Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Backers of downtown Business Improvement District drop effort, blame lack of City Council support

 A view of the downtown Rochester skyline looking south from the top of the High Falls parking garage shows the railroad bridge over State Street in the foreground.
Brian Sharp
Downtown Rochester

Backers of a downtown Business Improvement District have dropped the effort and are pivoting to support other revitalization efforts.

In an email Thursday afternoon, the Partnership for Downtown Rochester wrote that there is “not presently the political will and majority support needed from Rochester City Council to successfully establish a business improvement district.”

City Council member Willie Lightfoot recently switched positions, joining colleagues Mary Lupien, Stanley Martin and Kim Smith in opposition. It was not immediately clear who else might have joined in tilting the balance.

"At the end of the day, Council had to pass this, right?" said Galin Brooks, who leads the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., and was helping spearhead the BID discussions. "The facts are the facts. It came down to a vote from City Council — and a favorable vote just didn't seem to be in the foreground.”

The focus now shifts to expanding its existing fundraising and — with an admittedly smaller budget — working on marketing events and activities, and small business support, she said. Those surviving priorities do not include a controversial, but some said critical, plan for downtown ambassadors.

The ambassadors were a major sticking point for Lupien. Described as guides for visitors, she saw it as a means to "clear the area of people who might scare white suburbanites."

"The impetus behind this is to make downtown more palatable for people who don't live here," she said of the BID.

All this started back in 2018, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed $50 million to revitalize Rochester’s riverfront. The money went to specific projects and for a management entity that would be responsible for programming, maintenance and marketing. A later study determined a BID would be that entity. What happens to that directive — and roughly $2.5 million set aside, some of which was spent — is yet to be determined.

"We've given this a really, really good go," Brooks said. "But it just didn't seem to be materializing. And the reality is that downtown needs support today. So we've got to dig in, and really be able to do the work to support it."

City Council President Miguel Meléndez issued the following statement:

"Today marked the end of efforts to bring a Business Improvement District to Downtown Rochester. That end also marks a new beginning for the future of our City’s Centre.

"As a board member of the Partnership for Downtown Rochester, I would like to first acknowledge all of the community engagement efforts and divergent opinions offered in the Business Improvement District efforts, and thank the team at RDDC for capturing valuable input that will be useful as we make decisions in the future. Clearly, there are many Downtown residents, small business owners, artists and members of the broader Rochester community who strongly believe in the vitality and promise of a strong Downtown.

"That’s why it’s crucial that we now come together as a community to determine a new direction -- one that creates secure jobs, supports a strong school system and promotes safety in our streets all while engaging and working with all the stakeholders who either call downtown home or engage in their livelihoods there. I’m challenging Downtown residents, the Downtown arts community, business owners, community leaders and the City Administration to meet us at the table with ideas, plans and dreams for a Downtown that fights for equity, offers opportunity to those who need it and creates a framework that will allow the center of the Flower City to blossom for everyone."

Opponents championed the BID's demise, with a group calling itself the BID Education Committee issuing a statement that argued a BID would be "anti-democratic, unjust, and would further increase inequality in our community."

The boundaries, organization, membership and activities of the yet-to-be-formed entity had yet to be decided.

"Our elected representatives have an opportunity to invest in people-centered, democratically-accountable initiatives that prioritize equity and the needs of the many, instead of the desires of the few," the statement read.

Includes reporting by Gino Fanelli.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.