Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Urban News Vol. 44

Some really fresh urban re-development news coming from Rochester today. One is a finished product, the other the announcement of tax breaks necessary to fill a yawning gap in the fabric with something potentially very worthwhile. One last thing I decided to add at the last minute involves reprogramming a city park that was designed on the proper scale.

by Matthew Daneman, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Article Key Points:
  • An 183 year-old stone building in the High Falls District is now full of luxury apartments and commercial space
  • 18 months of renovations have created six one and two bedroom apartments and six office/apartment spaces
  • Commercial space available in the basement and on the first floor
  • The nearby Mills at High Falls are roughly half occupied
  • Renovations cost about $2 million
  • Taxpayer funded incentives allowed for rehabbing more than just the first floor and exterior

I am always an advocate of re-use before tear down and this is a quality job. While I'd expect these units to be pricey, the High Falls area is still in need of housing as it reinvents itself into a self-contained neighborhood. I'm also pleased that all architectural features seem to have been retained right down to the above-grade freight doors and hook lift.

COMIDA Gives Breaks for Building Complex in South Wedge
by Jim Stinson, Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Gregory Street Transfer LLC said it will build a $4.8 million, four-story apartment building on the vacant lot at 661 South Avenue
  • COMIDA (County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency) approved breaks worth $460,000
  • Konar Properties announced construction could begin in August with completion next April
  • Building would have 7,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor with 33 apartments on upper floors
  • Apartments would range from 600-1000 square and rent at approximately $1.10 per square foot

This is incredible news and it sounds as though the developer understands the proper design for such a site. If the lot includes not only the grassy field, but also the pavement immediately north of Mise en Place (though this seems unlikely), this could completely fill the only major gap between Hickory and Buckhard in the heart of a neighborhood that currently features a quality mix of business. Four stories is significant in that it will likely rise above both Solera and the nearby market but it is not outrageously out of scale. If work could possibly begin in August, there must be some architectural renderings somewhere. I will work on digging something up.

Fountain Next Step in Jones Square Park's Rehabilitation
by Brian Sharp, Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Jones Square neighborhood in northwest Rochester is home to about 2000 people
  • Workers are installing a 8-9 foot tall fountain to be ringed by rose and mulberry bushes
  • Neighborhood leaders stuggled with prioritization, placing covered bus stops second to entice investment in the neighborhood
  • Separately, local nonprofits will resume housing rehab on two for-sale houses in the area
  • The first professional baseball game in Rochester was played at Jones Square in 1869
  • George Eastman owned a house to the south before moving to his East Ave. mansion

Let's start by saying that Jones Square is one of few remaining properly scaled and ringed public squares in this city. The next best example would be Anthony Park off of Madison and King Streets close to the Susan B. Anthony House. While socio-economically not a 'great neighborhood,' I don't think there's a better place to take your Nick Tahou's takeout. The three keys to these attractive public spaces are:

  1. The ringing of the square with either houses or sometimes commercial buildings.
  2. Grading the site flat to cut down on non-visible areas from any vantage point within the park.
  3. Proper programming. Usually a reasonable mature tree canopy as well as benches and footpaths leading to a focal point at the center, either a fountain, monument, flagpole or some other anchor preferably with ties to neighborhood history.

Jones Square currently accomplishes each of the first two and seems to be on its way to number three. Another good example of this square implementation is Washington Square Park (this is no accident, both were designed by Olmsted!) at Clinton and Court Streets though one-way traffic on Clinton does diminish the effect to a certain extent.

Because I can't stop talking today (I am enthused by today's news stories!), I'll continue on my survey of urban public squares in Rochester.

Manhattan Square Park, our insane modernist labyrinth does a tremendously poor job of the things I mentioned before, especially on the western side, owing to so much manipulation of concrete. A historic public square marginalized by superhighway development is Wadsworth Square Park at Marshall St. and Broadway. Enclosed on two sides by Inner Loop related superstructure, half of Wadsworth Square Park has been turned into a parking lot. Brown Square near Kodak's Headquarters appears to have been chopped in half to accomdate some sort of sparse light industry. What remains suffers from being surrounded by parking lagoons and intentionally uneven elevation. I could be wrong, but it appears the only other purposefully programmed public square in the traditional style sits at the corner of Avenue D and North Street and goes by Pulaski Park. I have not had the pleasure of visiting, but it appears to be greatly elongated and a solid place for a neighborhood football game.

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