AFTER THE FERRY: VISION?
I am sad about the decision to abandon the ferry, because it represented, to me, a visionary approach to stimulating more tourism in this area. It is important to be fiscally responsible, and I understand Mayor Duffy's reasoning, but sometimes one needs to dare to do something risky in order to mobilize people around a goal. In this case, we needed to make the commitment to make the ferry work despite the cost-benefit analysis.
As someone who worked with many businesses as a consultant, I admit to being skeptical about most cost-benefit analyses, because they start with an assumption about a specific solution and then figure out the costs. The more creative way is to start with an acceptable cost and then figure out how one can solve the problem or realize the vision within that cost. By having groups of citizens doing problem solving and coming up with creative approaches to the fast ferry issue, I can't help but think that we can find a way to retrieve some of the benefits the ferry could have offered our area. Perhaps that process can still be used to move forward with the asset redistribution.
I agree that Duffy made a hard decision and may have saved the city significant money in the short run. But I will be watching to see if a new visionary approach appears to address the jobs issues and development of this area's great potential for tourism.
Sue Rodgers, East Irondequoit
Congratulations, Mayor Duffy! We finally have someone with brains and who cares about the people of Rochester.
Dave Kaspersin, Dewey Avenue, Rochester
NEXT: REN SQUARE
Well, it's happened. Our ferry has foundered. I hope this experience will make us rethink how we pursue economic development.
I wouldn't argue that a city or county government has no business in the development business. But, governments often over-reach when there's free money at stake. A good example to my mind is High Falls.
Ideally, Rochester would have simply stabilized the historic structures along the gorge, provided planning guidance for private rehabilitation or infill, and offered tax incentives to business pioneers. If the time wasn't right for business to take hold there, the city could have mothballed the district until conditions improved.
Instead, the city developed a package of cultural center, entertainment, and retail establishments that have under-performed and cost enormous sums. It was 15 or 20 years ahead of its time.
What drove this? State money. In order to capture a windfall from Albany, we built something for which there was no real demand, leaving city taxpayers to absorb the on-going financial burden. This failure has cast a pall over all future initiatives.
We are about to step off a much higher cliff, for the same reason. Renaissance Square exists not as the best way to provide for local needs, but to capture a pile of federal cash. Looks great now, at least to the construction companies, unions, workers, banks, and property owners. But where's the money to help the surrounding area?
Where's the wealth to endow the arts center? Who'll pick up the tab when it starts to hemorrhage debt? What'll we do when it turns out to be inadequate or impractical?
What works for redevelopment is what worked when cities were first built. Government provided infrastructure: streets, water, sewers, lighting, policing, and planning guidance. Individuals and partnerships did the rest. Blocks and districts grew organically.
They weren't always ideal, but they were viable. Small investment led to large investment, not the other way around. And if one thing didn't work out, it didn't take down the whole city.
Current practice puts multiple barriers in place that discourage small, market-driven, private development, while lavishing huge subsidies on unnecessary mega-projects. Ren Square will remove the last complete historic block of Main Street, buildings designed to house the small-scale, multiple needs that support genuine sustainable development.
We're starting to smarten up, with excellent neighborhood initiatives, and intelligent planning and code revisions. But please, let's not burden the city with another poorly thought-out mega-albatross. Like Duffy said about the ferry, look at what can be done with all that money and effort if applied to the community's real needs.
Carl Pultz, Redfern Drive, Rochester
NO MORE BIG DREAMS
Part of me feels sorry for former Mayor Johnson. I too was drawn to Toronto's promise and excitement. For those of us who love urban life, Toronto is seductive in its vitality, diversity, safety, and cosmopolitan energy.
I was an early and ardent supporter of the ferry, and I still believe in the concept. But I find it unfathomable that such a costly and complicated endeavor was operated with such a lack of competence. I fault Mr. Johnson for his blind belief in this project, as if wishing hard enough would make it so. I fault his advisors for not having the courage to challenge their boss. The pervasive secrecy of this project frustrates me.
But I reserve much of the blame for the people who produced the original market analysis with its wildly optimistic numbers, on which CATS based their original business plan. I also fault the subsequent "conservative" market analysis that the city used for the 2005 season. What reality were these market studies based on?
My love affair with Toronto resulted in graduate school, two years of amazing experiences, a master's degree, and a not-insignificant amount of student-loan debt. But I was playing with my own money.
Bill Johnson's love affair with Toronto has left the citizens and taxpayers of Rochester with a not-insignificant amount of debt. More tragically, it has left us with dashed hopes and a likely reluctance to "dream big" again anytime soon.
Jason Haremza, Rochester
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