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Renaissance man

It's not every day you get to have lunch with an internationally respected architect.

Nonetheless, Moshe Safdie expressed surprise that a crowd of nearly 900 turned out to see him over the noon hour last Thursday. The lead architect for the Renaissance Square Project said the crowd at the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation's luncheon was among the largest he could remember addressing. RDDC staff said that 830 invitations went out to leaders in the business, political, and non-profit communities, and plenty of other people heard about the event and showed up.

Safdie's talk consisted mainly of photos of his past projects and explanations of how he had worked to fit each one into their cultural and physical landscape.

"He has a way, it seems, of capturing the essence of a community," says RDDC President Heidi Zimmer-Meyer.

In the relatively brief periods that he spoke about Renaissance Square, Safdie stressed the importance of community involvement in the project. Paraphrasing architect Louis Sullivan, he told the crowd: "Every client gets the architecture they deserve. Each and every one of you is a client in some sense."

The ultimate success of the project depends on "an open dialogue," he said. "I think we will succeed if we have your support."

When that open dialogue begins, there will still be plenty of tough questions about the project, questions that have dogged it from its inception. In a brief Q-and-A session after Safdie's talk, County Exec Maggie Brooks posed one of them directly, about the underground bus terminal.

Safdie's response: "If when we are through, you use the phrase 'underground bus station,' we have failed." Though he didn't offer many specifics, Safdie said with the use of natural lighting and other devices, the terminal would be as much of an attraction as the rest of the project.

"I would hope that by the time we're through, the patronage of the public bus system will rise because of the facility," he said.

It's tough to gauge reactions to such events, but based on comments she and her staff gathered, Safdie's appearance seems to have excited attendees "because he chose Rochester," Zimmer-Meyer says. "The import of that was not lost on this crowd."

The first in a series of public workshops on the project will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, at City Place, 50 West Main Street.

TV guide

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At least that's the case for Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain and corporate parent to the Democrat and Chronicle.

Last week the company announced that Craig A. Dubow, who has headed the company's TV division, will be its new president and CEO, beginning July 15. (Current CEO Doug McCorkindale will continue as chair for another year.) McCorkindale was "the first CEO Gannett's ever had who has never been a journalist," Rochester Newspaper Guild President Steve Orr told City recently ("Dollars or Sense," May 4). "To us, it was kind of a symbolic letdown that probably says something about the directions of the company."

Dubow makes two in a row. That's not lost on newspaper analyst John Morton, who told the Washington Post that he and other industry observers were surprised at the choice. (Gary Watson, head of Gannett's more profitable newspaper division, was the odds-on favorite, Morton said.)

"This signals a bit of a change in who is going to be at the top," said Morton, "but I suspect it is not going to have a big impact on how the company is run. It is a bottom-line-run company, and that won't change."

Locally, it appears that the chances of the newsroom union's push for a new contract won't change, either. Last week the Guild and the paper's management held another bargaining session, but neither side pretended that any progress was made. Since that's been the case for 12 years, the Guild's been asking to call in a federal mediator, a proposal management has again rebuffed.

"The company bargainer said it wouldn't help because his contract proposal is so perfect that it would be a waste of the taxpayers' money to have a federal mediator try to persuade the company to alter its language --- or words to that effect," says Orr.

Asked for management's viewpoint, Vice President for Corporate Communications Tom Flynn issued this terse reply: "Contract negotiations with the union continue. We are meeting on a very regular basis. We have no further comment."