Region bolstered by $200 million in federal aid for several projects, including an arts center
The old synagogue on Joseph Avenue, built in 1928, is a ruin of broken windows, fractured brick and an uninhabitable interior. It’s a symbol of a neighborhood in transition: Can the building’s resurrection as a new cultural arts center overcome grounds littered with the needles of drug users?
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is betting $400,000 on it. The transformation of the building into the Center for Visual and Performing Arts is just a part of more than $200 million in federal money being allocated to the Rochester and Finger Lakes region, Schumer said Monday.
Chuckling over an observation that he was “bringing home the bacon in front of a synagogue,” Schumer delivered the news against a backdrop of about 20 local leaders standing on the former synagogue’s decaying front steps.
“We’re going to breathe new life into this crumbling landmark,” Schumer said, “and turn it into a performing and visual arts center that will serve families and children throughout the Rochester area for free.”
Sadie Redfield lives two houses away from the old synagogue. She watched as the lofty plans were unveiled, complete with artist renditions on easels, displaying what the new cultural center would look like.
“Right here is where the drug addicts hang and everything,” said the retired Eastman Kodak employee.
“Even the land itself is infested with drug paraphernalia,” said Monroe County Legislator Mercedes Vazquez Simmons, whose district includes part of Joseph Avenue.
Schumer and other speakers were clear that this section of Joseph Avenue needs help.
“And when a neighborhood transitions, it doesn’t mean you forget about it,” Schumer said. “You make it better, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”
Collaboration was the morning’s theme. Not only between local, state and federal government, but also in visions of a partnership with the Center for Visual and Performing Arts and, just a block away, the Avenue Blackbox Theatre.
But the old building, and its potential contribution to the area’s cultural life, was only the Monday-morning face of a sprawling, bipartisan omnibus spending package.
“We’ve done better this year than we ever, ever have done,” Schumer said, noting a couple of times that in the arena of federal funding, this was “the first time in a decade that New York got more money than it sent back.”
Rochester Mayor Malik Evans, who took office on Jan. 1, praised Schumer’s attention to the region, noting that he had met with him four or five times already.
Other items include $400,000 for the Ibero-American Development Corporation’s Equitable Home Ownership Program. It includes home-repair grants and financial aid for purchasing homes, addressing decades of housing discrimination.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Morelle cited job creation and enlarging research programs at the University of Rochester’s OMEGA Laser Facility, slated to receive $83 million. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology is to get $88.5 million.
Other money will go to mental health, help for minority business startups, technology programs involving Xerox, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, and infrastructure throughout the region.
“But it also means $30 million we directly delivered to boost jobs and dozens of community projects,” Schumer said.