Having spent some time in Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, St. Louis, Omaha, Chicago, New Orleans, Lexington, Knoxville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Burlington, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Salvador, El Salvador, I can say that Rochester does not lack culture, history, entertainment, good food, individuality, or civic pride. The one thing Rochester lacks is people walking downtown at night. Here, I agree completely with Mayor Warren. We need something out of the ordinary that will generate foot traffic and create a buzz. We need a signature attraction at Parcel 5.
The good news is that Mayor Warren understands what needs to be done. She is smart, committed, and motivated by a love for Rochester that should not be so rare in politicians serving our communities. Above all else, when it comes to Parcel 5, Lovely Warren knows that downtown Rochester must become a vibrant hub for people to walk, recreate, shop, and do business. She is the right person in charge, and we should get behind her leadership to do what she was elected to do.
Nevertheless, we all need to be careful as to not commit the fallacy of false alternatives. There is no reason why just one option must be selected when several features of different plans can be integrated into one ultimate design. I think we are positioned to do something very special with this space. We have the rare opportunity to create a performing arts center big enough to meet the needs of RBTL, an underground parking garage, mixed use office and retail on the first floor, a community space with trees, walkways, a fountain, and outdoor stage in front of the building, and a wide open park space — similar to what exists now — on top of the building. How cool would that be? Imagine the views of the city from on top rather than below. There could be elevators and staircases on each side of the building leading up to the community area, which would be open during standard hours (7 am-11 pm) and patrolled by peace officers, volunteers, and the RPD. This space could include a track, recreational fields, trees, flowers, and benches; and it could also serve as an outdoor arts venue with one of the most unique ambiances in Western New York.
No matter what direction we move in, our city cannot afford to put artificial limits on what is possible. I often ask myself what Frederick Law Olmsted would do if he were given the Parcel 5 commission. In all humility, I think he would create something along the lines of what I am proposing. This multi-use, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, democratic space can achieve several important goals: it can create a major source of excitement in the form of a state of the art performing arts center; it can beautify the front of the space and invite people to congregate on Main St; it can help lighten the city’s parking burden; and it can keep the dream alive for an open air park space on top.
Let us proceed in the spirit of Olmsted and the legacy he left behind in Rochester. With enough innovation and courage, a design that meets everyone’s needs can be brought to fruition and shape the character of our city forever.