by Sujata Gupta
“Cool” in Rochester is the youth-oriented Park Avenue area, or the East End-Alexander area on a summer night, with crowds from clubs and bars spilling out onto the sidewalks. But there’s lots to experience in the city. And lots of development under way or in the planning stages. Alongside large-scale ventures, such as the High Falls entertainment district and new riverside housing development, are smaller projects. Not even projects, really, but efforts: the efforts of residents to enliven their neighborhoods.
Whether you like scoping out multimillion-dollar ventures or little neighborhood treasures, you’ll learn a lot about the city by exploring it.
Some people would love to dismantle part of Rochester’s Inner Loop, the highway system that circles downtown and cuts it off from its surrounding neighborhoods. But downtown is a neighborhood itself. And while Sibley’s department store no longer dominates the retail scene, and Midtown Plaza, the nation’s first indoor mall, waits for redevelopment or dismantling, other things are springing up or being planned.
The biggest of them is the Renaissance Square project, the combo transit center, performing arts space, and college campus. New housing continues to be developed downtown, the latest being the high-end Sagamore near from the Eastman Theatre.
There is housing throughout the center city, however: in historic row houses and contemporary townhouses in the Gibbs Street area, lofts in converted commercial buildings, and a good amount of low and moderate-income apartments.
Downtown houses many of the region’s arts venues, of course --- and then there’s the proposal --- conceived by artist Kenichiro Sato --- to create a mosaic of 10,000 photographs on a wall of SUNY Brockport’s Metro Center on St. Paul Street, part of his idea for a Rochester Outdoor Museum of Art.
On downtown’s northwestern edge, in the High Falls district, attempts to create an entertainment district have struggled, but businesses --- particularly those with a creative focus --- are being drawn to the area.
On the western fringe is a neighborhood of historic importance: the Susan B. Anthony Preservation District, with a beautiful small park and Victorian homes that include Anthony’s own, now a museum.
The efforts of neighborhood associations and the Landmark Society have preserved much of East Avenue’s historic appeal, including many mansions and churches. Nearby Park Avenue, with its cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, has become the Mecca for 20-somethings. And nestled beside Cobbs Hill Park on the Brighton-city line is one of the city’s most charming small neighborhoods, the Cobbs Hill area.
One of the area’s most recent successes is ArtWalk, an “interactive museum without walls,” with sculpture and curbside gardens lining University Avenue. Perpendicular to University is North Goodman, the location of Village Gate Square and the Arts & Cultural Council. While Village Gate’s north side already showcases a gigantic mural, look for a new one soon, the folks at the Arts & Cultural Council hint.
For a different feel, stroll down Monroe Avenue, with its eclectic mix of attractions. On the western end: the fine Greek restaurant, the Olive Tree; the popular bar known as the Bug Jar, and Wadsworth Square, the small Victorian neighborhood whose attractions include the Abundance Cooperative Market. Walk the length of Monroe to the Brighton line and you’ll pass Gitsis Texas Hots, an all-night diner, and Show World, the adult entertainment business whose owner, angered by neighborhood activists, painted part of his building bright green. Just before you cross into Brighton is Cobbs Hill Park, whose hilltop offers one of the best views of the city.
In the distinctive South Wedge, neighborhood residents and businesses have preserved not only the area’s numerous moderate-sized 19th-century houses and buildings but also its important economic mix. South Avenue boasts a mix of bohemian businesses and restaurants. Developers recently purchased an abandoned building and empty lots at South and Gregory and plan a green grocery store and a commercial-residential mix.
At South and Alexander, artist Pepsy Kettavong and others have been at work in a small pocket park, featuring intricate gates. And check out the hip Boulder Coffee Co. at Alexander and South Clinton, with the phenomenal mural along the exterior.
The southern part of the city also includes two of the region’s most important green spaces: Highland Park, with its extensive collection of lilacs, and the large, beautiful Mt. Hope Cemetery, where guided tours will take you past the gravesites of such notables as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
Urban by Choice. That’s the 19th Ward Community Association’s motto (and also the name of their merchandise line), and it reflects the pride of the neighborhood’s residents, who set out more than 30 years ago to nurture a strong, racially integrated neighborhood. Some of the city’s most active residents, 19th Warders remain intensely involved in schools, housing, and community development. For 20 years, they have been pushing for a “college town” at Brooks and Genesee. That initiative moved toward reality a few months ago when ground was broken on the long-awaited Brooks Landing project, which will include hotels and a coffee shop.
The city’s southwest quadrant abounds in murals. Black Bart remains the icon of a building on the corner of Genesee and Columbia Streets, and Jefferson Avenue boasts perhaps the largest collection of murals in the city, including a depiction of Noah’s Ark on the side of a church at Cady Street.
The Corn Hill Preservation District, bordering downtown, melds new apartments and townhouses with some of Rochester’s oldest houses. A neighborhood focal point is Plymouth Circle, with its park and gazebo. Each July, the Corn Hill neighborhood association hosts one of the region’s largest, most popular art and crafts events, the Corn Hill Arts Festival.
Along the river, the much anticipated Corn Hill Landing project is nearing completion. The $20 million project will feature riverfront housing, retail, restaurants, and office space.
Part of the city’s northwest is dominated by the massive Kodak complex, but there’s more to this area than an industrial park.
Soccer fans and city officials alike are eagerly awaiting the completion of Paetec Park, the new stadium for the professional soccer team, the Rochester Rhinos. Located near Lyell Avenue, Paetec Park will join neighboring Frontier Field in creating a sports neighborhood just north of downtown. Also in that neighborhood: efforts are also being made to decorate lampposts or create murals, including art projects along the sound barriers that separate the area from Route 490.
Driving north, you’ll see “In the Garden,” a muralcreated by local artist Rick Muto on the post office at Dewey and Lexington Avenues. More art is tucked away near the Maplewood YMCA: the “Seat of Remembering and Forgetting.” Park your car, walk down the river-gorge path, and soon enough you’ll see this seat surrounded by large sculptures etched with faces and hands. Then wander through the Maplewood Rose Garden, home to the annual Maplewood Rose Festival.
All the way north, in the Charlotte neighborhood, is one of the city’s most important treasures, the port and lake area. The ferry’s gone, but there’s been plenty to enjoy in Charlotte all along: restaurants, night life, a lighthouse museum, the landmark Abbott’s custard stand, and Ontario Beach Park, with its beach, pier, summer concerts, and historic carousel. And big plans are in the works: a riverside village with commercial and residential spaces and a marina.
Rochester’s northeastern quadrant is a typical slice of an American city: within a few square miles are large homes housing upper-income families, solid working-class neighborhoods, and some of the city’s poorest areas. It’s an area of Latinos, African-Americans, Polish-immigrant descendants, and WASPS, of ethnic foods and lovely old churches, of dense residential areas and the city’s beautiful Seneca Park along the Genesee River Gorge. And it’s an area served by strong community organizations like North East Area Development and the 14621 association.
Here, too, are hidden treasures. On walks along North Clinton Avenue, Albert Algarin, president of the North Clinton Merchant’s Association, points to bright yellow and red facades on commercial buildings. These, he says, have been painted to represent Latin American culture.
Community activists’ efforts may be rewarded soon with the development of La Marketa, a long-awaited Hispanic marketplace. Although the city is still finalizing some details, reports are that ground will soon be broken.
Other things to watch for: mural artist Shawn Dunwoody’s plan to create, with Avenue D Recreation Center youths, a relief on the facility’s front wall, and a proposed biking-hiking trail that will run from near the Seneca Park Zoo southward to St. Paul and Scrantom Streets.
The northeast area is also home to what many call Rochester’s coolest feature: the Rochester Public Market, a bustling indoor-outdoor marketplace offering everything from fresh fish to imported cheeses. North of the market is Greater Rochester Urban Bounty, a community-run garden. Some of the produce is sold at the public market.
Rochester City Living, a program designed to help those interested in learning more about life in the city, has a great website for researching different neighborhoods: http://rochestercityliving.com; 232-4663.
Thanks to the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester for helping compile lists of murals and other city art projects. The agency, along with many neighborhood groups, also helped fund many of the art projects listed.