Sunday, August 24, 2008

2007 Downtown Charrette Report Vol. 8

With one more week left in my summer work schedule, the month of September promises to be more prolific from a frequency standpoint, though the schedule will be about as rigid as it was pre-July which is to say not at all. Today I'm going to continue with the Main Street focus area with points of emphasis limited to the west side of the river. My next post in this series will focus on the east side.

The first subject in need of remedy is the Western Gateway. The construction of 490 and the inner loop had the adverse effect of allowing only one westerly downtown entrance/exit point. As it is, Broad and Main are funneled into a confusing interchange dominated by pavement and traffic signage/signalage. The highway bridge itself, as in other parts of downtown, acts as a blockade to pedestrian traffic. The consensus long term solution of both the 2000 and 2007 charrettes, though inconceivably costly, is lowered the grade of I-490 to one which would flow under Main Street. In the short term, here is what we can hope to accomplish:

  • A reconstruction of the roadway system at this junction to increase green space between the roads (through a quality landscaping plan) and to narrow the lanes to the 10 foot center city Main Street lanes
  • Create sculpture structures at the gateway approach
  • Redesign the face and underside of the expressway bridge, integrating well-designed signage and lighting systems
  • Make pedestrian walkways direct and integral with the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood

The Cascade District (the northwest corner of downtown) has been characterized as a work in progress by the report, owing to its quality redevelopments that have already taken place. The potential in this district is still high due to the disturbing amount of land currently used for surface parking.

Recommendations many street grid restoration projects (see what an ungodly mess was made out of this area with highway construction) and new parking strategies, but the important theme to take out of this area is that the encouragement of dense, loft type, warehouse inspired, mixed-use/residential construction on existing surface lots is critical for this district. It is critical not only from a vitality standpoint, as that is implied in all new urban design, but also in order to remain true to the existing character of what's left of the district. Where this quadrant creeps toward center city at Main and Plymouth, a tall mixed-use office or residential building becomes more appropriate.

The Broad Street Canal District is an interesting mishmash of Rochester history without a unifying theme. To the north you have the remains of the Rochester subway tunnel buried under Broad Street. To the south there are remnants of the original campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology (much of which was bulldozed to make way for the interstate). This district is the focus of a completely different study already underway regarding reuse of the canal infrastructure (more on that at the end).

Having participated in the public workshop to canvass ideas for canal/subway reuse, I feel that the Charrette Report includes the most reasonable 'canal' implementation that I've come across. Canal proponents want fully functional canal running through downtown completely at the expense of Broad Street (and its bridge) for the benefit of pleasure boating, something I don't think is a regional, state, or national priority these days. The report would construct a 30 foot wide by 4 foot deep facsimile of the original Erie Canal within the West Broad Street corridor. It could serve as a skating rink in winter and a water feature in the summer, with fountains
at the western end. This retains the connectivity of Broad Street, has the potential to touch on historic aspects of canal-use downtown, and would serve as a focal point for further mixed-use development. Broad Street would be narrowed (it is already a low traffic carrier), but retained. This is important because its removal would leave Main Street as the only East-West option for traversing downtown.

The Main and Plymouth intersection is next. Once home to majestic hotels, the four quadrants of land at this intersection of two major city streets (linking Corn Hill and Frontier Field to the rest of downtown) are currently used as surface parking lots. The opportunity this affords is the chance to develop all four sites in concert to create a signature new architectural focal point and concentration of Class A office space.

One very interesting recommendation is that buildings at each corner should be 'notched' to allow for an outdoor plaza that would contain a large sculpture and outdoor gathering space, one that I'm guessing could be closed to traffic for large events like Buffalo's Thursdays in the Square. To me this corner is the proverbial keystone in any meaningful reintegration of the previously discussed Cascade District to the city center.

Finally, I'll conclude today with the Four Corners Basin, already home to some of our best architecture in the Wilder, Times Square (complete with 'Wings of Progress'), and Powers Buildings (Do yourself a favor. If you find yourself downtown on a workday for whatever reason, go into the Powers Building, smile as you pass the guard, and just look up.).

The recommendation largely revolve around the two major eyesores you no doubt see when attending Amerks games, the Central Trust Building (think 1960's bank on steroids, perpetually For Lease), and the surface parking lot between the Four Corners and Times Square buildings (that reveal unwindowed portions of the Times Square building previously adjoined to another structure). It would appear that a lot of thought went into the detailed site plan for the Central Trust Building as a partial demolition, complete gut, and five story addition would provide 56 (?)apartments around a courtyard and 72 below grade parking spaces for residents. A six story liner building would conceal a 290 space parking garage in the gap across the street.

That's it for today. I would like to post some upcoming events that may of interest to area urbanists. If you are interested in attending any of these, you are free to just show up, but I'd appreciate it if you check out Rochester New Urbanism and Sustainable Development, sign up and RSVP.

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