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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.

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?

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?

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.

Center at High Falls

The Center at High Falls will close on June 30. The visitors center opened opened 20 years ago and wells books and local history souvenirs. There’s also a gallery featuring the work of local artists.

The closing is sad, as the gift shop and gallery are lovely. The loss of the gift shop combined with the previous loss of the laser light shows marks the end of an era.

The city should answer the following questions: Where will visitors go now to learn more about High Falls? Will the bathrooms still be available?  What will the city do with the publicly-owned building? Does the city even want High Falls to be a destination?

The city spends about $226,000 a year to keep the Center at High Falls building open, and only takes in $40,000 in rent. The building also houses a restaurant and event space. It would not surprise me if the city wants to sell it off and get it in the hands of a private developer and on the tax rolls.

High Falls is a beautiful resource. How many other cities have a waterfall in the heart of a downtown historic district? The Garden Aerial project promises to make High Falls a destination, but it’s a long way from reality. The Genesee Brew House is a nice addition on the other side of the river, but that offers nothing to classrooms of school children on a tour.

Whatever happens, it’s important to note High Falls is not a failure. The city spent about $40 million to save the historic district. While it never found its footing as an entertainment district – and tax dollars were wasted in the process – it’s thriving now with offices and residences.

We need watch what the city is doing with High Falls closely. The public has a stake in the Center at High Falls building and the natural resource it overlooks.

Links of the Day:

– Did you order a gun that never arrived? Guns stolen during shipments don’t have to be reported to authorities.

– New York’s new restrictions on sales tax breaks for retail projects are ridiculously easy to get around. Just call a Costco a tourism project.

– Rohrbach’s beer sales have grown 20 percent in each of the last five years.

– An Erie County man sued a developer – and won – when water runoff brought tons of frogs to his front door.

Five million U.S. homes don’t have television.

An Albany Civil War soldier’s dog tag was found.

 

Dashboard view looking east on Main St.

Dashboard view looking east on Main St.

 

Woman begins crossing the street.

Woman begins crossing the street.

 

Car does not stop for woman in crosswalk.

Car does not stop for woman in crosswalk.

 

In the fall, the city rebuilt the sidewalks on East Main Street between Gibbs and Scio. The city also put in a crosswalk between the YMCA entrance and the East End Garage. The crosswalk is a natural mid-block location where people cross the street.

But few cars stop. Pedestrians have to wait until the coast is clear or risk getting run over by a car going 40 miles an hour down the street. (The speed limit is 30.) It’s also a difficult crosswalk because of the cars parked on both sides of the street. Motorists cannot easily see people crossing the street.

I’ve forced cars to stop for me in the crosswalk, but only if they’re obviously far enough away and going slow enough to stop. I’m not going to risk my life to prove a point. I’d be right, but I’d be dead.

Rochesterians can do a better job sharing the road with pedestrians. Last week, a car making a right on red beeped at me as I crossed the street in the crosswalk with a “walk” sign.

Here’s the law on crosswalks:

(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles.

(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.

(c) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.

Links of the Day:

– So much for the state putting restrictions on retail sales tax breaks. In Genesee County, a Dick’s is considered a tourist destination. Meanwhile, Darien Lake, an actual tourist destination, pitches itself as a business center.

– Even though casino revenues are dropping, Cuomo wants a second one in Niagara Falls.

– The case against State Senator Malcolm Smith, in one chart.

The many faces of Albany political scandals.

Why Rochester is called Smugtown.

Entrance on Clinton Ave.

Entrance on Clinton Ave.

 

The wall that fronts Main St.

The wall that fronts Main St.

 

View of south side of building.

View of south side of building.

 

Courtyard side

Courtyard side

 

People have been asking me lately why it appears the Windstream building on the Midtown site is built with its back to Main Street.

There is a blank wall, devoid of windows, on the Main St. side. That’s because the building was never intended to front the street. There’s a parcel of land that sits between the building and Main St. The developer, Pike, has an option to buy that parcel.

The danger is Pike and the city take years to put anything on that piece of land. Pike will landscape the property, but it won’t mitigate the Main St. view.

Rochester’s mayor has said developing Midtown will take 10 years, a projection I find rather pessimistic. Let’s hope development of the site moves along quickly and we won’t be staring at a blank wall for long.

Links of the Day:

– The death of a Monroe County jail inmate was cited in a critical Albany Times Union report on for-profit medical providers.

– A Syracuse fire station is in such disrepair, firefighters can’t park fire trucks in all bays or they might crash into basement.

– Buffalo celebrates Dyngus Day, squirt guns, pussy willows and all.

– The troubles of a historic former Syracuse hotel are reminiscent of the Sibley Building.

A Schenectady house built around 1725 is for sale.

Men’s basketball is among the safest college sports.

Erie Promenade

A major project has been proposed on Rochester’s riverfront downtown. Think about how Erie Harbor and Corn Hill Landing have transformed the waterfront. Now comes Morgan Management’s plan to build a $20 million, 100-unit luxury complex right behind Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, according to the Rochester Business Journal.

Morgan Management RenderingThis is a big deal for several reasons. First, it totally transforms what is now desolate riverfront space. Second, it will enhance a riverfront promenade planned by the city. (The waterway access would still be public.) Third, along with the planned skatepark, it could effectively kill any plans to re-water the old Erie Canal downtown.

Judging from the map above, it appears the complex would go in the area outlined in blue. The city had planned a park near the old Subway entrance. RBJ reports Morgan Management will have underground parking near the entrance.

Morgan Management is also involved in the redo of Midtown Tower and the controversial new apartment complex proposal on University Ave. behind the Eastman House. The RBJ reports the company will submit site plans to the city soon for the riverfront proposal. I’m sure there will be a lot of questions and a lot more information to come.

Promenade at Erie Harbor Rendering

Promenade at Erie Harbor Rendering

 

Links of the Day:

– Xerox may have an employee morale problem. The CEO gets poor marks from workers.

– Rochester was a winner in the Census’ new definition of metro areas.

– Gun rights advocates often point out illegal guns are the ones most often used in crime. So why are they discouraging the use of a year-old tip line?

– A closer look at the criticisms of New York Safe gun control law.

– The Albany Times Union obtained incredible video of a deadly police shooting.

Buffalo food trucks are getting squeezed.

– Rochester should not allow College Town to black out windows on Elmwood Ave.

– Rochester’s Elmwood Ave. and Mt. Hope area used to be lined with beautiful trees.

“Yoga pants are a cult.”

David Mohney, 2010

David Mohney, 2010

Xerox Square is about to have a new owner. Buckingham Properties is buying the landmark property, which houses operations for 1,400 workers. For now, Xerox is the only tenant in the building. Buckinghman Properties will makeover Xerox’s neighbor, Midtown Tower, in the coming months.

Xerox Square was built in the mid-1960s on the former site of Loew’s Theater. At 443 feet and 30 stories, it remains the tallest building in Rochester. At the time it was built, it was the tallest building made of exposed garnet aggregate concrete. Soon after it was completed, Xerox moved its headquarters to Stamford, Connecticut.

According to Concrete Repair Bulletin, the building was damaged in a mild 1998 earthquake. Concrete fell from the third floor, revealing deterioration and extensive “honeycombs” that allowed moisture and corrosion. The facade was repaired between 2002 and 2005, requiring 100,000 man hours. It was a challenge to match the aesthetics of the concrete finish.

XeroxXerox Square had been for sale since 2009. The purchase by Buckingham and commitment to keep employees there is a good thing. The Bausch + Lomb building downtown is still for sale. Chase recently invested millions of dollars to renovate its high rise. The HSBC building appears to be in flux, as the bank has pulled out of many operations.

Xerox Square is an important part of the Rochester skyline. I’ve appreciated it more as time goes by. It’s stark and elegant. Some days it looks gray. Other days it looks black. Rochester really does have a cool skyline, doesn’t it? No other Upstate city has a cluster of such easily identifiable tall buildings, indicating you’re home.

Skyline

 

Links of the Day:

– Federal authorities are trying to figure out how a child rape and murder suspect deactivated his ankle monitor.

An assembly proposal would expand bottle deposits.

The YNN rebranding effort is a giant marketing fail.

An Auschwitz survivor is trying to find his twin.

 

Brookings Institution maps migration from 2010-2012. New York is a big loser.

Brookings Institution maps migration from 2010-2012. New York is a big loser.