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Heart of the City design gets review

May 23, 2019

Plans for Rochester’s Heart of the City sub-district met with a warmer response than they did eight months ago.

“I think we are headed in a positive direction on this,” Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik said Monday after a review of the design proposals that come with a $15 million price tag for the project’s first phase.

In September, he questioned the cost of a proposed $16.7 million design, noting it “reeks of tone deafness” related to other community concerns, including the need to address homelessness.

“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 at the time.

On Monday, he said the concern remains, and he wants to see efforts to help the homeless population to run parallel with the Heart of the City effort.

“I do see these two issues as related,” he said, noting it can be a challenge to explain why such a project is moving forward when the city has other needs.

The answer, he suggested, is that funding comes from different sources.

“We’re not being asked to put city tax-levy dollars into this,” he said, noting the public space redesign of the eastern portion of Peace Plaza, two blocks of First Avenue Southwest and two alley blocks is being funded with state funds dedicated to Destination Medical Center efforts.

“I think the community will appreciate it and see some value in it when it’s done,” he added.

Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said that’s the goal for work on a well-traversed location in the city.

“It’s at an intersection where we have strong community and visitor traffic,” he said, noting the city is already seeing new developer and commercial interest near Peace Plaza.

Shane Coen of Coen and Partners, which is the primary consultant on the project, said the goal is to increase the interaction on the street level.

While a primary factor in the project is to connect the street, skyway and subway levels for pedestrians, he said the focus is on street-level improvements to encourage interaction among the millions of residents and visitors that pass through the area each year.

“If you make the skyways more attractive, they will likely stay in the skyways, and if you make the streets more attractive they will move to the street,” Coen said.

Coen will be making a similar pitch Thursday morning as the DMC Corp. board meets at 9:30 a.m. in suite 101 of the Mayo Civic Center.

The board will be asked to approve the latest design developments, and the council will be asked to move the project to the next phase on June 3, which will call for creation of final construction documents.

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