• Join 487 other subscribers

“I respectfully request $100 million to allow the City to support the private development of a downtown Performing Arts Center.”

That might be the most amazing sentence ever written by a politician.

But Mayor Lovely Warren did indeed ask for the money with a straight face in a February 13 letter to the governor. She also asked for other stuff, including money to repair sidewalks, reorganized the police department, fill in the Inner Loop and assist the Sibley Building project. Her monetary request was far, far greater than the wish list sent to the governor by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Two weeks before Warren wrote her letter, I wrote a blog asking “Why Not Rochester?” The governor had just visited suburban Syracuse, awarding $100 million for a lakefront project. We can’t criticize Rochester for not getting anything and then criticize our leaders for asking.

Yes, Warren’s request was very bold. But we’re talking about a state that was prepared to give Syracuse University $200 million for an athletic stadium before Miner put on the brakes. We’re talking about a state that is giving Buffalo $1 billion, not including the tens of millions being used to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium.

That fact is, we’d have a new performing arts center on Main Street if our last two mayors cared to advocate for one. If Warren wants a theater at Midtown, she’ll get a theater at Midtown, especially with help from County Executive Maggie Brooks, who said she supports the effort. Getting our state lawmakers behind that vision would help, too. (So far, they most definitely are not.)

Here’s what former Brooks spokesman Noah Lebowitz posted on my Facebook page:

Facebook comment

 

Links of the Day:

 

- A Cornell professor weighs in on college athletes getting paid. She relates them to medical interns.

- I just do not understand putting $95 million of tax dollars into a Ralph Wilson Stadium renovation while at the same time exploring a new Bills venue.

- See ya suburbs. More people want to live in the city.

- This is hysterical: When your anonymous neighbor makes fun of you via a Wi-Fi name.

 

Video of the Day:

 

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.

My father has never gotten over the fact the city tore down the RKO Palace Theater in the 1960s. A couple years ago, he showed me a booklet produced as a memento of the downtown theater.

It is beautiful and heartbreaking to think this was right in our center city:

“The 2916-seat theatre had provisions for every type of stage show. There was a bath for trained seals, a chute for bringing animals into the stage basement and onto the stage, and seven floors of dressing rooms that included a billiard room, kitchen and children’s playroom for the convenience and comfort of performers.”

“On its site will be erected a modern motel-office-theatre complex with twin eighteen story towers. The new 1200-seat theatre will be in the luxury class with the latest projection and sound equipment plus roomy seats that offer patrons “living room comfort.”

Nothing was ever built. It’s a parking lot on Mortimer St.

I was inspired to take out the old booklet when I read about the enormous success of Shea’s in Buffalo.

Enjoy.

The New York Times reports “Broadway Hits Gold in Buffalo.”

“The Addams Family” musical packed the house at Shea’s, a 3,000-seat downtown theater, and raked in $1 million a week.

Excerpt:

Like theaters in Cleveland and Sacramento, Shea’s in Buffalo has become important because of its reliable subscribers — 13,100 for each of its six one-week Broadway tours this year. An impressive 85 percent renew annually; the subscriber base insures that 55 percent of seats are bought even before tickets go on general sale.

“The industry has noticed how good it is to play Buffalo,” said Stuart Oken, a lead producer of “The Addams Family,” who pointed out that the show made more money per performance here than in Toronto, Miami or any other city since the tour began in September.

If it’s happening in Buffalo, couldn’t it happen in Rochester?

Rochester clearly supports shows at the Auditorium, but it doesn’t seem to compare to what’s happening at Shea’s. At 2,400 seats, the Auditorium is not as big. The facility’s location and parking are difficult. There aren’t any places to walk to have dinner before or get a drink after a show.

Of course, this is why the Rochester Broadway Theatre League desperately wants a new performing arts center. The league selected Midtown Plaza after the collapse of Renaissance Square. But at $70 million, with half of the funds coming from the public, the mayor is decidedly lukewarm. The city’s attitude will never get a new theater in downtown Rochester; getting that kind of cash requires an elected official as champion.

Reading about Buffalo’s Broadway success is a little frustrating because Rochester tore down its stately theaters. The former RKO Palace is now a parking lot. The decision to preserve and restore Shea’s ended up being a huge for downtown Buffalo.

RBTL insists a new theater would be an economic engine.

A million dollars a week…

We should talk about Renaissance Square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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