What’s the right investment for Heart of the City?

September 26, 2018

Updated plans for redeveloping public spaces in two city blocks surrounding Rochester’s Chateau Theatre received a lukewarm response from the Rochester City Council Monday.

Council Member Michael Wojcik said the proposed $16.7 million renovation of Destination Medical Center’s Heart of the City subdistrict will likely meet public objections.

“I don’t want to lose sight that for a large number of folks out there this reeks of tone deafness for what’s going on in the community, particularly with the housing issues we have here and frankly a homeless population like we haven’t seen before in this part of the city,” he said.

While he cited elements of the proposed changes that he could support, he said he wants to make sure funding is not taken from city projects that could benefit others.

“Prettying up a place that has become a defacto homeless shelter is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, myself included,” he said.

As proposed in the DMC capital improvement plan, the funding for renovating the area would be fully paid for with a portion of the potential $585 million in state funding for DMC infrastructure.

The proposed work includes renovating the portion of Peace Plaza outside the Chateau Theatre to include a water feature and multi-use seating area, as well as renovations on First Avenue Southwest from Center Street to Second Street.

Shane Coen of Coen and Partners said the proposed changes are a key part of creating a destination space for the DMC initiative, which aims to drive economic development in the city.

“Investing in this space will forever change your city,” he said, noting Peace Plaza is seen by countless visitors when they look out of the east side of Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building.

Other council members also worried some of the proposed investment was misplaced.

Council members Ed Hruska and Mark Hickey said they oppose a proposal to move Peace Fountain, which has been part of the plaza since 1989.

Latest design options offer three potential new locations, two along First Avenue and one in Mayo Park.

Coen said the Mayo Park proposal stems from the belief that artist Charles E. Gagnon originally envisioned the fountain near a city trail.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede didn’t cite specific objections to moving the fountain, but indicated that Mayo Park is too far.

“I personally would not be in favor of it being out on a path someplace,” he said. ”I think it should be downtown.”

Council Member Nick Campion also cited the potential for public response if a splash pad is part of the water feature for the Peace Plaza redesign, noting many parents in the city have asked to have a similar feature added to city parks.

“A lot of people will see it as inaccessible,” he said of the Peace Plaza location, noting the call would likely grow for investment elsewhere in the city.

With several concerns voiced about the proposals, council members indicated a desire to continue discussions.

“In my mind, this doesn’t move forward right now,” Campion said.

While the move toward final designs isn’t ready, the DMC Corp. board was slated to review the plan for capital spending, which includes the $16.7 million over three years earmarked for the first phase of the Heart of the City renovations. The city council would also need to approve the funding plan.

The current proposal calls for five months of design development to start next month, which would be followed by the creation of construction documents needed to hire a contractor next fall. Under the proposed plan, renovations would start in March of 2020.

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