As the city of Rochester struggles to retain some semblance of vitality in the current moribund post-industrial climate, city residents under the direction of a local blogger last week took up the cause of saving 13 Cataract St., one of the only pre-prohibition era brewing facilities and a symbol of Rochester’s long-standing brewing history.
The demolition of this alleged “brewing relic” is the result of plans to completely restore the High Falls Brewery campus. The building at 13 Cataract St. would be used as parking for a proposed $2.6 million complex that would include a microbrewery with an adjacent tour and tasting area.
The complex, which will be called the Genesee Brew House, would also include a restaurant and is being touted as a destination spot that will revitalize the downtown area. Construction is slated to be completed in the summer of 2012.
Genesee Brewery was reorganized as High Falls Brewery in 2000 and has since expanded its label portfolio of beers and attempted to reach out to the Rochester community. The expansionist trend continued when the brewery was purchased by KPS Capital Partners in 2009, who have purportedly invested more than $20 million on the brewery so far.
What has angered some in the community, however, is that the restoration plans include the demolition of two buildings, including the one at 13 Cataract St. According to Genesee Brewery, “a complete and thorough assessment of all the buildings” was conducted to determine “their feasibility for restoration, useable space and costs to stabilize the structures.” Both buildings have been for sale for “an extensive amount of time” and have been evaluated by engineers, architects and dozens of developers, the company said.
Without demolishing the two buildings, Genesee Brewery says they will not be able to create the tourist destination that they aim to create and that they will be risking the safety of the community, especially given the prevalence of drug use in the buildings in recent times.
The building at 13 Cataract St., ornately gothic and medieval in architecture, was first home to the Standard Brewing Co., founded by German immigrants in 1889. After prohibition, the Cataract Brewery commenced operation in the space but closed in 1940 because of competition from Rochester’s then thriving brewing industry. It was used sporadically into the 1980s, but has since been vacant.
Genesee Brewery further claims that to “stabilize” the building at 13 Cataract would cost $2 million. To restore the space and make it into a usable area would cost another $5 to 8 million.
The city of Rochester has not yet issued any permits, and construction has not begun, according to petition organizer and Rochester resident Christopher Schiffner, who regularly blogs on local issues. Schiffner wrote in his blog that despite the fact that the building has been “the unfortunate victim of neglect” and has recently been subject to a pigeon infestation and the site of illicit activities, “none of this eliminates the possibility for restoration.”
Local news website 13Wham.com reported last week that the building is in “serious disrepair” and needs millions of dollars in work — rendering it a structure with little appeal to developers, a fact that the brewing company said they have confirmed in numerous studies.
The petition had over 400 signatures as of press time. To view or sign it, visit www.change.org/petitions/high-falls-brewery-please-halt-plans-to-demolish-13-cataract-street-rochester-ny.
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.
*This article has been updated to reflect the position of the Genesee Brewery and has been corrected for previous factual errors.