Take a look at the competing ideas to revitalize downtown Rochester
Thirteen development proposals are being vetted for a section of downtown that largely has been left out of the Center City’s resurgence.
East Main Street is the focus, with some city leaders pointing specifically to the northwest corner of North Clinton.
"Ground zero for local concern is this corner,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, the president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp. and a member of a local committee that is vetting the projects.
“There is a lot of emotion wrapped around ‘solving’ the northwest corner of Main and Clinton.”
The committee’s work begins in earnest next week, narrowing the list of proposals to a recommended few that would divvy up nearly $10 million in assistance. That money comes from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The state will make the final determination on project awards, likely by year’s end. Construction must be underway within two years.
There are competing proposals to renovate the four dilapidated buildings on the corner, each seeking to combine the attached properties into one and fill the upper floors with apartments.
Housing conversions are a common theme. The project list also includes a high-end hotel and restaurant. One concept seeks to build a six-story, mixed-income apartment building on vacant lots a couple of blocks north, near the Inner Loop.
And there are plans to put a community health center in one part of Sibley Square -- and an exhibit space and archive for renowned metal sculptor Albert Paley in the other, over by the Liberty Pole.
The 13 projects seek a combined $29 million in assistance. The committee expects to recommend a short list of projects with a combined $15 million ask by late June or July.
Years in limbo
“This block needs the money,” developer Patrick Dutton said, returning the discussion to East Main Street. “There's no chance of doing these buildings without it.”
Dutton is talking about the block between St. Paul Street and North Clinton Avenue.
This stretch was to have been redeveloped years ago with Renaissance Square. That project – combining a bus terminal, a new Monroe Community College campus and a performing arts theater – collapsed amid political bickering in 2009. But plans had been to raze much of the block, sections of which had been vacant for decades.
Little was spent on upkeep while Renaissance Square was under consideration. When the project died, the block continued to languish without direction.
That has begun to change with a couple of major renovations in recent years, one of which is Dutton’s. But the heavy work of revitalization remains.
On the corner, SOS General Contractors and Home Leasing are seeking between $3.6 million and $5 million in state aid for their respective projects. Home Leasing’s ask, if granted, would be the largest award yet through the Downtown Revitalization initiative, officials said.
That has raised some concern in the vetting process. But the bigger issue is that the two developers each claim to control a different half of the site. And site control is paramount, said Phil Schaeffing, project manager with Stantec consulting.
“It's not up to the local planning committee, or the planning team or the state to pick a winner," Schaeffing said.
Negotiations continue. But time is running out. The state's funding is promised only to projects that are shovel-ready.
A new renaissance
The amount of state assistance being sought for the corner is what concerns Dutton. He has multiple proposals of his own vying for the state dollars, a quarter to half of which could be soaked up by that one project.
“The corner is important,” he said. “But I have to be honest with you, it's a lot of the money.
“Do I think it should be set aside? Not necessarily,” Dutton said. “Do I think it should be awarded 50% of the DRI dollars? Absolutely not.”
Dutton's plans include the hotel and restaurant. He also is backing a city sponsored plan to raze a modest building midway between St. Paul and North Clinton, breaking up the block and creating a passage back to the Division Street alleyway.
The idea then is for adjacent pubs and restaurants to spill out onto the commons area. The actual commons would be turned back to the city.
Dutton, not surprisingly, sees this proposal as the most critical. He owns properties on either side. But he sees it as a catalyst for the block, creating a destination, making it possible for the Main Street buildings to also open onto Division Street, and be active.
“The Commons,” he argued, “changes everything.”