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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.

19 Responses to Does City Want High Falls Visitors?

  1. High Falls continues to be one of Rochester’s hidden treasures. I use the word ‘hidden’ because it is easy for local visitors to bypass this landmark if they are driving down Lake Avenue.

    Whenever family members or friends have visited Rochester, I made it a point to take them to High Falls, and in each case, they were awestruck by the beauty of the landscape.

    I have never felt that the High Falls district was promoted properly. I am reminded of the movie, FIELD OF DREAMS. The film’s motto is: “If you build it, they will come.” Sadly, this has not been the case with High Falls. It is there for the viewing and splendor. Yet, the lack of significant signs pointing to the attractions leaves it as ‘hidden’ treasure.

    With a little more innovation and brainstorming, High Falls can become the tourist designation it is designed to be.

  2. April 8, 2013 at 9:12 am ParkAvePete responds:

    Rachel, I love High Falls and I am actually shocked how popular the brew pub is but thriving? That’s a bit of a stretch for the area, no?

    When ever I run through the area it’s a ghost town.

  3. WHAT THE #&%$!

    This was one of the few things Rochester had right. You can’t really have a “destination” without a visitor center. Sure, High Falls has never found it’s footing, but this isn’t going to help.

    I REALLY hope you can get a comment from the decision-maker on this one Rachel!

  4. Super sad to hear about this. We regularly visited and supported the visitors center both when we had out of town visitors and just when we were kicking about High Falls.

  5. April 8, 2013 at 9:38 am David responds:

    please remove this comment after you fix the typo in the lede: ‘sells’ not ‘wells’

  6. April 8, 2013 at 9:48 am DominionROC responds:

    Rachel..your comments that Highfalls is “thriving now with offices and residences”…I strongly disagree. While I agree that there are more residents and office workers at the site. What the city has done at High Falls is to just transfer people and businesses from one part of the city/county to High Falls..with very heavy subsidies. EVERY project got SUBSTANTIAL subsidies/incentives/grants. Go there day or night…the place is near death! High Falls should be a MAJOR regional attraction…attracting tourists and regional residents…but now its home to just a couple hundred new office workers and residential renters. The place has very little appeal/attraction.

    This is just another city/region boondoggle. We as a community have failed again to create a successful regional asset. This has happened to just about EVERY regional project we get involved with. Its the same people…same institutions making the same mistakes. Will we ever change?

  7. I think your point about not having ‘wasted’ money on High Falls is spot on. People invariably cite High Falls in the same context as the Fast Ferry — large scale failures that the city shouldn’t have been involved in.

    The East End wasn’t nearly the entertainment district we currently know when this was first contemplated and while it’s not the entertainment hub once envisioned, it’s my view that there’s no way the current and recent office and residential re-development projects would have happened without the city’s initial investment in this area.
    Without some catalyst, this would have been a bunch of empty/derelict buildings falling into the gorge. Hindsight is 20/20 but I believe this was a good use of funds. My understanding was that some of the initial funding required that there be an educational component there for a period of time – hence the interpretive center and museum. Now that that time period has passed, the city is free to end its support for that piece.

    It would be nice if there was a way to keep it, but without other ‘destination’ activities in the High Falls area it seems hard to make this work.

  8. I don’t think the visitor’s center was the key to bringing people there if it needed a quarter mil a year subsidy to operate. The problem with high falls is it is hidden. Drive down state street and you see a massive parking lot to the west and to the east is a walled electrical substation, wxxi with little street activity but a door, a largely empty building and probably 50% of the frontage taken up by a parking garage. If you don’t know its there, there’s nothing drawing people to explore behind the massive concrete parking garage. High Falls is.t dead, but it certainly isnt thriving. If you don’t live there what’s there to do after 6?

  9. Does anybody know what the operating expenses are? Perhaps they can get an extension from the city for 6 months while they work to repackage themselves as a 501(c), a charitable arts organization. If the expenses are modest perhaps a local consortium of businesses could step in to support/donate? Breweries came quickly to mind…
    Helping is hard- the organization and effort must come from the Visitors Center folks.

  10. Is there a reason it can’t survive on its own without public funds?

  11. Why should anyone be surprised. This is what has happened in this city. Let’s close it or tear it down instead if trying to be created.

  12. April 8, 2013 at 8:41 pm Orielly responds:

    I guess posters don’t read or follow on what happened here. Or perhaps you want government to select winners and losers in business.

    A Mayor put well over 250M of tax dollars to build High Falls to COMPETE with the EAST END, which was growing with virtually no city tax money.

    In fact the city took tax money paid by the private business owners in the east end to build an area and businesses to compete with the east end.

    They even brought in, with no competitive bids sought, out of Rochester Business and give them tax breaks, investment incentives, and free RGE incentives to build up the area.

    Had Mayor Johnson had his way, he would have bragged and rejoiced at the success of the HIGH FALLS and had little concern with the failure it (HE) caused in the EAST END.

    Thankfully the opposite occurred and private business won over Govt funded business.

    And telling it like it is…. you can barely see the falls from the High Falls as the falles are behind a stone wall.

  13. I agree that High Falls is a hidden gem. I also think that the brewery being built has brought some potential additional traffic to this area. I think like a few posters mentioned, high falls is hidden, and the city needs to do a good job in uncovering this wonderful place. I personally think that some type of main street needs to be re routed through this area. It may sound crazy but what if state street was rerouted through here some how and then redirected out again? The current section of state street in front of Kodak and it’s parking lot could then be turned into a walkable/bike area only. Plymouth can be opened up to two way traffic again.

  14. Carl we used to have that, back when Mill St was a street and not an over pruned stump it is now.

    The brew pub is nice, but it has the problem that many brought up during the debate over the old Cataract St. Brewery. There is nothing else on that side of the river. There’s the brewery it’s self to the north, and a parking lot and an unused park to the south. Unless the city abandons the park to private development the East Side of high falls is tapped out space wise. That was the argument many of us brought up over 13 Cataract. Mothball it until a reuse comes up or decide demolition is the only choice. But what “we” allowed was for the only other develop able land/building on East side of the river to get turned into parking.

  15. April 8, 2013 at 11:30 pm Animule responds:

    When one door closes, another one opens. I can’t think of a better location for the William Johnson Center for Government Waste and Inefficiency.

    The first order of business would be studying how and why it costs $226k to keep this white elephant open. There’s your next story idea, Rachel.

  16. April 9, 2013 at 1:35 am Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    Perhaps William “Bill” Johnson, Jr. 64th Mayor of the City of Rochester, said it best in the State of the City Speech when trying to describe the condition of High Falls, it’s progress, condition and future….

    “Nobody appears to be doing anything”.

    Thousands upon thousands and millions upon millions in other people’s $$$ later… and still…..

    “Nobody appears to be doing anything”.

    But Rochesterians have and ARE doing something – paying more and more and more while getting less and less and less. The more we are forced to deal with INCOMPETENT, LOUSY and LAZY Democrats, the faster we will continue to fall in the important, competitive business/economic climate and college rankings.

    It’s time to throw Mayor Richards off the boat. This can’t continue. Enough is enough!

  17. My first thought is that this is the area of the new MCC downtown campus. The city administration was against this location for MCC. Is this payback time?

  18. The biggest problem High Falls has is that it truly is a hidden gem. Drive down Lake and if you don’t know where it is, you’ll drive right past it. If the High Falls area is to ever be an attraction or destination, removal of the incredibly ugly WXXI building and attached ramp garage are needed so as to make the area much more accessible AND visible.

  19. April 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm Benny C. responds:

    Like the Victorians tried, they should get that Walenda guy to come by and tightrope-walk across the gorge every so often.

    Just need to do it when a Canadian NW wind isn’t whipping up the gorge.

    Oh, by the way, it didn’t help a lot when Kodak fizzled. Lunch hour and business meals and take-out cut the life-blood out of many smaller restaurants and diners.

    Here’s what Minneapolis’s Downtown Mills Ruins Park looks like – they can make so much a better case that it is really in downtown and it’s on the Mississippi at the end of a major pedestrian bridge with a view of the levee falls crossing it to the other side which also ties into a university campus and riverside walk/jog/biking path (but then it’s a good thing to have Hubert Humphrey as your Congressperson and Senator):

    Mills Ruins Park – Minneapolis

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