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Home/Design 2005

Where the people are living beautiful


Who needs New York City-style housing? People in Western New York tend to use city comparisons to denote sleek luxury and urban cool. But anyone who lives in New York City knows that the free-for-all that passes for real estate there is the bane of financial security and sanity. Shower in the corner of the living room? A kitchen smaller than a mini van? In the city, these are not deal breakers.

Luckily the jump in the number of urban apartments in Rochester has not led to insanity. The only thing approaching crazy about all the high-rent lofts, condominiums, and apartments cropping up downtown is that people can't get enough of them. In all the talk about how to attract people to the city's core --- Renaissance Square, a performing arts center, a casino --- a stream of people has quietly but steadily been strolling in and setting up house.

Are we seeing a revival of downtown?

"Yes, I think that's precisely what's happening," says Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation. "And it took us by surprise. There's a tipping point that happens, and I think we're on that point."

Zimmer-Meier says housing development is leading the turnaround, and this has three benefits: "It creates a demand for retail and restaurants, it creates a secure environment when you have people there 24/7, and it increases the city's tax base, which is critical."

One surprise is the number of people willing to rent apartments at $800 to $3000 a month. "In this market what you can buy for that is significant," she says. "But the quality and architecture is so attractive to people that they're willing to forego owning. That speaks volumes about the appeal of the environment and the lifestyle."

There are still challenges: a shaky outlook for the regional economy, sewing together the distinct downtown neighborhoods, and forever the question of what to do with the Sibley Building and Midtown Plaza --- keystones on the Main Street and Clinton Avenue intersection.

In this issue of Home Design, we're looking at the East End neighborhood, once the seat of Rochester's richest families.

"There's a really good and varied stock of buildings from before WWII," says Katherine Eggers Comeau, preservation advisor with the Landmark Society, "and they tend to be really solidly built. In some cases, it's taken a while for developers to see the potential of these buildings."

But the idea has caught on now. This year's Landmark Society Inside Downtown Tour (which opened East End buildings to the public) sold over 1,600 tickets, an approximately 70 percent increase over last year.

With older commercial buildings being reclaimed for loft and luxury apartments and condominiums, the East End is again attracting people with money who want to live in the city's cultural heart. This has been true for the last few decades, but variations on the mantra "cultural amenities, all within walking distance," were for some time repeated as if somebody needed convincing. Now, developers can't seem to open the doors to spacious, fabulous, urban chic housing fast enough.

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In This Guide...

  • Aloft in downtown

    "People like being around people," says Gary Stern, of Stern Properties, explaining the new population density downtown. "I think people want to get back to what it was like, at least for me, when they were a kid.

  • Before the war

    Maybe the most anticipated housing development in downtown Rochester's recent history is The Sagamore on East, a $13 million new building of 23 luxury condominiums on East Avenue. While most other housing projects downtown reutilize older construction, The Sagamore has risen from an empty spot, what, since the '60s, has been a tear in East Avenue's landscape.

  • Put your car away

    Brian Short, site manager for the Temple Building, knows his building offers amenities beyond the new appliances and hi-tech security systems. "There was a guy from Holland, and he's going to be here five years for work," Short says.

  • I made this for you

    Two artists who create art for your home
    Glass artist Nancy Gong is committed to her research. Every piece she makes is created for a person.