Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Taking Aim at the East Main Street Armory

Today's Democrat and Chronicle contains an intriguing story about the revitalization of the East Main Street Armory and what that may mean for the surrounding neighborhood. The Armory is truly one of Rochester's most architecturally-stunning structures, towering over East Main Street between Alexander Street and the railroad tracks. Its neighbors include other notable buildings such as the Auditorium Theater, Corpus Christi Church, and the Eastman Dental Dispensary. These three civically-important blocks of East Main Street have been allowed to deteriorate over time, but alas, this area may finally be on the upswing.

The Rochester Broadway Theater League recently invested millions in the Auditorium, which will probably save the structure from the wrecking ball when Renaissance Square usurps most of its business in 2010. Nearby, investment continues at the Rochester Public Market, with the latest project being Costanza Enterprises' warehouse conversion on Railroad Street. Efforts are underway to improve the intersection of East Main and North Goodman, where the railroad bridge serves as an intimidating barrier between neighborhoods. Finally, it is my hope that ArtSpace Projects, Inc. will emerge as the Eastman Dental Dispensary's savior by renovating the structure for artist live-work space.

What does the Armory have to do with this? A local entrepreneur is spending a significant chunk of change to turn the Armory into a large concert hall (capacity 6,500) and, as Brian Sharp reports, "Plans show the space also being used for paintball, a shooting gallery, restaurant, coffee shop, office space, Internet lounge and art gallery." I guess that's what you could call a mixed-use monstrosity. The article details neighbors' frustrations with the parking situation in the area. Imagine a night when Motley Crue is rockin' the Armory and Les Miserables is selling out the Aud. That would mean somewhere near 10,000 people invading the neighborhood looking for parking for their Escalades and Tahoes. I can sympathize, that would be a nightmare.

But this blog/rant is not about parking, this is about the Armory itself. These proposed uses are, IMHO, not appropriate for the facility. The building is too imposing for a passerby to consider stopping in for a cup of coffee, the paintball and music hall will just compete with existing venues, and a shooting gallery has no place in the city (let alone next to an art gallery). While I applaud the effort, I can't see this project succeeding. But what would work at this location?

My idea: the New York Museum of Transportation should relocate from its inaccessible location in Rush to this prominent spot in the heart of the city. This would allow the Museum to host more events and be open all week. With its location adjacent to the railroad, it is possible that the Museum could run a historic trolley between there and High Falls, providing a living history lesson while serving a transportation purpose as well. I doubt most residents of Monroe County even know such a museum exists. Move it to the Armory and not only will it become a recognizable part of our cultural landscape, it will be a key piece of the East Main Street revitalization puzzle.