How well HAS THE CITY FOLLOWED UP on the downtown development recommendations?
By Steve Lange
In late 2003, the City Council hired Progressive Urban Management Associates, a Denver based consulting firm, to come up with a "market-based" approach to reinvigorating downtown.The $72,000 study (paid through funds from the downtown tax increment financing district) was completed in mid-2004 and also included input from numerous civic leaders.
Three years later, we tracked down Brad Segal, the president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, to get his take on the progress of downtown.
“Our overall impression of Rochester is that they have made great progress. They really jumped on the implemention part. Before we were even done with our study, the council had implemented abatement, and now you have a downtown organization [the Rochester Downtown Alliance]. To have a public/private champion that is focused on downtown is a critical piece. To me, the Peace Plaza project is heartening. It’s a key piece to creating a stronger sense of place. You need to reclaim the sidewalk or outdoors—too many people spend too much time in tunnels and overpasses there. Overall, the goal is anything to enliven the downtown to create more of a sense of attraction.
Our perception of Rochester several years ago was that it was sterile and kind of lifeless. Is there one thing that is a linchpin? No. Collectively, if you make ten to twelve small improvements that is better than trying one big thing. There is no silver bullet for any downtown. We have never seen an urban business district that is revitalized by one single thing.
They’re getting the big things done, and that’s great. A big thing is the university going downtown. The Galleria was a huge white elephant building that was never going to be very good for too much retail. They have refocused that [with the Shops at University Square, formerly the Galleria] and that is a better way to go.
You’re very lucky in that town with Mayo Clinic and IBM. You have a highly educated workforce, good demographics, a lot of visitors. That’s how I came to Rochester. My father was sick and I was at the Clinic for two weeks. I saw a huge market potential with the existing residents. You guys are your own case study. You’re building investor confidence in your downtown. The comedy club is a great idea. I can’t think of a better market that needs some laughs than Rochester.
When comparing you to other markets we compared you to university towns: Madison, Lincoln, Iowa City. Lincoln, Nebraska, sort of reminds me of Rochester a few years ago. Lincoln has a great ability to rally around a plan. They worked on creating more parking and on the renovation of key buildings. In eight or so years they have implemented many of these ideas and then started a new plan. There is something in the DNA of the community that says we’re going to plan, we’re going to implement a plan, and we’re going to rally around it. Rochester is like that.”