Seeking dollars for the arts
On our article on the need for funding for local arts organizations, including a proposal for a 1 percent tax on development projects: Roz Goldman is correct. We've been discussing this since the days of the Rochester Association of Art Dealers and Monroe County's Airport Art Commission.
There is enough blame to go around, but it falls squarely in the Rochester City Council and the Arts and Cultural Council. Municipalities have been doing this since the late '80s (Los Angeles), and the federal government has been doing it longer (late '50s).
What should not happen at Parcel 5
As the community reconsiders what to do with Parcel 5 in the wake of RBTL's decision to move its proposed theater elsewhere, we must stay aware of an inescapable reality. Parcel 5 is a relatively small lot – just 1.1 acres – surrounded by a densely-packed residential neighborhood. Whatever happens to Parcel 5, the needs of those living in the buildings on its immediate periphery must be carefully considered.
This has become an issue because a number of groups and individuals have put forward the vision of using Parcel 5 as an entertainment venue and town square where concerts, festivals, and similar events could be held. But have the advocates of this plan thought through the implications of employing high-powered sound systems on a regular basis in such a narrow, confined place with over 1,300 people – nearly 20 percent of the downtown population – in the range of the loudspeakers?
I am a resident of one of the buildings surrounding Parcel 5 and genuinely love living downtown, but on the occasions when loud sound has been blasted at my apartment, it has been anything but pleasant. A key reason is that, from an acoustic standpoint, Parcel 5 resembles a canyon, with sound waves bouncing off all the surrounding buildings until they become amplified further and highly distorted.
This was apparent last summer when Parcel 5 hosted an outdoor movie. The soundtrack truly invaded my home, and almost certainly those of my neighbors as well, making it impossible to carry on normal life. It became so intrusive that it was hard to hold a conversation, watch television, or do anything else, and there was no way to shut it off. Most striking, it was so muddled that it was impossible to make out any words.
The same problem occurred when two stray musicians set up an electronic keyboard and drums in the middle of Parcel 5 one afternoon and beamed their music out on an amplifier. I'm sure they assumed they had every right to play in a public space. I'm equally sure they did not for a moment consider the impact on folks in the surrounding buildings.
Those of us who live downtown realize that we can't expect the quiet of a suburban street, nor do we want that. Parades and occasional high-decibel events like the Jazz and Fringe Festivals are what we signed up for. We strongly support efforts to make the city more lively. But to have high-powered sound systems firing at us on a regular basis is not sustainable.
The activists who urge converting the space to an entertainment venue point to similar projects in cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, and Buffalo. But the fact is that those sites are almost entirely surrounded by office buildings and are much larger than Parcel 5. (Those in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, are 10 and 6 acres, respectively). What works there would not work here.
It is safe to predict, based on what we know about how people typically react in these situations, that using Parcel 5 for concerts and festivals from spring through fall would lead to many current residents moving out. One can also imagine a flood of litigation directed against the city to force it to adhere to its noise abatement codes. Given all the effort poured into convincing people to live downtown, this should be the last thing those concerned with Rochester's development would want.
Moreover, turning Parcel 5 into a concert space seems especially unnecessary given the availability of Martin Luther King, Jr. Park nearby. It has a sizable stage, a light tower, and is not surrounded by residential structures. The city already holds its very successful Thursdays in the Park series there, and the Jazz Festival has used it as a large-scale outdoor venue.
Clearly, a great deal of discussion must take place before the city decides the fate of Parcel 5. Perhaps some compromise can be reached that would satisfy those who want it to be an entertainment center, but the very real constraints of its physical configuration make me skeptical.