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City green space advocates make pitch

Almost a dozen advocates brought a full-court press to bear on the Rochester City Council this week, promoting a plan to use Parcel 5 as flexible urban green space.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the city of Rochester,” supporter Rachel Korn told the council.

Speakers favored a concept called Rochester Visionary Square, one of three proposals under consideration for what remains of the land left after Midtown Plaza was torn down. A petition with 980 signatures in favor of the project also was submitted to the council this week.

Other possible uses for the 1.17-acre parcel include a 3,000-seat performing arts center proposed by the Rochester Broadway Theatre League Inc. and a mixed-use development from Gallina Development Corp. and Patrick Dutton that involves a 14-story tower with condominiums, office space, restaurants and retail. That project also includes a smaller green space than that proposed for Rochester Visionary Square.

A committee of city employees, led by Deputy Mayor Carlos Carballada, have been reviewing the plans since September and are expected to recommend to the council a best option. Among the issues under consideration are whether a given plan would create jobs downtown, create an optimal mix of uses that enhance downtown, increase the city’s revenue base and spark additional development.

Mayor Lovely Warren’s chief of staff, Alex Yudelson, said Tuesday night the recommendation is expected shortly.

That made the council meeting a timely opportunity to promote the Visionary Square plan to elected leaders. Downtown lacks a “heart,” argued Nathaniel Mich, who said Rochester needs a public gathering spot that would provide space for cultural events and bring people together from all walks of life.

The alternative is an “income-stratified development,” like others now filling downtown, he said.

Mary Lupien, a candidate for City Council, said Parcel 5 would provide a place to celebrate arts and food. Temporary or portable shops would allow aspiring entrepreneurs to sell their wares, giving downtown something hip and cool to attract more downtown dwellers, she said.

“I want to hear people say: When you go to Rochester, you have to see Visionary Square,” said Carolyn Delvecchio. “It’ll be the place you tell people to go.”

Others compared this proposal to the successful “Pioneer Square” in downtown Portland, Ore. Fran Broderick said a parking garage was torn down and replaced with a public square that is now referred to as “the city’s living room.”

The point person behind Visionary Square is Ken Sato, CEO of City Design Lab LLC and director of the nonprofit Rochester Visionary Square Corp.

He also spoke to City Council, saying his plan would create a vibrant gathering space and a venue for events such as the Jazz Festival and Fringe Festival.

In the written proposal presented to the city, he calls for “a vibrant, multiuse, flexible, marketplace, arts and recreational public green space with active programming throughout the year.”

Details have been made public via a website: thisisnotapark.com.

The one contrarian was an urban planning student from Monroe Community College, who spoke in favor of Gallina’s proposal for a 14-story building. Edward Campany said young people want to live in high-density neighborhoods, and Gallina’s project would help stem the loss of population and tax base downtown.

The Visionary Square crowd argued, however, that their proposal does not preclude another development down the road. Building on that property now means an idea like Visionary Square could not go forward.

“Take your time and really think this through,” Ben McDonald urged the council.

3/31/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.