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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

In Rochester, we often see the conflict between the dreamers and the realists.

We rarely see the dreamers win out. The fast ferry was their biggest triumph and we know how that turned out. Now we have a practical mayor who doesn’t seem too fond of the Big Idea.

But there are some Big Ideas out there. The concepts are either wacky or brilliant, depending on your vision for Rochester.

Here are the top 5 Big (Crazy?) Ideas:

1. Rewatering the Canal – Erie Canal restoration advocates want to rewater the old aqueduct downtown, essentially flooding Broad St. They envision recreational boats in summer and ice skating in winter, as well as real estate development along the new waterfront.

2. Doing Something with the Subway – This idea is in conflict with rewatering the canal, as it would use the same infrastructure. The subway was built in the old canal bed, so one could argue the canal was there first! Ideas for the subway tunnel, some of which has been filled in, include parking and bringing back light rail.

3. Garden Aerial – This would transform the Pont de Rennes Bridge at High Falls into a “floating garden.” There would be an additional pedestrian bridge built close to the falls and a winter garden on the side of the brewery.

4. Performing Arts Center – The Rochester Broadway Theatre League has long wanted new digs, saying the Auditorium isn’t adequate. The group hasn’t raised funds, however, and has no politician advocating for grants. RBTL chose Midtown Plaza for a theater site, but City Hall is lukewarm, at best, to the idea.

5. Filling in the Inner Loop – This one has the most support from City Hall to actually get done. But there’s still a funding gap. The sunken expressway is underused and a barrier to development. Filling it in would create usable land and fill in gaps between downtown neighborhoods.

What’s your Big Idea?

Links of the Day:

– Buffalo is seeing a lot of conflict between cyclists and drivers who have to share the road.

– Governor Cuomo’s administration has a serious reputation for secrecy.

Newark, New Jersey’s mayor slammed the war on drugs.

– A mom is arrested for allowing kids, ages 7 and 11, walk alone to get pizza a half mile away.

Cool read about an ex-slave’s letter to his former master.

This morning, a group of people passionate about restoring the Erie Canal in downtown Rochester will meet on the 19th floor of the First Federal Building. Their goal is to bring the World Canals Conference to Rochester for a third time in 2020.

The effort is being led by Tom Grasso, president of the Canal Society of New York State. There’s a major obstacle to getting the conference to come back, however. There must be progress on restoration efforts. Specifically, the city would have to rewater the Broad St. aqueduct.

A lot of people think the notion of flooding Broad St. to create a canal is insane. Supporters say it would return the canal to its former glory and spark waterfront development and attract recreation.

Buffalo is much farther along in bringing its canal back to life. Rochester has continued to put the plan on the back burner. The issue is money, of course. The aqueduct alone would cost $23 million.

Grasso’s group, called the World Canals Conference 2020 Planning Committee, has crafted a mission statement:

We believe a restored downtown Erie Canal will be transformational, make Rochester unique among upstate cities, and dynamically create a vast number of temporary and permanent jobs. Water, animated by boats and people on adjacent walkways, sparks vibrant development, is a proven powerful engine of economic revitalization, and yields good return on investment. Rochester’s robust canal history and its unique 19th century canal structures, such as the 1842 aqueduct and original Erie Canal bed, deserve preservation through restoration – for navigation and year round recreation united with today’s canal system. A restored old Erie Canal enhances Rochester’s image on the world stage as a tourist destination and helps pave the way for us to host the World Canals Conference in 2020 for an unprecedented third time.

Links of the Day:

– Syracuse’s mayor sent a Post-Standard columnist a copy of “Vagina Monologues” after he suggested she give up her salary since her husband makes a lot of money.

– Teens accused of stabbing another teen and setting him on fire were arraigned in Buffalo. The picture of them is sad and chilling.

Can you afford health insurance under the new law? 

– “This is the best fireworks show ever!” The best video yet of the San Diego fireworks mishap has surfaced.

When Broad St. was a canal

Bringing the Erie Canal back to downtown Rochester has long been a dream for preservationists and urban planners. Mayor Robert Duffy loved the idea and his administration produced a master plan for the Broad St. corridor that would rewater the aqueduct.

The thinking goes like this: Waterfront property is more desirable, so investors will line up to build along the newly-watered canal. Restoring the Broad St. aqueduct would pay homage to city and state history. Recreation along the new canal, including boating and ice skating, would bring in tourists. Western downtown would come alive with development that goes from the Central Library all the way to the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.

Many people think it’s straight up insane, especially at $23 million. The city has pushed off the project to at least the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Buffalo is well along in rewatering its old canal system downtown. The restoration of the Commercial Slip is now a focal point of the waterfront. Construction recently started on a system of downtown canals. The price tag is $23 million. Go figure.

Rendering of Buffalo Development

The Buffalo News reports:

The canals will start at Washington Street and empty out at the foot of the pylons supporting the Skyway, going along Marine Drive and mirroring the historic path of the old Erie Canal. The water won’t connect to the Commercial Slip.

Officials were especially excited about the prospect of turning the canals into a giant outdoor skating rink during the winter.

“It’s going to be three-and-a-half times the size of Rockefeller Center,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a longtime supporter of Buffalo waterfront development. “That will draw people to the waterfront in December, January, February and March.”

Construction is expected to be completed in the spring of 2013.

The harbor development corporation hopes eventually to attract a mix of development, from boutiques and restaurants with patio seating to offices and possibly even lofts and apartments around the canal system.

Ice Skating on Exchange St. c. 1870-1880