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Latest wave of downtown investment showers attention on Main Street corridor and parks

Rochester skyline looking east with Main Street on the left underneath a hazy sky
Max Schulte
Rochester skyline

Efforts to reinvigorate Main Street could get a $12 million boost.

A downtown park is in line for a $5 million makeover. And contaminated, city-owned land in the future High Falls State Park will be cleaned up at a cost of $4 million.

These are among 13 announced projects in a new state initiative called the Regional Revitalization Partnership that is investing in small businesses, area enhancement, construction and workforce development.

There is more to come.

The initial round of awards total $26 million of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s previously committed $80 million, with funding from state and local governments, banks and foundations.

The money for Main Street accounts for roughly half the total, with the bulk of funding focused on the western corridor. Dollars would be directed toward development, subsidies to help fill vacant storefronts, and to create “a district marketing and governance plan” for West Main. Officials clarified this would not be a business improvement district).

While there are many commercial corridors of need — Lake, North Clinton and Hudson, to name a few — the focus here would bridge downtown investment with the coming redevelopment of Bull's Head, where West Main splits into Chili and West avenues.

“The entire city of Rochester has, for decades, had a systemic under-investment in all parts of it,” said Vinnie Esposito, senior vice president of regional economic development with the state. “It's obviously worse in some sections. But there's just need everywhere.”

The company expects to begin moving in Tuesday, with the first in-office workday set for June 4.

The state has heavily invested in downtown in recent years, in a series of riverfront projects, in rebuilding State and Main streets, in Charles Carroll Park and helping Constellation Brands relocate its headquarters from Victor to its new location along the river. This latest commitment capitalizes on those efforts, he said.

“Part of economic development is finding wins, finding places where you can make a tangible difference, ideally in a targeted manner," Esposito said. "And that's one of the strategies we're working on with the RRP is saying, let's not individually scatter our investments all over the place. Let's try to do them together in a way where maybe we can be — not maybe, we will be — more effective, and then start to build more wins. That's the idea.”

Aqueduct Park will see $2 million from the partnership.

The privately owned green space is little more than a third of an acre on the west edge of the Main Street bridge, with benches and picnic tables overlooking the Genesee River.

Hochul describes it as “the epicenter” of the city’s ongoing riverfront development efforts. But Esposito said it’s underused, with few amenities.

Improvements are planned for a small park just off Main Street across the Genesee River from the Convention Center in Rochester as part of the Aqueduct Reimagined project.
Randy Gorbman
Improvement are planned for a small park just off Main St. near the Convention Center in Rochester as part of the Aqueduct Reimagined project.

Plans call for brick walkways, lighting, public art and restoration of the riverwall and historic features. Graves Street would be redone with granite pavers, much like the city did with Aqueduct Street one block over. And Orange Glory cafe plans to open a second location, adjacent to the park, in the Montgomery Building.

"It's going to be a more welcoming environment off of Main Street,” Esposito said. “It's also going to connect to ... the promenades that are going to be built along the river way, connecting into the old aqueduct, from Main Street ... so this is a really important part of the waterfront, redevelopment efforts.”

The state explanation of the award refers to an agreement between the city and the developer (which also owns Constellation Brands’ adjacent, new headquarters building) to allow continued public access and shared maintenance. A city spokesperson said that agreement lapsed in 2003.

The public-private investment “represents a sea change in how we approach community investment,” Joe Stefko, president and CEO of ROC2025, an alliance of local economic development organizations, said in a prepared statement. He went on to refer to the partnership as “an innovative national model for community and economic revitalization.”

Private partners include ESL Federal Credit Union, Five Star, M&T and Evans banks, and the KeyBank/First Niagara, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., William & Sheila Konar and Max and Marian Farash Charitable foundations.

Other awards went to expand job training and incubator programs, including for RochesterWorks to create a school-to-work initiative in city high schools and for NextCorps to expand in downtown’s Sibley Square.

The first of four major environmental cleanups is well underway in the Genesee River gorge.

Cleanup of the old city trash incinerator property on Falls Street will include some level of demolition, records show. Additional money for remediation will prepare a site on Mt. Hope Avenue between Genesee Gateway Park and Spectrum offices for development.

Hochul also included $1 million for a key development project already underway.

The money will help developer Home Leasing renovate and restore a set of four interconnected buildings on the northwest corner of Main and Clinton.

With this latest award, support from various state programs stands at $7 million for a project estimated to cost just less than $13 million.

“Yes, it's a higher amount of support than you might see among typical private, mixed-use developments,” Esposito said. “But it was a very high priority of the city ... and, honestly, I think the whole Rochester community.”

As mayor-elect, Malik Evans pointed to the corner as the type of blight he would go after once in office. Esposito said it had become an “emblem of the stasis of Rochester’s downtown, and our inability to progress. And we want to push through that.”

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.