Monday, March 12, 2007

Opportunity Knocking at NYMT

Today's paper includes a short article about the New York Museum of Transportation (NYMT) and its potential closure due to sewer and water issues. Well over a year ago, I proposed moving the NYMT from its inaccessible and out-of-the-way Rush campus to the Main Street Armory adjacent to downtown Rochester. At that time, the Armory was just beginning its now-successful rebirth as a sports and entertainment venue. Given the number and quality of events that facility has since hosted and has scheduled in the coming months, I no longer believe that the Armory is the appropriate place for the NYMT. It just so happens though that another even more appropriate location is back on the market.

As you probably know, the Saddle Ridge Entertainment Resort in High Falls shut down a few months back. Since that time, Cordish's once-vibrant "High Falls Live" concept also shuttered its doors. City Hall recently released a report calling for the repositioning of High Falls from an entertainment district to a mixed-use village focused on new housing and office space. Given the announcement of the 80-unit Mills at High Falls development, the minimum six-unit renovation of the long-vacant Parazin Building, and the eight-unit renovation of the Parry Machine Building, it appears that this is indeed the right direction for High Falls to take. The question remains though, what to do with the large spaces that were once home to major entertainment venues? That's where the NYMT comes in.

It is clear to me that the High Falls HISTORIC District is the perfect home for a museum of transportaton. The building that once housed Jillians and Saddle Ridge happens to be a former trolley barn for the city's once-extensive streetcar system. It also (reportedly) served as a powerhouse for the mighty New York Central Railway. While the cavernous 40,000-square foot structure was too big for entertainment in this town, that size makes it well-suited for exhibiting old streetcars, steam locomotives, fire engines, etc. Frankly, it boggles the mind to consider why the NYMT is located way out in Rush, far from any semblance of transportation history. It is no surprise that the museum currently hosts only 6,000 people a year. If you've ever been to the museum, you know that the treasures contained within its walls are worthy of thousands more pairs of eyes. Having a new facility in High Falls, at the heart of the community, would guarantee significantly more patrons than it receives today.

The only attractive feature I see at the Rush campus that would keep it from moving is the closed track where patrons can ride a historic trolley. There is a possibility though that this could be improved upon by moving to High Falls. Given that the trolley barn is located immediately adjacent to the CSX main line; wouldn't it be fun to ride that same historic trolley between High Falls and the Public Market using the CSX right-of-way? Not only would the trolley serve a real transportation purpose, and possibly generate income for the museum, it would surely bring crowds of people to High Falls every Saturday morning.

Of course, CSX is not exactly known for their community-friendly policies; however, this would be a great opportunity for them to gain some positive exposure. There appears to be room along most of the CSX right-of-way to lay track for the trolley. I assume they can re-use the rails and ties from the closed 1/4-mile track in Rush for part of the roughly 1.5-mile trip. A modest State or Federal earmark could be easily obtained to pay for the station areas and any infrastructure needs. The uncertain future that the NYMT currently faces provides a great opportunity to bring crowds to High Falls, attention to a great little museum, and life to a very prominent structure. That's a trifecta our community can bet on.