheaper, but can it compete on comfort and offerings? The Little does offer major movies, not just small films we’ve never heard of.)

I’m cautiously optimistic about Buckingham’s dream. Maybe hopeful is a better word. What do you think?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Buckingham Properties is also about to start work on the north campus of Alexander Park, which is the old Genesee Hospital site. This has been a long time coming.

– The future of urban freeways is playing out in Syracuse.

– A Rochester developer is facing opposition to a plan to build affordable housing in wealthy Westchester County.

Is there a clown shortage?

Fringe Logo SMALL FN 4.10.13In its second year, the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival arrived. The festival doubled in size to 10 days and added dozens of performances. Many were free and most were very affordable.

Here’s what we learned in the second year of Fringe:

 

1. Rochesterians love festivals, even new ones.

Our love for festivals is well-known. But we can also be really, really cynical. Fringe proved we can embrace new, fun stuff.

 

2. There’s room for Fringe and Jazz.

Sources say the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was not happy when the Fringe Festival launched in 2012, even though the festivals are several months apart. There were concerns about competing for branding in the East End, recognition and sponsorship money. That’s all been put to rest, I hope.

The two events enhance each other and enhance the East End as an arts district. The festivals prove Rochesterians want more excuses to come downtown to enjoy live performances.

(As an aside, Jazz is for-profit. Fringe is non-profit. Jazz – which doesn’t have to open its books – gets way more taxpayer support than Fringe. Jazz got $175,000 from the city alone in 2013. Fringe got $20,000 – and will end up owing the city more than that for police and other services.)

 

3. Theater. Theater. Theater.

After getting minimal support from the city, the Rochester Broadway Theatre League has partnered with Medley Centre to build a performing arts center in Irondequoit. But Democratic Mayoral Candidate Lovely Warren wants a theater to go to Midtown. Fringe bolsters her case.

The Fringe Festival proves live theater brings people downtown who spend money. More than people who go to sporting events, people who go to theater often eat out first and get drinks afterward.

In short, theaters bring vitality and economic development.

 

4. Block F is wasted space.

Courtesy: Fringe Festival Facebook Page

Courtesy: Fringe Festival Facebook Page

The large Main St. parking lot is catty-corner to Eastman Theater. It’s rarely filled with cars. The Jazz and Fringe festivals set up performance tents on the lot. It only gets meaningful use twice a year. The University of Rochester has rights to build on the lot. It should move on this immediately to add to the character of the East End and fill in a “missing tooth” on Main Street.

 

5. Manhattan Square Park should be used all the time.

Pre-Bandaloop

Pre-Bandaloop

Thousands of people filled the amphitheater and surrounding park for the pre-Bandaloop concert. The city has said the park is too small for Party in the Park. Rubbish. It should be used for Party in the Park. It should be used for concerts every weekend in the summer. It’s a grossly underused asset.

(If you missed Bandaloop’s show, watch it here.)

Links of the Day:

 

– Three letters you’ll have to know: LDC. Indictments are coming related to Monroe County’s use of these entities.

– Upstate’s nuclear power plants, including Ginna, are in financial trouble and could be forced to close.

Child deaths by guns are vastly under-counted.

The “sell-by” dates on your groceries are useless.

– Checking in with Rochester native and Syracuse football player Ashton Broyld.

Everyone should read Jeff Speck’s “Walkable Cities: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

Look at the areas of Rochester where homes are most valuable. They’re in walkable neighborhoods including Park Avenue, Corn Hill, Browncroft, Lower East End and Highland. Speck writes there are four things that make a place walkable: The walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

The problem is we don’t have a lot of walkable places anymore. “In most markets, the demand for walkable urbanism dramatically outpaces the supply…more Americans are desirous of vibrant urban living than are being offered that choice, and those cities that can satisfy that unmet demand will thrive.” That is true in Rochester, where it is expensive to rent or buy in walkable neighborhoods.

Why don’t we have walkable places anymore? We’ve destroyed them with cars. “The car has reshaped our landscape and lifestyles around its own needs. It is an instrument of freedom that has enslaved us.”

Speck is no fan of widening streets and highways. “Traffic studies are bull—-…As long as engineers are in charge of traffic studies, they will predict the need for more engineering…Stop doing traffic studies. Stop trying to improve flow. Stop spending people’s tax dollars giving them false hope that you can cure congestion, while mutilating their cities in the process.” Speck points out induced demand fills up these new lanes quickly, erasing the intended benefit of smoother traffic. He also says people speed on wider streets, no matter the speed limit. Ford and Exchange streets are good examples of downtown Rochester streets built like highways – and that’s how people drive on them.

We’ve allowed cars to ruin our downtown. “In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers – worshipping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking – have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to, but not worth arriving at.” Speck says downtowns are vital, because they belong to everyone. Cities are judged based on the viability of their downtowns. “A beautiful and vibrant downotwn…can be the rising tide that lifts all ships.”

Of course, we need cars. But Speck says, “The key is to welcome cars in the proper number at the proper speed.”

He talks a lot about the high cost of free parking. Even your mall parking is not free. You consume gas to drive to the mall. A lot of trees were mowed over for those vast parking lots. Speck writes free parking “worsens air quality and water quality, speeds global warming, increases energy consumption, raises the cost of housing, decreases public revenue, undermines public transportation, increases traffic congestion, damages the quality of the public realm, escalates suburban sprawl, threatens historic buildings, weakens social capital, and worsens public health, to name a few things.”

More than a half billion parking spaces are empty in America at any given time. Does every store and business need their own lot? Can there be more sharing? Think about all of the lots gated after-hours in Rochester. When you visit Next Door Bar & Grill, signs in the empty Pet Smart lot threaten to tow restaurant patrons. We have a lot of asphalt in this region so everyone can have their own parking.

parking - featured 220x165

Downtown Rochester’s many parking lots.

Speck writes a lot about the need to price downtown parking appropriately and hide parking lots and garages as much as possible. Rochester’s downtown has a lot of “missing teeth,” parking lots between buildings that are ugly and break up a pleasant walk. He also writes about the importance of biking and public transit to walkable places.

Speck makes a compelling argument for making places walkable. He says we need to toss tax incentives to lure businesses. You want economic development? Make walkable places. You want healthier people? Make walkable places. You want fewer car crashes? Make walkable places.

Rochester could learn from this book! You won’t think about downtown, driving and parking the same.

Links of the Day:

 

– Hamburg. N.Y. wrested control of its Main Street from the DOT. Instead of widening the road, it was narrowed. A pedestrian-friendly Main St. has led to more development. (Penfield should take note.)

– The crackdown on “left lane hogs” strikes me as encouragement to speeders and road ragers.

– Bicycling takes off in Texas. “People who are trying to attract people and businesses to their cities get it.”

Tom Richards has a huge lead over Lovely Warren, 55-28.

– Trulia says Buffalo and Syracuse are among the safest U.S. cities from natural disasters. Not Rochester?

– A stunning interactive of the way New York City changed during the Bloomberg years is probably a glimpse into the future of digital newspapers.

– Waste some time today watching amazing videos of Serengeti lions.

survey

The city has posted the results of its online survey about downtown Rochester. The survey will be used to update the Center City Master Plan. Almost all of the respondents to the unscientific poll were white.

The results were not surprising. People want a reason to come downtown. They want retail, restaurants and entertainment. Let’s take them one by one:

Retail: There’s clearly limited retail downtown. I forgot to buy a lime at Wegmans and had to go all the way back to East Ave. Wegmans from Corn Hill because I couldn’t think of a closer place that was guaranteed to have a lime. Retail follows rooftops, and as the downtown population grows, we will see more stores crop up.

Restaurants: This was in curious to me. I don’t need to travel far to find great restaurants downtown. Corn Hill Landing and the East End are filled with great places to eat. Just outside of downtown, there’s Village Gate, University Ave. and Monroe Avenue. Don’t forget Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and Tapas! If you want national chain restaurants, stay in the ‘burbs.

Entertainment: We have a lot of entertainment downtown. Party in the Park, noontime concert series, Eastman Theater, Blue Cross Arena, Hochstein, Red Wings, Knighthawks, Razorsharks and Amerks. If the city was serious about increasing entertainment options, it would look closely at putting a performing arts center at Midtown. (RBTL has its sights on Medley Centre, which would be a huge loss for the city.)

New banners are up on Main Street.

The second biggest reason people don’t come downtown is they feel unsafe. That’s a hugely disappointing, but not unexpected response. Downtown is one of the safest places in the city. Unfortunately, the nonsense at the Liberty Pole and Monroe Community College’s whining hurt. The police department is right to bring back the downtown substation, which is going in the Sibley Building. I suspect as more people and businesses move into downtown, it will feel safer. Right now, it can feel very lonely and empty on a weeknight or Sunday afternoon.

The third biggest reason people don’t come downtown is it isn’t aesthetically pleasing. The city does a great job keeping downtown clean. The only part of downtown that’s ugly is Main and Clinton. Huge parts of Main Street are under construction or vacant. That contributes to people feeling unsafe and it’s not a pleasant walk.

The fourth biggest reason people don’t come downtown is lack of close parking. That’s nonsense. If you have to walk a block or two, it’s no different than parking in a mall lot to get to a store. Seriously, think about how much walking you do at Eastview Mall. Downtown Rochester doesn’t have a parking problem. It has a walking problem.

Survey respondents said the city’s biggest downtown priority should be Midtown. I agree. The tower project will be tremendous for the site and all of downtown. But I’ve been extremely disappointed in the city’s deliberately slow approach to recruiting other developers to fill up the remaining parcels. The mayor has said it will take 10 years. That’s unacceptable.

 

Links of the Day: 

 

– Onondaga County spent $4,000 apiece on “smart trash cans.”

– Rep. Tom Reed could find himself in a fight for his seat in 2014.

– The state Department of Education should let this Western New York boy with disabilities stay on his school track team.

– The state ordered a food truck called “Wandering Dago” out of the Saratoga Race Course.

– David Carr writes brilliantly on the outrage over the Rolling Stone cover. “The misery of some should not determine the value to the whole.”

– Are you a fan of HBO’s “The Newsroom?” Even if you are not, you might enjoy this takedown of the show – and the TV news industry.

– Here’s why we should be concerned about the rise of the warrior cop and the militarization of our police departments.

People wait hours to buy cronuts.

Cornerstone Park

 

A small, forgotten park in downtown Rochester is about to get much-needed upgrades. 

The city put out a Request for Proposals to revamp Cornerstone Park. It opened in 1977 on the corner of Broad and Stone. Rochester Telephone was supposed to maintain the park.

Cornerstone ParkDuring a recent visit, I tripped on the uneven pavement. There are a lot of weeds. The water fountain is barely recognizable. The RFP says:

The park has deteriorated over the past 30 years. The fountain has not functioned in over a decade, the timber seating walls have rotted, the pavement is unstable, and the plantings are in decline. Rochester Telephone, now Frontier Communications, is no longer involved in park maintenance. At present the park is maintained by City of Rochester Downtown Special Services personnel in conjunction with volunteers from the Rochester Downtown Host Lions Club.

The project is expected to cost $725,000, funded in part through a state grant.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Just as doctors at a Syracuse hospitals were about to remove a “dead” woman’s organs, she opened her eyes.

– When private companies are in charge of parking tickets, do they step up enforcement? Xerox contract raises concerns in Cincinnati.

Great interactive map of all the wineries in the U.S.

Hangovers cost the U.S. economy $220 billion dollars per year.

Want to play piano for Von Maur?

Hilton Garden

Hilton Garden site on Main Street

 

What is with all of the new hotel projects sprouting up in Monroe County?

In Henrietta, a 126-room Hampton Inn & Suites opened, while an 89-room Hilton Home2 Suites is under construction.

College Town and CityGate both call for 150-room hotels.

A 107-room Hilton Garden hotel is planned on Main Street, across from the Radisson and next to the Hyatt. The Radisson manager warns the market is already challenged.

The hotel development is surprising when you consider the average room occupancy across all Monroe County hotels last year was 57 percent. According to Smith Travel Research, here is the average occupancy and average daily rate in 2012 for the state’s big cities:

  • New York City: 84%, $252
  • Long Island: 70%, $131
  • Buffalo: 66%, $94
  • Albany: 61%, $106
  • Syracuse: 59%, $93
  • Rochester: 57%, $94

In 2012, the Rochester market had 122 hotels with a combined 10,309 hotel rooms.

Clearly, developers see an opportunity or they wouldn’t invest so much money in building new hotels. Unless the area suddenly gets more tourists and conferences, one has to wonder which hotels will lose business when new rooms come online.

Links of the Day:

– The Emerald ash borer is invading Monroe County.

– At Western New York colleges, many students don’t graduate in four years.

– Morgan and LeChase plan big development along Canandaigua Lake.

– A Starbucks worker called 911 on a woman changing her kid’s diaper in the middle of the store.

Kids think their cracked iPhone screens give them street cred.

skatepark

We’re getting a better idea of what a new Rochester skatepark could look like. It’s slated to go under the Freddie Sue Bridge along South Ave.

The Rochester Business Journal linked to renderings of the site and a video fly through.

Final cost estimates are not in, but the city’s capital improvement plan calls for spending $2 million in 2015. It would be the largest skatepark in North America.

Links of the Day:

– The NTSB’s vote to lower the BAC threshold for drunk driving will be a tough sell to states. The restaurant industry is already up in arms.

– Dead silence from Rochester City Hall about businesses that lost money during the Spider-Man shoot. I filed a Freedom of Information request for all contracts and documents between the city and movie and have been ignored.

A Manhattan Square Park mural was erased.

– Mario Williams’ ex-fiance filed a countersuit, saying he’s a jerk who kept breaking up with her.

– The Rochester Public Library is hosting an exhibit on Negro League Baseball. Turns out, a library security guard used to play in the league.

– Sno Kone Joe v. Mr. Ding-a-Ling is now in a courtroom. Best. Case. Ever.

Picture from Brick-N-Motor food truck.

Picture from Brick-N-Motor food truck.

Legislation was submitted to Rochester’s City Council this week that would allow food trucks to operate downtown. (Read it here.) Food truck operators say the new rules are too restrictive and don’t provide space for enough trucks. But it’s a start.

Cities and suburbs all over the country are grappling with how to treat mobile food vendors. Rochester’s food trucks formed an alliance to advance their interests.

Food trucks have some benefits for cities. They attract people to parks. They generate more foot traffic. The provide additional food options and sometimes they are the only convenient food option. They can attract patrons to neighboring businesses, such as bars, coffee shops and retail stores. Most importantly, people like food trucks and want them near their workplaces.

Much of the debate surrounding food trucks involves complaints from brick and mortar restaurants, which have many times the amount of money invested in their businesses. Many regulations bar food trucks from pulling up near permanent establishments. Food trucks counter that restaurants should be able to withstand competition and the trucks operate on a much smaller scale. There should be a compromise somewhere in the debate.

It will be interesting to watch Rochester’s experiment with food trucks this summer.

Links of the Day:

– An Erie County village is tired of cars and wants to take back its Main Street.

– Syracuse schools debate how to discipline problem students. This is a number one complaint of Rochester teachers, too.

– Only a tiny percentage of missing children have been abducted by strangers. The number of missing kids has gone down.

– A Boston Globe columnist takes politicians to task for not having the courage to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

A Queens bar serves nothing but Keuka Lake wines.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has not been so amazing for everyone.

Main St. between East Ave. and St. Paul was open to pedestrians for a time today. It looked like a ghost town. There wasn’t a single person sitting at the Liberty Pole. Shops in the area were empty.

Main and Clinton was dead on Thursday around 1:30 p.m.

Main and Clinton was dead on Thursday around 1:30 p.m.

The owner of a clothing store at Main and Clinton cursed when I asked him how business has been since filming began. Furious, he said the production offered him $1,000 for the week. He showed me a ledger showing he makes more than double that amount. He makes most of his money the first week of the month, when people get their welfare checks. Many of his customers take the bus, but the buses have been rerouted to Broad St.

“Can you help me?” he asked. “Should I get a lawyer?”

Newal Shoibi owns a minimart next door.

“They treat us like we’re homeless,” Shoibi said, saying the production staff offered him nothing. Shoibi, too, was angry.

A little further down at Metro Market, the owner decked out a back room with a Spider-Man theme. A flat-screen TV played the first Amazing Spider-Man movie. No one was watching. The room was empty. The owner said she’s lost business, but she remains hopeful people will stop in. In the meantime, she hired a man to dress as Spider-Man and hand out ad flyers and pose for pictures for $10 a pop.

Panini's was empty.

Panini’s was empty.

Across the street in the Alliance Building, Panini’s was empty. The owner sat at the register looking defeated. He said business has been terrible. He doesn’t know whom to call for help.

On State Street and in First Federal Plaza, the story is the same.

Charlie Abiad, who runs a hot dog stand outside the County Office Building, set up outside City Hall this week. The film reneged on an offer to rent his cart for $1,000. He said he doesn’t think he’ll lose money at his temporary location, but he’s worried.

Some businesses, including hotels, are getting a bump. But others, particularly ones that serve low-income bus riders,  are getting kicked in the gut. 

Speaking of bus riders, they’re lucky the weather has been nice so far. They have to stand on Broad Street for transfers, where there are no shelters or benches. There’s no safe place to cross the street in the middle of the long block, where the buses are lined up. People, including children, are darting in front of parked buses into traffic to make their connection.

This is all happening because the city granted the film crew unprecedented access to Main St. and surrounding streets for 10 days. The production dictates what roads are closed off and gives less than 24 hours notice. Citizens have never been so restricted from roaming freely in downtown Rochester for such a length of time. People have been told they cannot cross the street or exit buildings. It’s still not clear how much money the city charged to shut down its main thoroughfare.

We have discussed the why the film is not likely to provide any lasting economic benefit to Rochester. We have discussed taxpayer support for this production and others. (We’re all subsidizing the $600,000 in local spending the film crew anticipates.) We haven’t really discussed the wisdom of shutting down Main St. 

By allowing the movie to commandeer Main St., the city picked winners and losers. Sure, it’s cool. But at what cost?

Links of the Day:

– A beautiful and historic Buffalo church needs millions of dollars in repairs. Its fate is uncertain.

Xerox still makes printers in Webster. These are way better jobs than in the company’s call centers.

– Xerox and Harris are on the list of highest CEO to worker pay ratio.

– Cell phone thefts are a huge problem, but the cell phone industry isn’t interested in finding solutions. (They make money when your phone is stolen.)

Would you want to cross this street? (Google Street View)

Would you want to cross this street? (Google Street View)

 

The Democrat and Chronicle asks if High Falls could be bolstered if and when Monroe Community College moves into Kodak’s State St. complex:

A real estate boon could follow.

“The idea that you would be able to park your car where you live and walk across the street to take a class and come back, we think it would probably influence the demand for housing,” said Carolyn Vitale, vice president of the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development.

(snip)

(Warren) Sackler says that the neighborhood’s virtual invisibility from State Street has always been an issue. When he was a partner at the Triphammer, he’d occasionally get Kodak employees who worked a block away, calling him to ask him where the restaurant was.

“Even to this day, people don’t know what’s back there,” said Sackler. “It’s difficult because today, there’s no bar or eatery on the corner (along State Street). If that were still a restaurant, at least people would come over to that corner.”

I agree with Sackler.

There are other issues preventing MCC students and staff from venturing to High Falls. State St. is not pedestrian-friendly or easy to cross. MCC would be surrounded by parking lots, which serve as a physical and psychological barrier. Drive in and drive out.

Perhaps the best evidence MCC won’t do much for High Falls is Frontier Field. The ballpark is a failure in terms of spurring development downtown.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Henrietta residents don’t want RIT students living in their neighborhood, even if they’ll be in a gated apartment complex.

– Rochester’s police chief wrote an editorial about four babies dying last month in unsafe sleep conditions, such as cosleeping. I did a story on these silent deaths back in 2007. Nothing has changed, and little public money is devoted to prevention.

Gabrielle Giffords wrote a powerful editorial about the gun control bill’s failure.

– Rochester still ranks 5th in the country in per capita patents.

The cupcake fad is waning!

A Brookings study looked at job sprawl. Nearly one-third of Rochester jobs are near the central business district:

Job Sprawl chart