Council's vote on the Cobbs Hill Village plan
I have never been more proud of my city than when City Council voted to approve the Cobbs Hill Village project. Because of this vote, 70 new residents will have affordable housing (44 new units, with 24 of these units being two- bedroom townhouses likely to have two people per unit).
In addition, the existing 60 motel-style units will be demolished and the existing residents will move into 60 larger units with improved amenities.
This means a total of 130 people will have up-to-date affordable housing. And these units will be constructed in the wealthier southeast neighborhood rather than in our poorer neighborhoods.
I say bravo to the Council members who voted for the project, and I ask those who voted against it: Where was your compassion? City Council, thank you, thank you.
The fate of Parcel 5
People in the Rochester metro area routinely complain about taxpayers being on the hook for Frontier Field and Capelli Sport Stadium (or whatever we are calling it these days). Community members and politicians should regard a performing arts center as no different from any sports stadium.
Theaters, like sports stadiums, are entertainment venues. As with stadiums, the Rochester Broadway Theatre League will use the proposed Golisano Performing Arts Center only a projected 200 nights – at best, according to the organization's hopeful projections. The theater will arguably be a large, dark shell most of the year.
And the PAC will be in exactly the wrong place for that darkness: City Center. The PAC will be no different than the Convention Center or any other large fortress within the city limits. If city officials were not going to leave Parcel 5 as an outdoor community gathering place and green space, then housing with a large dedicated green space would have been a better use.
The bottom line: This is a terrible location for this project. Nearly every architect with whom I have spoken agrees. And the PAC does nothing to address deep-seated extreme poverty. Nor does it help the vast majority of Rochesterians who will be unable to attend performances because they do match the RBTL's stated demographics.
In fact, the majority of people who can afford to attend a Broadway musical will come from outside the city, park in the parking garage, watch the show, then return home, without spending any money on the surrounding amenities or businesses.
That occurs in other cities, especially regarding stadiums and theaters. And the age demographic of the temporary visitors will be a generation or two removed from the vast majority of people who live within the city center. Moreover, as RBTL admits, the money that theater-goers spend on tickets will not stay in the City of Rochester.
Above all, there are so many unanswered questions raised by the announcement regarding Parcel 5. Rochesterians need to ask: Is a new performing arts center truly needed? What will become of RBTL's current home, the Auditorium Theatre, which was purchased and renovated in 2013 using New York State taxpayer dollars, is fully functional, attracts top-rate productions, and will be a large, mothballed hole once it is vacated? (RBTL staff have been working feverishly to address this question, but should we believe their latest ideas?)
Why not build off the back of the current space (along College Avenue), in ways similar to Shea's Buffalo Theatre and elsewhere? Why build such an expensive place for a not-for-profit organization, when the city is bemoaning the loss of tax revenue?
Why do we always turn to the same people and developers, when the reality is that there are many potential developers, partners, and community members with creative ideas and plans who could do just as well if supported and given a chance?
The city's actions made a sham out of the RFP process. What developer will want to submit a proposal in the future?
If a new performance space is in fact needed, a better location would be the site of the former Beebe Station in the High Falls, Genesee Gateway Park along Mount Hope Avenue, or any number of other places in the City of Rochester. Wouldn't Rochesterians rather have an "endless bridge" cantilevered over the Genesee River – similar to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis – than a large box cemented in place in the center of the city?
I write as one who loves Rochester and who has lived here for 45 years. Originally from Portland, Oregon, I do not compare Rochester to the amazing place of my origin. But I think it's OK to mention that one of the great amenities of Portland are the "Park Blocks," spanning many streets in the center city.
Designed by Frederic Law Olmsted, they provide trees, shade, and people-space for Portlanders. We in Rochester have no opportunity for anything similar, but we do have Parcel 5, which gives us a chance to have a space not covered with buildings for people to congregate, hold concerts, have outdoor Christmas markets, etc. Restaurants and small shops might also be located adjacent to Parcel 5.
Many have seen on PBS how cities throughout the world hold concerts, with, say, the Three Tenors, in large outdoor areas. Chicago, where I lived for several years, has the enormous Grant Park, where concerts occur. I was recently in Oaxaca, Mexico, and attended an outdoor concert in their large "Zocalo" center city park.
Washington Park is pleasant but limited, offering little opportunity as a concert venue. There are no restaurants adjacent to it. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, beside the Strong museum, is not very accessible to people. It is also badly designed. Concerts are held there, but the space for them is less than ideal. In addition, the trees and the hillocks on which they are planted are conducive to a park-goer's feeling isolated and unsafe, not fulfilling what a park should offer.
The other big issue of Parcel 5 is the possibility of a new theater being constructed on that spot. What we are offered is (in my opinion) a characterless glass building that would be mainly used from time to time to bring Broadway shows that a small number of Rochester and suburban citizens attend. Ticket prices are often at least $60.
The beautiful Auditorium Theater is deemed not appropriate or adequate for the needs of some Broadway productions. Is there no possibility to do some upgrades to that architecturally significant building? And it "looks" like a real theater, not a glass box.
Lastly, the over-arching question: How will a new theater be financed? Once built, it still needs maintenance. Who pays for all this?