The redevelopment of the former Midtown Plaza site has moved far beyond the reclamation of a formerly distressed urban property. Reinvigorated mixed-use properties, new buildings, street life, coffee shops, restaurants and commerce have combined to shift the conversation toward one that assumes great things can happen. “New Midtown” is already an urban neighborhood with character.

Against this backdrop Parcel 5, one of two remaining undeveloped parcels within the district, has taken on a life of its own.
There has been no lack of vision for the parcel but, for all the effort, no firm consensus has emerged. Seemingly in a state of suspended animation, separate ideas compete for an increasingly compelling opportunity.

Perhaps it is time to take a step back and reconsider everything this already very public space has to offer. It is surprising how the space already seems to fit with the surrounding buildings. The parcel presents itself as more “compelling invitation” than vacant lot.

The demolition of Midtown Plaza presumed a promise of rebirth and renewal. Yet, while many of the original planning premises have held true, several key aspects have not happened as imagined.

One might have assumed; for example; that Main Street’s “shovel-ready” opportunity parcels would be the most highly valued and first to be developed. In fact, the private sector selected existing buildings for development in advance of the vacant parcels. Properties like Tower 280, The Metropolitan, One East Avenue, Sibley’s and 88 Elm, along with the remaining vacant parcels, now help to anchor a completely transformed urban space that is unique to Rochester.

There is no question that something of compelling value has been created; the area has already been re-adopted as part of who we are as a community.

The questions swirling around Parcel 5 suggest the potential benefit of a more engaged community conversation. This might yield a clearer consensus and, perhaps, allow this unique opportunity in the heart of our city to realize its fullest potential.

James Durfee is Design Principal at Bergmann Associates. This is a summary of his column, Architecturally Speaking, which was published in the Rochester Business Journal on Nov. 17, 2017.

One East Ave. Courtesy of Rochester Downtown Development Corporation