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Majority supports city's plan to replace part of Inner Loop

Rochester Business Journal
December 9, 2011

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll support the city’s plan to replace the Inner Loop between Monroe Avenue and Charlotte Street with a street-level boulevard.

The Inner Loop has ringed Rochester’s central business district since the mid-1960s. City government leaders think this "inefficient, sunken expressway" is both underused and an impediment to downtown redevelopment. They have proposed reconstructing a 2/3-mile section of the Inner Loop on the east side into a multilane, street-level boulevard.

In addition to reconnecting adjacent neighborhoods to downtown, city officials say, the project would open roughly nine acres of land to mixed-use redevelopment, creating jobs, generating private investment and increasing local tax revenue. They also say future maintenance of this section of the Inner Loop would exceed the cost of filling it in and creating an at-grade street.

Some 64 percent of respondents say the Inner Loop is a significant barrier to redevelopment in the East End, compared with 17 percent who say it is not very much of an impediment and 20 percent who say it is no impediment at all.

The city is seeking $15 million in federal funds for the project; its match would be $5 million.
Nearly 780 readers participated in this week's poll, which was conducted Dec. 5 and 6.

Do you support the city's plan to replace the Inner Loop between Monroe Avenue and Charlotte Street with a street-level boulevard?
Yes: 65%
No: 35%

City officials say the Inner Loop is a significant barrier to redevelopment in the East End. Do you agree?
Very much: 34%
Somewhat: 30%
Not very much: 17%
Not at all: 20%

COMMENTS:

Sell the space first and work the cost of the new road into the cost of the sale to private companies if they want to buy based on a fair-market value great. Leave taxpayer money out of this. Federal, state or local—it's all coming out of our pockets.
—Devon Michaels, Chili

That section of the loop is underutilized—it was (at six lanes) overbuilt. The main reason it is underutilized is because you can't get on the eastbound loop from the westbound 490 expressway without getting off 490 way out at Goodman Street. Step No. 1 should be to build a connection between westbound 490 and the loop. Then, if the depression is a "barrier," deck it over near East Avenue and develop a park or build on the deck as in many cities. Grade-level crossings of the loop and East Avenue and Monroe Avenue will create serious traffic jams.
—Paul Haney

Rochester's Inner Loop Improvement Project is a fantastically conceived plan. This project manages to both promote efficient system preservation of the existing assets while promoting greater multimodal accessibility and urban regeneration through the corridor. USDOT funded a similar project, the New Haven Downtown Crossing, in the last round of TIGER funding and will hopefully take into consideration the multitude of ways the Inner Loop exemplifies their adopted Livability Principles. I commend the Rochester City Council for approving the local matching funds and applaud city staff for putting forth a competitive grant application.
—Alex Kone, planner, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Austin, Texas

City officials just need to open their eyes to see that the East End is doing fine as is. The last thing that downtown needs is to fill in the Inner Loop. Why doesn't the city keep the focus on existing downtown sites that desperately need the attention and leave the East End development to the private sector? We’re doing fine with the Inner Loop as is.
—Michael Lebowitz, real estate broker

Develop the land with what? We already have enough housing stock (the mayor has said that, yet more keeps being built) and we have empty office space all over downtown. So exactly how will this land be "developed"? I have yet to see how this plan is anything but just another gift to already wealthy developers.
—Dave Atias

For years I worked at multiple locations downtown and used the Inner Loop to get from Brighton to downtown and among multiple locations inside the loop. As originally designed, it works perfectly to allow one to zip from Monroe Avenue to High Falls, from High Falls to East Main Street. It helps make downtown easy to get to. The Inner Loop was always mostly empty. Maybe it’s a road that doesn't go where we want to go anymore. Downtown isn't less lively because the Inner Loop is a barrier. There are multiple suburban developments that caused that. The question is: As we increase our wonderful redevelopment of the area, will we miss the Inner Loop? Should we be looking ahead 15 to 20 years to Rochester's revitalization and see that then the Inner Loop will be needed again as a great way to zip around our city?
—Connie Ehindero, Sigma Marketing Group

Back in 1994 I was one of the hosts of the chief planner for Krakow, Rochester's sister city in Poland, who was here to study our planning operations. We were chatting about his impressions of the city. He observed, “That Inner Loop is a noose around your neck. It's a barrier to your future." Ten years ago he led the team that advised Warsaw, Poland, on strategy to develop itself as a world capital. It's time we listen to what he and others say.
—Michael Leach, city of Rochester

The highways added to Rochester (490 and Inner Loop) destroyed many neighborhoods and are a key contributor to the urban decay of our city core. We do need to take back our city from this decay and bring people back to downtown and the neighborhoods that surround it. Newer is not always better, and we need to preserve and revitalize what is left or we will lose it forever.
—Terry Abbott, secretary, Corn Hill Neighbors Association board of directors

I am one of the few who actually drives on this portion of the Inner Loop regularly, but I support this project because a boulevard will tie the East End to downtown better. The Inner Loop is an artificial barrier now that serves little value for traffic relief.
—Bill McDonald, Medical Motor Service

Filling in the Inner Loop is like high-speed rail. It’s wildly expensive, its benefits are grossly exaggerated and there is really no rational reason to support it other than the need to "do something" to balm an otherwise dismal situation. Sometimes it’s better to just say "no."
—Bob Sarbane

Our state and local legislatures are always finding ways to waste our taxpayer money—like with the fast train project, which I predict will also be a big failure. We have more than enough major issues on our table that we should be using our money to resolve first before we jump off of the deep end. What is it with the state and local governments that they can't seem to understand priorities? We aren't going to have any development if we can't get our kids educated properly, if we don't help our manufacturing sector grow and create more jobs, if we don't get our people back to work, if we can't get more affordable health insurance coverage for everyone. The list goes on but the point is we don't need to spend taxpayer money that will not benefit our economy now!
—Grant Osman

We should focus on areas that have been neglected for some time focusing on renovating before anything else. After all, what is the use if we build up one new section while letting another go to waste.
—David DeMallie

I favor any plan that increases the number of available living units in the downtown area. Revitalization of downtown is vital to the future success of our city.
—Rich Mileo

Eminently stupid given all the things that need to be done in this city and state. Another waste of taxpayer capital. This is the type detached thinking or idea that can only be hatched when people spend their entire life removed from the real world. So therefore it will be done.
—Karl Schuler

It carries less than half the daily traffic of East Avenue. A sunken highway is far more expensive to maintain and rehab than a surface street. It acts as a moat between the center of downtown and the neighborhoods to the east/southeast. Taxable parcels of land can be created from its removal. It is an unfortunate 1950s mistake that must be corrected.
—Carlos Mercado

This is one of the dumbest things to be proposed by Rochester since the fast ferry. At a time when Rochester and New York State are in financial ruin, let's spend millions to fill in a "hole.” Are they serious? Rochester management needs to get a grip. Do they understand what that kind of money could do if they were to invest even a fraction of it into the private sector (i.e. entrepreneurs and small businesses)? I guarantee the ROI would be quicker and bigger.
—David Wagner

On one hand, the city could save money on maintaining the little-used roadway. On the other, with the future of Midtown redevelopment unclear, and full utilization of the Sibley building up in the air and the MCC location undecided, taking on another major project filled with uncertainty is problematic. As developers are working to bring more high-end lofts and redevelopment on line, is this the time to create space with an uncertain future? We should see what happens at the old Genesee hospital site before we jump into this project. The only caveat would be if the city could line up builders and developers who have a track record and have site specific plans in hand would I say it's worth a shot.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

Could our local government just focus on lowering taxes? Forget all the pie-in-the-sky projects and become fiscally responsible. High Falls, Fast Ferry, Midtown, Inner Loop....the list goes on and on! Are we actually paying people with benefits and retirement packages to think this stuff up? I bet we are! I implore our local dreamers of projects to exert their energy on reducing taxes. Now there's a challenge. The single most contributing factor to the demise of Midtown was the infiltration of the dregs of society allowed to converge there. We all know it. Nobody felt safe or comfortable going to Midtown, from the parking garage, to the mall part, to the surrounding area outside. It's the big secret everybody knows. So instead of addressing the problem, the taxpayer was charged for what should have been a private-sector project in the first place. Actually, in the "first place," government influence should have been exerted to save and preserve a "historical first indoor mall" in the country. But that would have meant real leadership in addressing the transient traffic through the plaza. Let's build a bus terminal, a performing arts center and increase welfare while we're at it! Just raise taxes and all our dreams come true! Are there "special" dart boards that have projects instead of numbers on them? Spending $5 million to "get" $15 million actually makes sense to someone spending taxpayer money! Guess what, it's ALL taxpayer money. If we locally have $5 million to spend, spend it on putting more police downtown so that a taxpayer could feel safe and secure waiting for a bus, or walking to their car or lunch appointment. Spend it cleaning up the parks and the Liberty Pole area. Those would be the biggest improvements to downtown.
—Lou Romano

It sounds like a good idea, except those advocating it don't have much of a record of success—they poured millions into the High Falls area, only to have the real growth happen at the East End (without taxpayer dollars), and then of course there was the Fast Ferry. While I like the idea, I don't have any confidence that "city officials" will do it right.
—Rick Corey, Penfield

The city needs to focus on dollars to finish Main Street. Unfortunately, they have not proven their ability to manage more than one major project at a time. East End is now replacing downtown Rochester, which is good for East End, but poor for such a historical city as Rochester, where downtown used to be a great place for families, businesses and tourists!
—Shaunta Collier-Santos, LandNPR Productions

The East End is the only thing the city of Rochester has going for it. That part of the Inner Loop is a mess anyway. Why not fix it and connect everything seamlessly? Eliminate an eyesore, connect vibrant neighborhoods, and make a positive impact on the city.
—Eric Zeller

I do think that section of the Inner Loop is not needed. They've been revitalizing the area around East Avenue and Charlotte Street with housing developments. Now they need to bring in small businesses and shops that would be beneficial to the residents and nearby businesses. That section of the Inner Loop is the perfect spot. More importantly, this would create jobs.
—Maureen Ellison

In addition, I recommend better bike and walk crossings at various places on the East End, West End, etc. The downtown area needs to encourage such traffic in addition to better auto traffic.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

Originally it must have looked really great on paper, because it sure was a dumb idea. As far as redevelopment goes, the city is a blighted mess, as are all Upstate cities. The only way to correct it is to have a thriving business climate downtown, which will draw people to work and play (even after hours ). Short of that it won't amount to a hill of crap.
—Jim Duke, Victor

There may be a more appropriate use for $20 million than to bury it in a hole. Why push this expenditure of needed cash resources during a time of extreme economic distress? Everyone enjoys playing the role of developer or planner, especially with OPM (other people's money), but history shows that government success in this role is measured with a nano scale. A less expensive alternative could be to RFP the project site out to the private sector and place the risk of failure on them, not on the taxpayer. Or, consider locating the new MCC educational center right on top of the Inner Loop, and create underground parking for all the students and faculty. Or place the bus station there and keep riders warm and dry underground, with direct bus access around the city via the Loop. A few minutes of sane thinking could spark a number of ideas that may be a better use of $20 million than filling in a hole.
—Mark DiFelice, DiFelice Development Inc.

Downtown streets are cut off and valuable land is wasted. That section of the Loop is barely used and the city needs room for residential expansion. Proximity to the entertainment district will strengthen downtown business.
—Roz Goldman

Traffic is not backed up because it is efficient, not underused. And we already have more than 6 acres of vacant land downtown. One at a time, please.
—Dan Schreiber

Unlike the majority of respondents to this poll, I actually LIVE in the city of Rochester. Anything that can be done to knit neighborhoods back together, to make the city a cohesive community, to heal the damage done by "urban renewal" I am all for. Yes, let's undo the Inner Loop. And frankly I don't see why the suburbanites would care. They are all too scared to come to the city, thinking they will be killed. They can just continue to zoom by on 490.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

(c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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