Downtown Rochester, NY

After the opening of the Erie Canal in the early 1820s, Dwtn Rochester boomed. By 1834, some 20 flour mills were producing 500,000 barrels annually, and the City’s population reached 13,500. Following the Civil War, many post-war industrial companies were founded including the likes of Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Western Union, and Gleason Works. This led to the construction of many mid-sized skyscrapers in the late 19th century. Many of these buildings are still preserved along West Main Street in what is now called the Four Corners neighborhood. A subway was opened in 1927 on the old Erie Canal bed that ran through downtown but this was closed in the 1950s as public transit systems were replaced with cars and buses.

In the 60s Rochester, still a very corporate town, witnessed several ambitious urban renewals projects. This resulted in the Midtown Plaza mall, one of the first shinning new urban malls trying to compete with suburban malls. And new modern towners for Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and several banks. Kodak actually built their major high rise and complex in 1915 just outside of Dwtn in the Brown Square district. Sadly these ambitious urban renewal projects sucked the vibrancy and energy out of Dwtn creating several nodes of activity (West Main Steet, the Saint Paul Quarter [a warehouse district], East End [where Eastman School of Music is located], Grove Place [an attractive residential area], and East Main Street) that are quite disconnected from each other.  After many years of stagnation, Midtown Plaza mall closed in the 2007. The tower still remains and is now a mixed used bldg, and the mall was converted to a pretty attractive park. The 2010s have been a good decade for Dwtn Rochester as businesses, people, and entertainment are starting to return to downtown. The East Inner belt was converted to a street in 2018 resulting in many new apartments and townhomes and the restoration of a seamless connection to the attractive East Rochester neighborhoods.

But there is still much work to do as many parts of Downtown Rochester remain either dead or blighted. The best untapped potential for Dwtn lies in the Four Corners district where an amazing concentration of gorgeous unspoiled late 1800s buildings lie waiting to be renovated. North of East Main street around the St. Paul Quarter district is a sea of parking lots and underutilized buildings. South of Broad street has almost all been cleared by urban renewal and is generally pretty dead. Plenty of East Main St. bldgs that could be repurposed as well.

Click here to view my Downtown Rochester album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Good dwtn population here.
* Good number of dedicated bike lanes within Dwtn. Ok access to Rochester neighborhoods and suburbs. No dedicated bike stations yet in Rochester.
* Residential population is one of the most diverse in Rochester. Good economic diversity esp. when you consider the incomes that work Dwtn. About 25% of those living Dwtn are below the poverty line.
* Within Dwtn a large okay rate high school. Several pretty well rated schools located with 1 mile of Dwtn.
* An okay number of rentals dwtn and a mix of affordable and moderately priced ones. Studios around 750K, 1-beds lease btwn 900K and $1,600. and 2-beds in the $1,000s. Really no 3-bedrooms.
* Some for sale units Dwtn but very few 1-bedrooms. 1 bed condos sell in the 200Ks & 300Ks. 2-bedrooms anywhere in between 200Ks-500Ks depending on size  and condition. 3 & 4 beds selling for anywhere btwn 300K-700K. These are mostly town homes.
* A fair # affordable rents Dwtn. Medium rent is only $868.
* A good number of small and medium sized plazas and parks but no great stand out parks. MLK Plaza and now Midtown Commons are the best recreational spaces with some programming.
* Several nice smaller colleges dwtn including the Eastman School of Music, Monroe Community College, and Brockport Dwtn amount to about 3K students.
* An overall solid skyline due to Dwtn Rochester’s spreadout modern high rises.
* Great historic architecture Dwtn. Some much potential for wonderful bldg conversions.
* Culturally Dwtn has a decent # of restaurants, bars, cafes, and a few breweries, several art galleries, many performing arts, music, and cabaret theaters (both historic & modern), an indie cinema, several museums (auto, children’s, Modern. Art, etc.). Dwtn also host the convention center, a hockey/basketball arena and minor league ballpark, and a good # of gov’t bldgs on the west side.
* Almost 50K employees work Dwtn. Pretty good for a metro its size. Office vacancy is around 8%.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Public transit is only so  within the City. Even poorer transit outside the City limits. Only Brighton has decent public transit as a suburb.
* Dwtn has a lot of wide Blvds but also plenty of intimate narrow streets.
* Only 10% of households are families. This is low even for Dwtn standards. Some adult diversity with Dwtn host a lot of young professionals and empty nesters.
* Safety is generally ok but certainly some very dead spots in Dwtn Rochester and plenty of vacant buildings.
* Modern in-fill is a tough one evaluate in Dwtn. Lots of corporate modern high, which to some are quite interest, but too many very ugly. Some more recent modern in-fill especially along Union Ave where the inner belt once stood.
* Some good blocks of urban form but plenty of surface parking lots and poor urban form due largely to the expensive urban renewal efforts Dwtn.
* Overall vibrancy is great but good with some spots Dwtn.
* Parts of the Eastern half of Dwtn are gaining positive momentum and buzz but the western half is very dead.
* Retail amenities are not great. No dwtn supermarket nor pharmacy. Shopping limited to a handful of boutiques, plenty of banks, a bookstore, some salons a family dollar, and the main public library and post office.

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