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Downtown residents form a new urban coalition


The number of people moving into downtown Rochester during the last decade has steadily increased, and proposals for more housing and other development haven't slowed down. While downtown's buildings were once largely devoted to retail and commercial uses, the focus has changed. Now the area is evolving into a patchwork of small neighborhoods, and some leaders from those neighborhoods have formed an umbrella organization they're calling Center City Community Coalition: C4.

Organizers say C4 is for all of downtown's residents, whether they live in a neighborhood with many residential buildings or in a more isolated apartment building. Like most neighborhood groups, C4's mission is to press city officials on quality-of-life issues such as trash removal, noise reduction, and safety.

"We are a resident-focused organization," says Suzanne Mayer, one of C4's organizers. But downtown residents have some concerns that are different from those in city neighborhoods like Park Avenue and Corn Hill.

The development of Parcel 5, for instance, will have a direct impact on downtown residents, says Mayer. Similarly, she has concerns about proposals for the filled-in portion of the Inner Loop and for Block F, the vacant lot across from the Eastman Theatre. Block F is a prime downtown site, and the University of Rochester has an option to purchase it.

"We're not anti-development at all," says Mayer. "We welcome the development." But there's been considerable attention given to what city officials call the visitor experience – people coming downtown to visit the Strong National Museum of Play and the Fringe Xerox International Jazz Festivals, she says.

What about the many people who call downtown home? Shouldn't they have an influence on development rather than simply be told what will be built next door to them, she asks.

The residents and neighborhood groups that C4 is trying to encompass range from well-established organizations and to new ones. The Grove Place Association, for instance, has been active for decades. It is now expanding its coverage to include Charlotte Square and the Sagamore on East Avenue, Mayer says.

The Midtown Community Association, which includes residents of Tower280, the Metropolitan, the Sibley building, and others, is just getting off the ground. Mayer, who lives in Grove Place, says the more established associations can help the newer ones grow.

Instead of traditional association meetings, C4 organizers are holding more casual social gatherings to promote its efforts and build support. The next event, which they're calling "Festivals and Fun," will be on Wednesday, April 11, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Studio 180, at 180 St. Paul Street. Information about the status of downtown projects will be paired with live jazz and food, says Mayer.

Organizing is the real issue, says Mayer, so that people living in Grove Place or an apartment complex like Andrews Terrace all have a voice in the future of downtown.