Readers feedback #2 - 5.5.04 

The state of Main Street: treasures, problems

Jack BradiganSpula's article on Main Street (April 14) is the first time I've seen our fine and historical Penguin Restaurant (my "inn") ever mentioned in an article. It's a restaurant I recall through many years and changes of ownership, as far back as when it was frequented by the co-eds from the nearby old University of Rochester Prince Street campus.

            One owner used to commute all the way from Canandaigua to open it every morning. Today you can find such bigwigs as Rochester school heads and the owners of World Wide News downtown, having early-morning breakfast there.

            Larry Farsace, North Union Street, Rochester

An old axiom in commercial real estate states that the value of commercial property is a function of the quality and quantity of traffic that passes by. This is why downtowns possess the highest value of property within a region. Being a major transportation hub and the home of a region's most affluent corporate and legal entities creates high real-estate values.

            In downtown Rochester, two developments over the last several decades have drastically reduced the quantity and quality of traffic (both foot and auto). First we decided to build a massive below-grade inner loop system, which diverted traffic away from the center of downtown. Second, the bus system became heavily used by a growing concentration of poverty in the city.

            With poorer bus passengers using Main Street as a transfer point, our major downtown thoroughfare became flooded with low-income traffic. As a result of less traffic due to the inner loop and a major increase in low economic traffic via the bus patrons, property values in our downtown core has plummeted.

            Our community has finally moved forward in reversing the negative economic impact of our downtown inner loop. But the negative impact of our downtown bus system must be addressed before private-sector investors make a financial commitment to downtown Rochester.

            Placing the bus terminal below grade is better than what exists today, but the astronomically high costs and logistical problems with such a facility makes this proposal unfeasible and not cost-effective. The transfer point for bus users should be at the perimeter of downtown, not the center. The cost of an underground bus terminal is huge, with no economic benefit. An above-grade bus terminal a few blocks from the center of downtown would be vastly cheaper than digging a $70 million to $100 million hole at Clinton and Main Street. Such a system would be cheaper for our community and faster for city bus patrons.

            And placing an up-scale performing arts center on top of an underground bus terminal would be a financial disaster for the arts center. Mixing high-end art patrons with a high concentration of poor bus patrons makes no economic sense.

            My recommendation would be to quickly separate the Performing Arts Center from the Renaissance Square project. Place the arts center nearer to the East End cultural district, where there is already a high concentration of upscale residents and restaurants. Place a much-lower-cost, above-grade bus terminal a few blocks away from Clinton and Main. This would free tens of millions of dollars that could be diverted to the Performing Arts Center.

            Such actions will create a more conducive environment for private investors to develop both high-end residential and commercial developments in our downtown district.

            Dennis Michaels, Elmwood Terrace, Brighton

"The State of Main" (April 14) does not mention the possibility of building a subway system in Rochester. But that is more defensible, to me, than building an underground bus terminal. When in use, buses are above ground and run almost all day. Does any other city successfully run a bus system based on an underground route?

            With both Midtown and the Chase Square building underutilized, does the proposed Renaissance construction of more shops and space make sense? Wouldn't it make for an inordinate amount of rubble?

            Greg Stark, South Clinton Avenue, Rochester

The proposed Performing Arts Center connected to an underground RTS transfer hub raises uncomfortable questions.

            Is the underground bus terminal a racist construction? Is this design another attempt to erase the city's low-income residents-of-color from urban cultural zones? At more than three times the cost, why bury the "problem" underground with toxic bus fumes? (The "problem," in this case, being poor minorities who depend on public transportation for their livelihood and well being.)

            Doesn't this design "solution" effectively eliminate cross flow between 1) the well-to-do, mostly white audiences and clientele of cultural institutions and restaurants and 2) those who make them feel nervous and guilty?

            In Rochester, there appears to be a pattern of architectural solutions that guarantee little or no face-to-face contact among the affluent, mostly white members of our larger community and the people whom they fear and disdain. Skywalks between buildings allow people to walk over the "problem." Silver Stadium was removed from a source of the "problem": a poor neighborhood.

            The city plans to tear down residences for the "problem" --- the "projects" on Mt.Hope that face the river --- to use that property for higher-income housing. And now there is a huge project designed to be built on top of the "problem": the beautiful designer shoe squashing a cockroach.

            Most of the people who go to the theater and who eat at the better restaurants do not pay city taxes. By and large, the people who ride the buses do --- although maybe not a lot. Let us build a beautiful above-ground glass pavilion for bus riders so that they can be protected from the elements, enjoy the panorama, and remain an important and lively part of Rochester's streetscape as well.

            And do we really want to bring our guests from Toronto into downtown via a pit?

            When will we stop segregating our community?

            Margaret Daiss Hurley, Burwell Road, Rochester

In response to "The State of Main" (April 14), I urge City readers and residents to see growth even farther down the Main Street strip. The Pirate Toy Fund, a not-for-profit organization that provides new toys for kids in our community year round, was originally located in Village Gate. Over the years our mission has expanded, and we had no choice but to search for a larger, more conducive location to operate from.

            The Toy Fund serves children with many issues but primarily dedicates itself to programs that address medical, domestic violence, and financial need situations (especially in the inner city). It seemed obvious that we should remain within the city limits.

            We were lucky enough to work with a real estate developer who helped us purchase a location on East Main Street near the RTS bus garage, close to Culver Road. Since the move one year ago, our experience has been positive. Although some consider this neighborhood of a lesser quality, we are working hard with the help of many to revise that way of thinking.

            The city has required that certain renovations be completed to obtain our permanent Certificate of Occupancy, and corporate sponsors have lined up to help us. Chase Pitkin, Pathfinder Engineers, RP Fedder, RW Dake, and Monroe Insulation and Gutter have all contributed. Union help has been readily available as well; the Roofers Union Local 22 and the Empire State Carpenters Apprentice Program have proved invaluable. We have been able to show them the viability of our mission as well as our commitment to our location and neighborhood.

            There are still some vacancies here (for example, the old Hometown Grocers building), but places like TiLC Ministries and their fantastic new playground as well as Auto Zone and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 20 and Volunteers of America Thrift Stores have proved invaluable to the development of this area. Even RG&E, with Light Works, its affordable exterior lighting program, has helped make the neighborhood safer.

            There is more to come, Rochester. Our "vision" is still growing. We strive to be good neighbors, look out for one another, and keep our properties clean and neat. It sure is a good place to start.

            Don't forget us down here. We've got plans, too!

            Melissa SwaldCamman, executive director, Pirate Toy Fund, 1453 East Main Street, Rochester

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