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Arts & Life is an important part of WXXI and CITY's reporting. From harnessing the knowledge of writers Jeff Spevak, Daniel J. Kushner, Rebecca Rafferty, Brenda Tremblay, Julia Figueras and Mona Seghatoleslami, to our television products that focus on lifestyles and the arts, WXXI is the place to turn for arts and life news.

At long last, Parcel 5 to become a green space

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Gino Fanelli/CITY
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Rendering of the new green space at Parcel 5, dubbed Meet Me @ the 5.

After years of public debate over the barren gravel pit on East Main Street, local activists can chalk up a win: Parcel 5 will become a public green space.

For now, at least.

On Thursday, Mayor Lovely Warren announced “Meet Me @ the 5,” a new “transitional/temporary, community entertainment space.” Parcel 5 will be seeded with grass, and a cement footpath will cut across the property. Warren said the city’s goal is to use the space for events such as concerts and auto shows; organizers of the events will reserve the parcel through the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

“We wanted to make sure we created a space here that people could come to and love, to enjoy, to eat, to explore, to do all sorts of different things in,” Warren said.

But the mayor was clear that the city ultimately wants the property developed.

Parcel 5, which was once part of Midtown Plaza, has stood as a vacant gray patch at the center of the city since September 2010, when the plaza was demolished to make way for the world headquarters of PAETEC. That project never materialized, and neither did other projects proposed for the site.

More recently, Morgan Management proposed an apartment tower for the site, which was also to contain a 3,000-seat performing arts center for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League. That project, proposed in 2017, never got off the ground, leaving Parcel 5 as dead space in downtown.

Community activists, some under the banner of Free Parcel 5, saw potential for Parcel 5 to become a town square-type place where public events could be hosted. That is, in fact, how Parcel 5 has been used in recent years. Trombone Shorty closed out the final night of the 2019 Jazz Fest at Parcel 5, and the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival used it for a performance by the French troupe Plasticiens Volants, which featured massive inflatables flown above audiences by actors on the ground. It also was a frequent stopping point during this past summer’s Black Lives Matter rallies.

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Credit Gino Fanelli/CITY
City leaders break ground Thursday on a new green space at Parcel 5, dubbed Meet Me @ the 5.

Councilmember Mary Lupien had long supported turning Parcel 5 into a community gathering space. At the groundbreaking Thursday, she was visibly excited.

“When I found out about this this morning, I was just giddy,” Lupien said. “This is a project I’ve been passionate about for years.”

The immediate plan is to have Parcel 5 as a green space, but Warren said it’s not the end goal. In time, the space is planned to mirror Kansas City’s “KC Live!” space. Dubbed an “entertainment destination,” KC Live! is a full city block with restaurants, bars, and a live music stage.

The city is still seeking a developer to build on Parcel 5 as well.

“This is one of the most prime pieces of real estate in downtown Rochester, and we look forward to the day when we get it on the tax rolls in a different capacity,” said Chris Hill, executive committee chair of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp.

With a new public green space, and the recent legalization of marijuana allowing for consumption of cannabis anywhere tobacco can be consumed, the question arises -- can you smoke weed at Meet Me @ the 5? At the news conference Thursday, Warren was unsure. City communications director Justin Roj later clarified that smoking, of any kind, is banned on city-owned property. It is, however, legal on the sidewalk surrounding Meet Me @ The 5.

“But it’s just like Party in the Park, or a million other things, it’s not going to stop people,” Roj said. “We just hope they don’t do it around little kids, just like how we hope they don’t smoke tobacco like that.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.