By SALLY PARKER
When it comes to cities that are fun places to visit, Rochester may not be on your radar.
If you know of Rochester only as the home of Eastman Kodak Co., you might expect New York's third-largest city to be pleasant enough-a decent, if ho-hum, stop along the way to somewhere else. What you don't know may surprise you.
Greater Rochester typically places high in rankings that examine a host of community features, such as overall quality of life, cultural attractions, outdoor recreation, quick commute time, housing affordability, smart work force, business innovation and access to great health care.
To be a great place to live, a city needs to be more than just OK. It needs world-class amenities as well as quirks and features that make it unique among cities everywhere.
Just over a million people live in Greater Rochester. Visitors and residents tap into big-city arts, music, theater, dance, festivals and dining, accessible pro sports, hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails and some of the most beautiful terrain in the United States.
Our top music school and philharmonic orchestra are at the root of Rochester's cultural offerings. Visitors often remark at the level of sophistication evident in our music, which ranges from operas staged in historic Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre to jazz trios in cozy clubs. There is music every night of the week in venues all over town.
The Eastman School of Music and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra anchor the East End, where the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival will celebrate its 10th running this June. Over its nine days in 2010, the festival drew 162,000 music lovers to 250 concerts by hundreds of musicians from around the world.
Rochester has an abundance of live theater. Among the big players are Geva Theatre Center-the highest-attended regional theater in New York-Mercury Opera Rochester, Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, Blackfriars Theatre and CenterStage at the Jewish Community Center. Traveling Broadway shows are staged regularly at the Auditorium Theatre.
In the world of dance, Rochester's own Garth Fagan Dance, an award-winning modern dance company, sells out shows around the globe. The company is based downtown. Rochester City Ballet has a distinguished presence in the region and brings talented choreographers and performers to Rochester. Push Physical Theatre's blend of dance and theater is cutting-edge and draws raves, and FuturPointe Dance is winning fans with its contemporary fusion dance.
The visual arts thrive in Rochester. Painting, sculpture, metalworking and woodworking programs at the area's colleges and universities produce talented alumni. These creators strengthen the arts in Rochester during their college years and after graduation.
The Memorial Art Gallery hosts blockbuster shows; past crowd-pleasers included Russian icons and the works of Georgia O'Keeffe, Maxfield Parrish and Edgar Degas. The massive collection at Artisan Works also is a visual treat. The museum transformed 60,000 square feet of former warehouse space with 15,000 original works; surprises await at every turn. First Fridays open houses, held on the first Friday of every month, make it easy to catch art exhibits at dozens of local galleries. Anderson Alley Artists also open their studio doors during Second Saturdays.
Photography and film are popular art forms in Rochester. We're home to Kodak, after all, and Rochester Institute of Technology, which has strong photography programs. You'll discover rotating exhibitions in the city and suburbs, including at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Work by the plethora of talented photographers who live here is exhibited at Image City Photography Gallery in the Neighborhood of the Arts, where a new show is mounted every month. We celebrate film with the respected 360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival, the Rochester Jewish Film Festival and ImageOut, the lesbian and gay film and video festival.
For a night on the town, some of the best attractions can be found in these areas:
East and Alexander: Eclectic cuisine, late-night clubs, British pubs and 20-something watering holes. Bring your ID.
East End: Local theater, the Eastman School of Music and Eastman Theatre, the historic Little Theatre movie house, jazz clubs, popular restaurants, comfortable cafes. Soak in the vibe.
Charlotte: Patio dining and drinks, beach and boardwalk, park concerts and ice cream. Bring the kids.
Monroe Avenue: Sports bars and international eateries, unique shops. Tattoos encouraged.
Neighborhood of the Arts: Restaurants, galleries, antiques. A feast for the senses.
Park Avenue: Al fresco dining, cafes, boutiques. Prime people-watching.
St. Paul Quarter: Martinis and dinner, dance clubs, salsa lessons, national club acts. Wear your dancing shoes.
South Wedge: Cafes, Cajun barbecue, boutiques, wine and beer with a smile. Come as you are.
In fact, everywhere you go in Rochester you'll find excellent restaurants. Downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, there's no shortage of cuisine that spans the globe-Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, German, sushi, steak and seafood, continental, vegetarian and fusion-everything. Try something new while you're here.
Rochester's prominent role in the history of film takes center stage at the George Eastman House. Besides its revolving exhibitions, it holds the personal film collections of Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and others. It's also the 50-room mansion of Kodak's founder.
Susan B. Anthony, the pioneer leader of the women's rights movement, lived at 17 Madison St. with her sister. Today the house is a museum filled with photos and mementos of her life.
Genesee Country Village & Museum is one of the three largest living-history museums in the country, with 70 restored 19th-century buildings and costumed interpreters. The Strong National Museum of Play ranks among the top 10 children's museums in the country. Rochester Museum & Science Center has a planetarium and three floors of interactive exhibits on science and technology, natural science and the region's cultural heritage.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find more than 260 miles of multi-use trails and at least 70 neighborhood trails in the area. The Genesee Riverway Trail runs from the Erie Canal through downtown all the way to Lake Ontario along the Genesee River. See three waterfalls, the river gorge and 11 parks on the way. Go for a run along the Erie Canal, or take a self-guided tour of Rochester's historic downtown. Favorite sights are the Powers Building, the world headquarters of Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, Xerox Tower and the Broad Street Aqueduct, which once carried the Erie Canal across the Genesee River.
Visit our parks designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted: Seneca Park, with its steep river gorge and popular zoo; Genesee Valley Park, where the river hosts a collegiate rowing regatta every fall; and Highland Park, home of the 110-year-old Lilac Festival. One of the best city neighborhoods for a stroll is the residential area around Park and East avenues.
If you have the time, take a drive to the Finger Lakes and stop in to visit some of the 100 wineries in this fast-growing wine region.
When the weather turns warm in May, Rochester launches into one of the busiest festival seasons around. (We rank high for the number of festivals per capita.) Some of the most popular are the Lilac Festival, Rochester International Jazz Festival, Corn Hill Arts Festival, Park Ave Summer Arts Fest and Clothesline Festival. Another high-profile event is the LPGA Championship, one of the most popular stops on the women's golf tour. Greentopia Festival, a new event focusing on green living that debuts in September, will take place in High Falls, a historic area of the city that overlooks Rochester's thundering 96-foot waterfall on the Genesee River.
Down to business
Manufacturing was for many years the bedrock of the area's economy. Today innovation and creativity are shifting our city's course: Companies are emerging in biotechnology, imaging and optics, and fuel-cell research, all new strengths born from our established capabilities in higher education and manufacturing.
Robust high-tech output, innovation and diversity make Greater Rochester one of the 25 best places to live for "super-creatives," professors, scientists, computer programmers, artists, writers and musicians. The professionals who support these creative fields, such as financial advisers and lawyers, are well-represented too.
Education itself, in fact, has become a prime economic driver. The University of Rochester is the largest employer and is in the midst of a $500 million expansion in medical care and research. Rochester Institute of Technology also is growing rapidly to meet industry demand, along with a dozen other local colleges. More than 80,000 students attend area colleges.
Rochester has long had thousands of small, fast-moving businesses. In addition to Kodak, Bausch & Lomb and Xerox, some of these have grown into far-reaching firms: Paychex Inc.; Constellation Brands Inc., the largest wine company in the world; and Wegmans Food Markets Inc., which has a gourmet approach to groceries and consistently ranks among Fortune's top places to work. In fact, Rochester companies recently have ranked No. 1 in the magazine's small, medium and large-firm categories.
The region is a national leader in patents, with at least 1,000 granted each year to area inventors, led by scientists at Kodak and Xerox. The patents include developments in new types of film, lenses, health care products, digital media and printing technology.
A knack for innovation keeps Rochester in the game on a global level. As new strengths emerge, the city will continue to re-engineer its course.
Downtown Rochester Guides
Downtown Information Center
East Main and St. Paul streets, Rochester
45 East Ave., Suite 400, Rochester
Finger Lakes Visitors Connection
25 Gorham St., Canandaigua
or (585) 394-3915
2/25/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.