The city took the first step today on an ambitious plan to redevelop the riverfront from the University of Rochester area through downtown and north past the High Falls area.
At a press conference at the Riverside Convention Center, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he has accepted plans for 13 of the projects in the city’s ROC the Riverway plan. They’ll be partially funded by a $50 million state grant.
An advisory board led by Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy and Monroe Community College President Anne Kress selected the 13 projects from more than two dozen that city officials included in ROC the Riverway.
They range from large, expensive projects like restructuring the Broad Street bridge and expanding the Convention Center and Blue Cross Arena to smaller ones like a skate park. All have the same goal: to give the public greater access to one of its prime assets: the Genesee River.
At today’s press conference, work began symbolically on one of the projects: officials broke ground on the Convention Center expansion. And officials say that work could begin on almost all of the others within the next year.
The 13 were chosen, says the mayor’s chief of staff, Alex Yudelson, because the advisory board thinks they’ll have the greatest impact on downtown and are likely to encourage further development along the river, both public and private.
Each of the 13 will go through the normal development approval process: meeting the city’s zoning and planning requirements, for instance, and getting City Council’s OK for funding.
The public will have a chance to provide input about how each is designed, Yudelson said this morning. But all of them, he said, “are actually happening.”
At least one project may face some public pushback: the plan to remove Broad Street as it crosses the river – which forms a deck on top of the historic Erie Canal aqueduct –and turn the aqueduct into a pedestrian walkway. For years, there’s been disagreement about plans for the aqueduct.
Some supporters of the historic structure have argued that the aqueduct should remain covered, preserving the graffiti inside it and making it available for public use. Others have wanted it restored and filled with water.
Yudelson said this morning that the advisory board heard those concerns during the public-input process on the full ROC the Riverway plan. But, he said, “the advisory board is committed” to removing Broad Street and taking the bridge back to the elevation of the original canal.
The bridge has two sets of arches, and the top set is fake, Yudelson noted. It’s part of the structure that holds up the Broad Street roadway. Those arches will be removed, as will the graffiti in that part of the bridge.
The original, lower arches will remain. So will at least some of the graffiti.
“The city is committed to preserving the graffiti,” Yudelson said, “whether all of it or some.” Graffiti in the tunnel leading to the bridge will remain, and some of the panels removed from the bridge itself could be preserved somewhere else.
“We’re committed to preserving that history and allowing that artform to live on,” Yudelson said. And the city plans to make space available for new graffiti to be created, he said.
The $50 million state grant will cover design, planning, and part of the construction for the projects, says Yudelson. That won’t fully pay for any of the 13 projects, so some money will come from the city, and some from private sources. But city officials are confident that ROC the Riverway’s initial investment will attract more funding, Yudelson says.
Advisory board members began meeting with a wide-ranging collection of neighborhood, community, and business groups last February to learn what people wanted to see most in the ROC the Riverway ideas. In more than two dozen meetings, what board members heard could be boiled down to two overriding concerns, Yudelson says: providing residents and tourists with much greater access to the river, and connecting downtown with the river and nearby neighborhoods. — ROCHESTER CITY NEWSPAPER