Changing My Mind On Parcel 5
As published in CITY Newspaper
I walk by Parcel 5 every day, and after over a year of imagining the possibilities, my thinking on the best use of this space has changed significantly.
I believe strongly that a city prospers from its core outward. As such, I am pro-development and (even more specifically) pro-density. For that reason, I had supported development of Parcel 5 as a way to 1) continue the street wall on Main Street, and 2) add residential population to the heart of downtown. The theater and residential tower project just seemed a convenient means to that end.
However, my opinion has flipped completely. I believe it should be a park, and here is a vision of how we could pull this off with virtually all interests coming out as winners.
1) Parcel 5 should be developed as THE city park in the heart of our downtown "tower district."
2) The park could be called "Douglass Park" and could feature the Frederick Douglass monument that once graced downtown, but now unceremoniously resides in Highland Park.
3) Devoting this space to a park could eliminate the significant cost of building underground parking for any proposed development.
4) The park could be designed to serve a dual purpose: both as a beautiful, tree-lined urban park and as a festival venue for major performances and events that could support 5,000+ people.
5) My biggest concern with using the space as a park has always been the break in the street wall on Main Street. Secondarily, it was the potential loss of residential units that would add to the population density in the center city.
This density is critical to the introduction and success of quality retail downtown. These concerns could be alleviated, however, by rimming the park with a uniquely urban, one-story micro-retail edifice that would essentially serve as the "fencing" to the park. There could be arched entrances in the middle of all four sides of the park as breaks in this retail wall.
These miniaturized retail storefronts would encourage specialty or novelty use at low overhead costs for merchants. This could add year-round vibrancy to the park and actually make the sight lines inside and outside the park more attractive. The roof of this one-story "retail fence" could even be purposed as additional greenspace (including trees?) and seating capacity for event use.
6) On the residential side of things, the city could work with the same developers to utilize the tiny adjacent Parcel 4 as a 25-35 story, ultra-thin high-rise. This would further envelop Douglass Park in skyscrapers, which is one of the things that makes the space so interesting in the first place. The addition of another residential tower so close to the newly redeveloped 88 Elm and soon-to-be-redeveloped Cadillac Hotel would significantly add to the density of the area. Imagine the increased attractiveness of these units if residents could simply step outside to Douglass Park.
7) Now the trickiest part: the Performing Arts Center and its $25 million commitment from Tom Golisano. There is a very logical solution: Build this on Parcel 10 (the riverside parking lot next to the Blue Cross Arena), which has already been studied and recommended for this project.
If we are to become a more cosmopolitan city, we need to expand our definition of downtown and what is considered "walkable." Parcel 10 would present RBTL with everything it wants to foster a vibrant scene. Imagine a riverside Performing Arts Center – sort of our own little version of Sydney's Opera House.
8) And last, but not least: Why not think even bigger and broader? If we could build the PAC on Parcel 10 next to Blue Cross Arena, why not package a new arena into the mix and build both facilities at the same time? There could probably be some savings realized by building these once-in-a-generation community assets side by side. We need a new arena, and the case could be made that more Rochesterians would benefit from an arena than a theater (culture be damned). What a complex that could be!
Photo Credit: Eric Camping
By Mike Gilbert - March 28, 2018