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Metro ink - 5.31.06



It was October 2004. Lex Blaakman was talking to God. Or God was talking to him through a paintbrush. He drew, he says, something wholly unfamiliar: a painting of a giant wave juxtaposed with football legend Reggie White with a heart on his forehead. Just two months later, on December 26, the tsunami devastated coastal communities across Asia and parts of Africa. And White died of heart failure. Some would call it coincidence; Blaakman calls it divine inspiration.

Blaakman is one of 14 painters whose works are on display at the new JoyGallery, a Christian-themed art gallery on Genesee Street. Contributing artists are all members of Rochester's Restoration Art Guild, who create what's known as "praise and worship paintings." Most of their works, the artists say, are created inside churches, and aren't sketched out in advance. "It's of the moment and it feels more spiritual to me," Blaakman says.

"Some of us actually get visions from God," says fellow Guild member Richmond Futch, an ordained minister and artist.

The artists' works will be on display until September 20, says the gallery's founder, Luvon Sheppard, an art professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Sheppard, who also owns a studio on Hudson Avenue, says he bought the 19th Ward property several months ago. He and other artists gutted the building to create the six-room gallery. Sheppard would eventually like to host evening activities such as concerts and lectures.

Many of the works have strong Christian overtones. Crosses, crucifixes, and religious quotations abound, and Sheppard says he recognizes that Christian art may not appeal to everyone. Beautiful form, he says, "is what's going to bridge us into the normal community."

The gallery, at 551 Genesee Street, is open to the public free of charge from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment. Information: Eddie Gaither at 224-9998.

--- Sujata Gupta


Half a year ago, Jo Ann Morreale was ready to close shop. Morreale, the owner of The Cinema theater at the Clinton-Goodman intersection, said she couldn't afford rising maintenance costs for the old building, including roof and lighting repairs.

But with the help of Friends of The Cinema, a group that formed after Morreale's announcement, The Cinema's future seems brighter. Literally. To celebrate repairs to the roof and marquee --- along with Morreale's 23rd anniversary as The Cinema's owner --- Morreale will turn on the marquee lights between the first and second movies June 1 (around 8:45 p.m.).

Morreale's also raising ticket prices. General admission, which has been $3 since she began operating the theater, will be $5 beginning June 2. Concessions will increase 50 cents per item. Both hikes will allow the theater to expand its offerings and show certain movies earlier to their release date, according to an online announcement.

--- Sujata Gupta


What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, Monroe County Democrats were about to get their third chair in nearly as many months. The party was in debt and hadn't had a single fundraiser. And most of the buzz surrounding the party was about fights between various factions within it as the mayoral primary heated up.

This year, with that bitter primary behind them and a steady chair in place in the person of Joe Morelle, the party's fortunes look better than they have in some time.

The best evidence of that was the presence of former presidential strategist James Carville at least week's fundraiser banquet. Nicknamed "the ragin' Cajun," Carville looks like Lord Voldemort and sounds (once he's warmed up, at least) like a Southern preacher hurling fire and brimstone. But that combination didn't seem to faze the 600-strong crowd of party faithful who turned out to see him.

He didn't disappoint, tossing out a slew of jokes mainly at the expense of Republicans, like this one about a recent Senate proposal to make English the nation's official language: "We would be the only country in the world whose president couldn't speak the official language," he quipped.

According to the party's communications director, Colleen McCarthy, the dinner netted the Dems at least at least $100,000. That puts the amount they've raised so far this year above $350,000.

Of course, when Maggie Brooks does a fundraiser these days, she rakes in receipts in the seven-figure range. Still, considering where they've come from and how quickly, Democrats can't complain too much.

"We're really thrilled with the way things turned out," McCarthy says.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


The Little Theatre Film Society's quest to fill its executive director position ended last week with the appointment of Bob Russell, effective June 12. A Rochester native, Russell brings to the Little a wealth of experience in the local entertainment community. He spent the last six years as Geva's director of marketing, and a few years before that promoting the Rochester Rhinos as their VP of operations.

Russell is the fourth person to head the Little in the past 18 months, and he inherits an institution in dire need of stable leadership. His focus, he says, will be "membership, education, and outreach," with an eye toward increasing membership by 3,000 over the next five years. Russell attended matinees as a child in the Lyell-Glide area, and he says he understood early on that film-going wasn't so much about the movies as "about community," a way of thinking he plans to bring to the job --- along with, he says, a "passion for the Little Theatre."

--- Dayna Papaleo


Credit Tom Suozzi with being tough.

Despite a lag in the polls that would send lesser politicians off to spend more time with their family, Suozzi says he's in the governor's race for the duration.

At an event in Rochester last week to unveil his economic platform, Suozzi said he's hoping his outsider mantle will propel him to victory in the September Democratic primary.

Here's how Suozzi says it'll work. The polls have Spitzer leading by an insurmountable 60-some percentage points. But most of them survey likely primary voters, the party's core members. Those are the same people --- "insiders," Suozzi likes to call them --- who've already anointed Eliot Spitzer governor. But only about 12 to 14 percent of eligible voters --- that partisan core --- usually vote in primaries, Suozzi contends. He hopes to "dramatically increase" that number with his populist message.

That begins with his economic plan. The plan contains some detail and tends to favor easing regulations on businesses rather than injecting massive public investments into targeted sectors, as Spitzer has advocated. (See "Wooing Upstate," March 8.)

Like Spitzer, however, Suozzi is advocating a regional approach to economic growth, and he says if he's elected, he'll have a series of regional meetings to let communities set their own growth agendas.

"It's been a top-down approach," he says. "It's been a scattershot approach. You have to have a long-term vision."

At least some in the crowd liked what they heard. The Rochester Business Alliance's CEO Sandy Parker stood to thank Suozzi publicly for outlining many of the same principles of the "Unshackle Upstate" initiative that RBA has been instrumental in promoting. Parker stopped short of endorsing Suozzi, but she said the endorsement of the RBA's political-action committee will depend on how closely candidates' platforms line up with the "Unshackle Upstate" agenda.

"I found it a thoughtful speech," says Kent Gardner, CEO and chief economist at the non-partisan Center for Governmental Research. "He's clearly considered the 'Unshackle Upstate' agenda and embraced most of it, evidencing an understanding of the issues, not just knee-jerk political agreement."

Of course, Suozzi has to win to implement his ideas, and at the rate the campaign's going, much of this is likely to remain in the realm of rhetoric. Suozzi came close to admitting that in an exchange with the Rochester Business Journal's Will Astor.

Astor was trying to get Suozzi to talk about what comes after the gubernatorial race, and after one fruitless attempt, Astor rephrased the question, describing Suozzi's defeat as "unthinkable."

"Well, it's not that unthinkable, is it?" Suozzi came back. There was a moment where everybody --- reporters, campaign staff, Suozzi himself --- froze. Then the candidate caught himself and added with a chuckle, "We're about truth-telling here."

You can read the text of the economic-renewal speech Suozzi delivered in Rochester online at his campaign website:here.

--- Krestia DeGeorge



Rochester property is cheap, and at least one big-city developer has taken notice.

New York City-based Maximus Real Estate Fund began buying property here about five years ago, starting with an apartment complex on Chestnut Street. Most recently, in 2005, Maximus bought three Water Street buildings after One Beacon Insurance Company closed its offices there. "This was a unique opportunity," says Maximus Director VladShneyder. "We were able to buy fully vacant property."

While Beacon's headquarters --- 26,000 square feet of office space --- was built in the mid-1980s, along with an adjacent one-story annex, the third site (the former Davie building) was built about 100 years earlier. There is demand in Rochester for new or renovated office spaces, but not older ones, Shneyder says.

So Maximus converted the six-story DavieBuilding into loft-style apartments. Shneyder agrees that similar projects have taken off in Rochester recently, but, he says: "A lot of people in Rochester create really large lofts. We were looking for something on the smaller side."

The DavieBuilding --- renamed Riverview Lofts --- is meant to attract young professionals. Rents, which include heat, hot water, covered parking (one vehicle per unit), and wireless service, range from $625 to $1,150.

On a recent tour of Riverview, leasing director Angela Bellows said rents reflect both a unit's size and the view, with many of the pricier units overlooking the river and downtown. The units lack some of the luxuries typically associated with lofts: there's carpeting rather than hardwood floors, for instance, and there's no central air. But the lofts have retained some old-style charm, including late 19th-century wrought-iron balconies bordering many units. These, she says, are strictly decorative: "I would not even allow a geranium out there."

Nine of the 36 units have already been rented, and Shneyder says Maximus is seeking tenants for the two office complexes.

--- Sujata Gupta


Two weeks after he imposed his sentence on cage-free activist Adam Durand, Judge Dennis Kehoe is reversing himself --- slightly. Durand is in the WayneCounty jail serving a 180-day sentence for trespassing at the Wegmans egg farm. He also received $1,500 in fines and a year's probation. Durand's attorney, Leonard Egert, says Kehoe sent him a letter saying he will drop the probation because the law doesn't permit him to impose both the maximum jail sentence --- which he did on two of the charges --- and probation.

A new sentencing is scheduled for June 6. Kehoe, says Egert, "says he'll keep the jail sentence the same."

--- Krestia DeGeorge