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More thoughts on Parcel 5

I walk by Parcel 5 every day, and after over a year of imagining the possibilities, my thinking on the best use of this space has changed significantly.

I believe strongly that a city prospers from its core outward. As such, I am pro-development and (even more specifically) pro-density. For that reason, I had supported development of Parcel 5 as a way to 1) continue the street wall on Main Street, and 2) add residential population to the heart of downtown. The theater and residential tower project just seemed a convenient means to that end.

However, my opinion has flipped completely. I believe it should be a park, and here is a vision of how we could pull this off with virtually all interests coming out as winners.

1) Parcel 5 should be developed as THE city park in the heart of our downtown "tower district."

2) The park could be called "Douglass Park" and could feature the Frederick Douglass monument that once graced downtown, but now unceremoniously resides in Highland Park.

3) Devoting this space to a park could eliminate the significant cost of building underground parking for any proposed development.

4) The park could be designed to serve a dual purpose: both as a beautiful, tree-lined urban park and as a festival venue for major performances and events that could support 5,000+ people.

5) My biggest concern with using the space as a park has always been the break in the street wall on Main Street. Secondarily, it was the potential loss of residential units that would add to the population density in the center city.

This density is critical to the introduction and success of quality retail downtown. These concerns could be alleviated, however, by rimming the park with a uniquely urban, one-story micro-retail edifice that would essentially serve as the "fencing" to the park. There could be arched entrances in the middle of all four sides of the park as breaks in this retail wall.

These miniaturized retail storefronts would encourage specialty or novelty use at low overhead costs for merchants. This could add year-round vibrancy to the park and actually make the sight lines inside and outside the park more attractive. The roof of this one-story "retail fence" could even be purposed as additional greenspace (including trees?) and seating capacity for event use.

6) On the residential side of things, the city could work with the same developers to utilize the tiny adjacent Parcel 4 as a 25-35 story, ultra-thin high-rise. This would further envelop Douglass Park in skyscrapers, which is one of the things that makes the space so interesting in the first place. The addition of another residential tower so close to the newly redeveloped 88 Elm and soon-to-be-redeveloped Cadillac Hotel would significantly add to the density of the area. Imagine the increased attractiveness of these units if residents could simply step outside to Douglass Park.

7) Now the trickiest part: the Performing Arts Center and its $25 million commitment from Tom Golisano. There is a very logical solution: Build this on Parcel 10 (the riverside parking lot next to the Blue Cross Arena), which has already been studied and recommended for this project.

If we are to become a more cosmopolitan city, we need to expand our definition of downtown and what is considered "walkable." Parcel 10 would present RBTL with everything it wants to foster a vibrant scene. Imagine a riverside Performing Arts Center – sort of our own little version of Sydney's Opera House.

8) And last, but not least: Why not think even bigger and broader? If we could build the PAC on Parcel 10 next to Blue Cross Arena, why not package a new arena into the mix and build both facilities at the same time? There could probably be some savings realized by building these once-in-a-generation community assets side by side. We need a new arena, and the case could be made that more Rochesterians would benefit from an arena than a theater (culture be damned). What a complex that could be!


On Urban Journal's "Parcel 5 Plan Proceeds; So Will the Criticism": I would respectfully like to clarify that a strong piece of the argument against this project has nothing to do with support for the arts in our city. I think we can all agree that RBTL and the scores of organizations, big and small, that make this a colorful home for the arts are the pride of Rochester.

The issue is the location of the proposed theater as well as the initial and continued support for it without a conversation with our residents. We believe that a downtown that is becoming a neighborhood is better suited for mixed use public space, which has been shown to usher in similar investment dollars and job creation in cities like Rochester across the country.

Furthermore, with downtown becoming a neighborhood once again, public space is desperately needed to create a level of flexibility and livability within the area.

Furthermore, while we welcome visitors from the suburbs and beyond with open arms, the belief is that this projects send a clear message to Rochester residents that their wishes are not taken seriously. Cities across the country make the same mistake of trying to create entertainment hubs, but the cities that are succeeding are the ones that put the voices of their rebounding residential populations first. And, of course, our residents are our best ambassadors. When happy, they will be the ones telling their friends on the outskirts to check out Rochester again.

This isn't about the arts at all, with all respect. It's simply about the most important piece of land in our city, and our residents believe that their wishes should be considered first.


Connect Canal Path to Riverway

The ROC the Riverway plan offers an exciting opportunity to revitalize our riverfront, but it comes with a hefty price tag and misses an opportunity to tie in two projects to get more people to the revitalized riverfront.

The Erie Canal bike path is one of the region's best attractions, and New York State has committed to "Closing the Gaps," completing the trail from Buffalo to Albany and beyond. The problem is that the trail completely misses the City Center. In Gates it starts heading south, and unless someone wants to take a lengthy detour north, they will never see all the upgrades planned for the river corridor.

The river revitalization should include a trail connecting the canal path to the river path somewhere near High Falls. Much of the empty land required to do this is already there. The abandoned railway that runs from Lee Road at the canal parallel to Ferrano Street could be converted to a multi-use trail.

A Google Map search shows that the rail bed and many of the bridges are still there, running all the way to the soccer stadium. Connecting from there with clearly marked on-street bike trails will complete the path to the river. Cyclist traveling through could visit High Falls, the revitalized City Center, and other attractions, then continue down the river trail till it reconnects with the canal path near Genesee Valley Park.

This would be a much nicer ride than following the current canal path out past the airport. It would also showcase the river revitalization and contribute to our local economy with more visits to the City Center.


A plastics ban

Not only do we need to ban plastic bags, we need to ban plastic drink bottles. too. They are everywhere. I was just on a backwater swamp tour in Louisiana, and there were dozens of bottles tangled up in the weeds along the shore. We've all seen stories about the plastic problem in our oceans. We need a better option.