Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Revitalize This Building, Please!

There has been much hubbub this week surrounding Renaissance Square and its potential effect on downtown. Specifically, there are uncertainties regarding what effect it will have on the downtown housing market. As you probably know, downtown Rochester is increasingly becoming a mixed-use 24-hour neighborhood as hundreds of units of new housing have been added in recent years with hundreds more planned or under development. One of the main selling points of Renaissance Square has been its potential to spur additional development at/on underutilized buildings/land surrounding it. I support that claim, and believe it will lead to the development of potentially hundreds of units of student housing within walking distance of the new MCC campus.

The St Paul Quarter, the neighborhood most affected by any spinoff residential development, is already a hotspot for housing. The 2006 Rochester Downtown Development Corporation Downtown Housing Survey found that 99% of market rate units in the Quarter are occupied, making it the most competitive market in the Center City. Throw in all that Ren Square will provide, and the Quarter becomes all that more attractive to developers and their potential tenants. Thing is, there are very few opportunities left in the neighborhood for loft conversion as almost all floors of all buildings in our former Garment District have been converted to apartments or office space already. However, anyone walking along St Paul may not realize the vibrancy that exists in the neighborhood because they see one prominent building as glaring proof that we haven't yet "made it."

The Journal-American Building at the southeast corner of St Paul and Andrews streets is a large brown building used as a office/warehouse for the Cook Iron Store Company, or CISCO for short. This building was previously home to the Rochester Journal-American newspaper, a Hearst publication that was one of three major dailies of its time. CISCO has owned the building for a whopping 70 years now and is a very successful wholesale construction supply company. I can only guess as to what has happened to the internal integrity of this building over the years, but on the outside you can easily imagine a wonderful mixed-use building bringing life and energy to this highly important intersection.

Sadly though, while CISCO has prospered over the years into one of our area's leading construction supply companies, they have neglected the exterior of this fine old building. Windows in the building are either boarded up or have been altered to be much smaller and less transparent than intended. While it is probably unintentional, the current state of the building gives a big "up-yours" to the happening neighborhood that has grown up around it. While I would hate to cause harm to a solid Rochester-based company, it is time to rescue the Journal-American Building from its current sorry state. This is a prime opportunity for any developer looking to seize upon the momentum generated by Renaissance Square. The City should do whatever it can to sweeten the deal for CISCO by arranging quality space, tax breaks, and other incentives to retain them as an employer while allowing this gem of a building to take its place among downtown Rochester's great revitalized buildings.

Note: the pictures are taken from SignWall, a very cool little blog that I have added to my links. If I can get my lazy ass to take some better pictures of the building, I will post them here.