Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Where is Our State Office Building?

Quiz time ladies and gentlemen! Can you name the one and only major Upstate New York city that does not have a downtown State Office Building? If you guessed Albany, well, you're an idiot. Buffalo? Nope, until recently they had two. Syracuse? They still have multiple buildings. Watertown? Utica? Binghamton? Nope, in fact, the tallest building in all three cities is, respectively, a State Office Building. Schenectady? Sorry but no, that city is home to one of the newer downtown State Office Buildings. Ithaca? Elmira? Jamestown? Maybe, but are they really major cities? I think not.

Sadly, I'm referring to our beloved Rochester. The biggest city that no one has ever heard of has been physically neglected for years by state government as well. Granted, we have numerous state offices all over town, many of which are found in a number of downtown buildings. But we have no central "State Office Building" unlike our peers across this state. We had the perfect opportunity to build one a few years ago when a fire at our regional NYSDOT office building on Jefferson Road in Henrietta forced most of the building to be emptied. However, in our infinite wisdom, we did not pressure the State to consider relocating the offices to downtown. Now, the Henrietta building has been completely refurbished and NYSDOT is operating in it at full capacity.

This missed opportunity need not be the end of this pursuit. The land on which I envision our new Rochester State Office Building being constructed is still available; bounded by Plymouth Avenue, West Main Street, and West Broad Street. It is the former home of the glamorous Hotel Rochester and is now home to a very unglamorous gravel-strewn parking lot. It sits directly across Plymouth Avenue from another gravel-strewn parking lot that was once home to a number of more useful properties. I envision that lot to be a new public square with a sculpture and/or water feature to pay homage to the Erie Canal that once flowed along its southern edge. Kitty-corner across Main Street from the building's future site is yet another surface parking lot, albeit a paved one. At this site, I envision a new parking structure to replace the spaces lost by these redevelopments. The new garage would have retail on the first floor and a residential component to screen the garage structure from pedestrians strolling the Plymouth Avenue Greenway.

Across Broad Street would be the home of the Rochester Institute of Art & Design, relocated from RIT's Henrietta campus. For more details on that, check out my post from many months ago on the subject. All of this combined would breathe considerable new life into the "West End." While it may seem like a pipe dream, the reality is that each and every one of these developments is very doable. It will take the City, County, and State, as well as private partners such as RIT and the current landowner (Peter Formicola), working in concert; but we can make this, or something similar, happen. The linchpin in bringing this vision to fruition is securing approval for the new State Office Building. We have let one opportunity pass us by recently, let's not miss out on what could be the last one for years to come.

That new opportunity is known as Governor Eliot Spitzer. I'm sure our new Governor understands the value of having all State offices located in downtown Rochester, not only for the economic jumpstart it would surely create, but for the ease of information sharing between local and federal offices that are mostly located in the downtown area. I'm sure he would be impressed with the plans for the lands surrounding the proposed building, and I'm sure he would be willing to investigate the feasibility of consolidating the NYSDOT and NYSDEC (currently in Avon) offices, plus additional ones, into a modest but attractive mid-rise structure here at the heart of downtown Rochester. Governor Spitzer, let us be the symbol for your new administration and the embodiment of your vision for a better upstate.