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Many Rochesterians will likely find ROC the Riverway exciting. And it's reasonable to turn to the Genesee River as a way to boost the city's attraction and quality of life. But Rochester has a history of designing grand plans. It also has a history of over-reach and failure to follow through.
And beyond its price tag, this particular plan has some formidable obstacles, starting with public buy-in. Rochesterians' skepticism – about their city and about public officials – is plentiful. New plans also frequently create a tug-of-war between people who welcome development and those who don't.
How realistic is the plan? While city officials agree that it's not likely that every one of the ROC the Riverway projects will be created – and some may end up less expansive than the plan envisions – the plan is as real as we want it to be, says Vincent Esposito, regional director for Empire State Development. The $50 million in state funds could be just a beginning, he says; more can be tapped if the initial ROC the Riverway projects are successful.
The first step is getting public reaction to the full plan. After that, the ROC the Riverway Advisory Council will refine the plan, probably whittle it down, select the first projects, and send its recommendations to the governor's office for his approval.
One thing is clear; Rochester is experiencing unprecedented growth in its downtown corridor, and the city and other downtown interests want to keep that momentum going. Capitalizing on the Genesee River, making it the centerpiece of the city's downtown vitality, is not an unreasonable idea. And it's not original, either. It's been successful in many cities with similar assets.
The riverfront development needs to help encourage life downtown after 5 p.m. and through all four seasons. That's a tall order, but whatever projects are identified and finally approved need to include those that will encourage a year-round attraction to downtown.
And we learned from the city's earlier attempt at redeveloping the High Falls district into an entertainment center that the marketplace needs to guide itself. After years of struggle and some business failures, the district has successfully transitioned into a smart mix of offices and residential properties that are unique and desirable.
And perhaps most important is collaborating on a plan that will be so successful that it leads to further development.
The advisory board is there for guidance, Yudelson says. And the city has developed renderings to serve only as a visual aid, he says. No final designs have been completed, and there's plenty of time for public engagement.
"The Genesee River has been pivotal to the city's development for centuries," Esposito says. "The question is how do we maximize the river's potential right now? This is going to be exciting."
Discussing the plan
The first of a series of public meetings on the ROC the Riverway plan is this week: 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at MCC’s downtown campus, 321 State Street.
The full plan is on the City of Rochester website, and the public can also post comments there: www.cityofrochester.gov/roctheriverway/.
In ROC the Riverway, city officials envision an extensive network of trails, parks, bridges, and other public spaces along the Genesee River – and sometimes crossing it. The estimated public cost: $500 million, which officials hope will both enhance life in the city and attract new residents, businesses, and millions of dollars of private investment.
The plan includes a "management entity" that would work with state and local organizations to get the projects done. The group would be responsible for involving the community, overseeing public investment, getting state and philanthropic money, creating programs and events, marketing, and recruiting businesses. The estimated cost for its operation: $10 million.
The plan itself consists of 26 separate projects, created over more than decade. The projects are detailed below, starting at the southern end of the Riverway. The color of each project indicates when the city anticipates its creation. Italicized titles are those the city says have the highest priority.
0 to 3 years | 3-5 years | 5-10 years | 10+ years
Restore the Shore
The site: Land on the west side of the river adjacent to the PLEX neighborhood in southwest Rochester. $15 million public investment, $200 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Clear overgrowth along the river to provide more public space and a better view of the river, improve the existing Riverway Trail, reconstruct the floodwall, and create access for kayaks, canoes, and a water taxi.
Recharging the Trail
The site: The Riverway Trail from the University of Rochester area north to downtown. $5 million public investment.
The proposal: Widen and improve the trail on both sides of the river, create separate pedestrian and bicycle paths, and add pedestrian amenities and river crossings.
The sites: Riverside land from Genesee Valley Park to Corn Hill Landing. $3 million public investment.
The proposal: Create a series of water landings on both sides of the river that can accommodate bikes, kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, and water taxis.
The site: Genesee Gateway Park. $3 million public investment.
The proposal: Improve and redevelop the existing, underused park on the east side of the river south of the Douglass-Anthony Bridge, with public art and space for community events, to create "a vibrant playful, urban waterfront experience."
Link to the River
The site: Underutilized land on the east side of the river adjacent to the Spectrum headquarters on Mt. Hope Avenue. $8 million public investment, $70 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Combine private development of vacant land with improvements of the public land along the river.
Bridge the Genesee
The site: South of the Douglass-Anthony Bridge. $16 million public investment.
The proposal: Create a pedestrian bridge, with two islands, connecting the east and west sides of the river.
Aqueduct Re-Imagined & Library North Terrace
The site: The Broad Street aqueduct and land on the east side of the river between the Riverside Convention Center and the Rundel Library. $43 million public investment and $106 potential private investment.
The proposal: Remove Broad Street across the river – which is now actually a deck on top of the 1840's Erie Canal aqueduct. In its place on the aqueduct, create a pedestrian walkway, with water or greenspace, large enough for community events. On the east side, stabilize and improve the library's north terrace to create outdoor public space for a café, library programs, and other uses.
Arena on the River
The site: The Blue Cross Arena and land southward. $45 million public investment and $22 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Slightly realign Court Street by the arena to provide better access for loading. Renovate the arena, create a riverfront promenade and other public enhancements.
Make land south the Blue Cross Arena available for private mixed-use development, including a parking garage with a rooftop garden.
The site: West side of the river between Broad Street and Main Street. $5 million public investment.
The proposal: Create a pedestrian connection between the Blue Cross Arena and Main Street – midblock between Exchange and the river – with sidewalks, plantings, and lighting.
Convention Center expansion
The site: Riverside Convention Center. $125 million public investment.
The proposal: Renovate the convention center and add 130,000 square feet, with exhibit and meetings space and a glass-enclosed ballroom along the river.
Riverway, Broad to Main
The site: East side of the river northward from Broad to Main Street. $10 million public investment.
The proposal: Create a pedestrian bridge along the river in that block, providing a walkway from Main Street southward past the Thomson Reuters building to the new Aqueduct Park.
Main Street Resurgence
The site: Main Street through the center city. $9 million public investment.
The proposal: Improve the look and feel of downtown's major thoroughfare, with public art, 'urban play' installations, lighting, signage, and other elements.
Riverway Main to Andrews
The site: East side of the river northward from Main to Andrews Street. $5 million public investment.
The proposal: Create an accessible walkway along the river between Main, the pedestrian bridge across the river, and Andrews Street.
Charles Carroll Plaza
The site: The park along the west side of the river north of Main Street. $25 million public investment.
The proposal: Dramatically improve this vastly underused riverside public park, with regrading, improved views of the river, and plans for increased events and activities.
The site: Land along the west side of the river north of Andrews Street. $10 million public investment. $50 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Turn this large vacant parcel, formerly an RG&E site, into a mixed use private development: residential, commercial, and offices, with a public pedestrian walkway along the river.
Mill Street Connection
The site: The pedestrian tunnel under the Inner Loop connecting downtown proper with the High Falls area. $3 million public investment.
The proposal: Make the existing pedestrian tunnel more accessible and attractive by widening it and adding lighting and public art.
Bridge the Loop
The site: St. Paul Street in the area of the Inner Loop. $16 million public investment.
The proposal: Add streetscape enhancements – landscaping, intersection improvements, bike lanes, and a pedestrian walkway across the Inner Loop to provide a stronger, more attractive link between downtown and the area north of the Loop.
The site: St. Paul Street in the CSX railroad underpass area. $40 million public investment.
The proposal: Transform what is now an uninviting connection between downtown and the city's northwest neighborhoods into a more open area, including expanding the railroad bridge to provide better access to truck traffic on St. Paul.
High Falls region
Over the Falls Bridge
The site: Upper Falls waterfall rim. $28 million public investment.
The proposal: Build a pedestrian bridge across the gorge to provide overhead views of the falls.
Preserving Pont de Rennes
The site: The current bridge connecting the east and west sides of the river in the High Falls area. $9 million public investment.
The proposal: Provide important structural repairs to the 1898 wrought-iron bridge, formerly used for vehicular traffic and now converted into a popular pedestrian bridge.
Tree Top Trail
The site: The east side of the Genesee Gorge roughly between the Genesee Brewery and Smith Street. $8 million public investment, $20 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Build a bridge-like trail that rises literally to tree-top level for viewing the gorge. Encourage private investment to extend the eastside trail northward, create a similar trail on the west side of the river, and add recreational possibilities such as rock-climbing walls, hanging trails, and obstacle rope courses.
The site: The former RG&E generating plant on the west side of the gorge and the small island in the river. $17 million public investment, $17 million potential private investment.
The proposal: Transform this prime location into a major public riverside attraction, with park-like areas, outdoor entertainment offerings, trails and walkways, and restored buildings used for environmental and history-related uses.
Connect the Gorge
The site: Across the river from Beebee Station northwestward to Smith Street. $7 million public investment.
The proposal: Create a pedestrian bridge to provide an additional river crossing and scenic viewing site.
High Falls Adventure
The site: Gorge-side land on the east side of the river. $30 million public investment.
The proposal: Clean up a large, vacant parcel north of Smith Street to create an outdoor recreational area, with green space, entertainment space, a skate park, and a multi-purpose athletic field.
Running Track Bridge
The site: Across the river north of the High Falls Adventure site. $5 million public investment.
The proposal: Convert the existing, abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian bridge that connects to the El Camino Trail on the east side.
Guiding the plan
A ROC the Riverway advisory board, composed of representatives of community groups, businesses, and government, will conduct public meetings and will review and prioritize proposals for public and private investments along the riverfront.
Chairing the board will be the co-chairs of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council: Monroe Community College president Anne Kress and Chamber of Commerce president (and former Rochester mayor) Bob Duffy.
The other panel members:
Lisa Baron, Greentopia
Clement Chung, ROC City Coalition
Veronica Dasher, Rochester Gas & Electric
Shawn Dunwoody, artist
Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy
Norman Jones, City of Rochester
Nichole Malec, Constellation Brands
Eugenio Marlin, Ibero American Action League
Mary Beth Popp, North American Breweries
Heidi Zimmer-Myer, Rochester Downtown Development Corporation