The transformation and development on the west side of the Genesee River has been a gradual process. Boarded up shops have been dismantled and replaced with modern commercial storefronts. About 400 UR undergraduates now call Riverview Apartments in the Plymouth-Exchange (PLEX) neighborhood, home, while UR financial services, human relations and an employment center now occupy 20,000 square feet of office space. And across the street from the offices, Boulder Coffee has become a community attraction an amalgamation of students hovered over laptops and residents out for a bite to eat.
‘What’s happening at Brooks Landing is really a partnership among a lot of parties,” UR Chief Financial Officer Ronald Paprocki said. ‘The city of Rochester, the neighborhood organizations have been extremely important. We have played a role in that.”
Paprocki noted that UR’s lease of the office space will give the developer, Ron Christenson, an advantage in attracting commercial tenants on the ground floor.
‘We really provide the critical mass or the cornerstone for that development,” Paprocki said. ‘It’s pretty safe to say… that the office building and commercial property would not be possible without the University’s participation.”
Christenson said that names of the tenants, including restaurants for the bottom floor of the office strip, may be released in about a week, as terms are finalized. Christenson was hopeful that these restaurants would be ready for business by the first of January.
Another cornerstone of the Brooks Landing development are the Staybridge Suites. According to Paprocki, UR worked with Christenson for a number of years to develop a case for the privately owned hotel.
‘We were able to provide usage that was likely from visitors, including admissions, alumni, hospital patients and their families and speakers,” Paprocki said. ‘The hotel really depends upon the University for occupancy.”
Paprocki was adamant that the University isn’t acting as a developer across the river, but rather working with several members of the 19th Ward. ‘I see mostly private development that fits in with the neighborhood,” he said. ‘We don’t see ourselves as developers.”
UR’s reach into the 19th Ward and the PLEX neighborhood is not the only neighborhood the current administration is discussing in terms of development. Preliminary discussions have taken place about the College Town project, a development that would occur on University grounds on Mt. Hope between Elmwood and Crittenden Avenues.
‘We see [across the river] developing as a residential neighborhood,” Paprocki said. ‘You live in the 19th Ward and the kind of retail that we’re going to see is that you’re going to want to get a bite to eat, you want to go out and get a newspaper and a bagel on a Saturday morning.”
He added that the retail demand in the Mt. Hope area, which is in close proximity to thousands of employees at Strong Memorial Hospital, would permit more national stores.
UR’s reach into the 19th Ward and the PLEX neighborhood is not solely based on infrastructure. Paprocki detailed a housing incentive program, in partnership with the city of Rochester and the participant’s bank, to provide University employees with up to $9,000 credit to live in the 19th Ward. According to Paprocki, 100 people have already been involved in the program.
Assistant Director for Student Activities in Wilson Commons Stacey Fisher was recently looking for a house close to the River Campus that would allow her to bike or walk to work.
‘When I found out that there was going to be a perk in terms of the University supporting it, it just made the deal ever sweeter,” she said.
Construction in Brooks Landing is not quite finished. The Christenson Development Corporation is in discussions with the city about constructing a free-standing, 5,000-square-foot restaurant in the parking lot adjacent to the Staybridge Suites, with potential for apartment buildings on top. Christenson hopes to start construction in the spring of next year.
Christenson cited a petition of 19th Ward residents with 400 signatures of approval as a sign that many in the neighborhood were on board with the latest developments.
‘We’ve shown everybody [the 19th Ward residents] the Web site and what the plan is going to look like,” Christenson said. ‘I think we’re getting some favorable responses.”
Not all 19th Ward residents were up to date on the latest plans outside of the Staybridge Suites, but some were still pleased upon hearing about the proposals. ‘I think that would be great, it brings more to the neighborhood,” 19th Ward resident Shantel Ricketts said. ‘I think anything to increase the way the neighborhood looks and to bring new residents in is a good thing.”
Coffee house plans
In 2000, 150 people including architects, designers and community members gathered together in a church basement for a design session.
‘[We wanted] to provide high quality goods and services to the community, to provide away of attracting students to the neighborhood and to provide a catalyst for additional development,” City Councilmember and long time 19th Ward resident Dana Miller said.
The following year, the community was polled about what businesses they would like to see.
‘The No. 1 business people wanted was a coffee shop,” he said. ‘They said “We don’t have a place in this neighborhood where we can just hang out.'”
The Community Development Corporation made the coffee shop top priority; through donations, they purchased and renovated the dilapidated building on the corner and turned it into Boulder Coffee.
The development of Genesee Street is the beginning of further changes in the neighborhood. According to Miller, there is going to be about $300,000 dollars put into storefront renovations on Thurston Road.
‘When you invite a developer to the table and tell them the community is interested in a development project it has one level of interest, but if you say the University is there also, developers take a better interest in it,” Miller said.
Questions raised about community interaction
Almost a year and a half after UR began housing people in Riverview Apartments, a lot has changed in the Southwest quadrant of the city. For example, UR students now regularly cross the bridge that orientation staff once explicitly told them never to do.
‘Within the last year, I feel like more students live there and it’s more acceptable and safe to live there,” junior Anna Coughlin, a 19th Ward resident, said. ‘With Boulder and the hotel, I feel [the 19th Ward] has just gotten a little more vibrant.” According to Director for Residential Life Laurel Contomanolis, there are an increased number of students living off campus in the 19th Ward than in previous years.
Integration with the community hasn’t been easy. Contomanolis remembers the first meeting with PLEX members as a struggle.
‘I think community members felt left out,” she said. Contomanolis remembers how community members thought freshman would be living across the river. When she announced that only juniors and seniors would live there, the community’s anxiety plummeted.
‘If we are going to have students live in the neighborhood, they have to be involved in the community,” Contomanolis said.
The community had mixed views about whether this involvement has been successful.
‘They tend to stick to their own community of people, and people who are doing the same kinds of things as them,” 19th Ward resident Shydell Simpson said of UR students.
According to Contomanolis, general student interest in the community has been less enthusiastic than UR administration anticipated. Graduate Head Resident at Riverview Brian Turkett suggested a reason for lack of student involvement.
‘Many of our residents are seniors and do have busy schedules, finishing their course work and preparing for their futures after May,” he said.
iew resident and senior Rayna Oliker echoed Turkett’s thoughts.
‘You’re also dealing with upperclassmen who have been doing the same stuff for three or four years,” she said. ‘It’s kind of difficult after four years of having the same habits to all of a sudden now go out and get involved.”
Riverview Community Organizing Group (COG) President and senior Diana Alessio is hoping to increase student involvement in the community. But according to Alessio, an average COG meeting only has 12 people out of a possible 400 Riverview students.
Despite the struggles, there have been attempts by Riverview students to reach out in a variety of programs.
At the beginning of the year, Riverview CAs sponsored an ice cream social where neighborhood children played with Riverview residents and rode their bikes through the street.
John Borek, a community advocate in the southwest neighborhoods and liaison for residential life, has helped foster connections between students and community members in part by spearheading dinners for UR students and community members.
‘It’s a simple and effective way of connecting the University and the community and breaking down barriers to understanding each other,” he said. ‘They are always successful in this way and occasionally students will reciprocate and invite their hosts to dinner in student residences.”
Community outreach events are not limited to the boundaries of residential life at Riverview.
Director of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership Glenn Cerosaletti identified several educational outreach programs as ways for students to get involved in the community. Project Care works with School 19 in PLEX, and the newly started UReading program works at School 23 in the 19th Ward.
Alessio pointed out that some students may be hesitant to participate in community events because of negative stereotypes about the neighborhood.
‘The 19th Ward has a negative connotation,” she said. ‘I don’t think it’s as bad as it seems.”
Alessio envisions improving the landscape around Riverview with a community garden and general improvements in the landscape.
‘I think the development in the last two years has been amazing.”
Another example of University involvement in the community is the Westside Farmers Market, which has been open seasonally for two years. Director of Auxiliary and Dining Services Cam Schauf, a member of the founding committee of the Farmers’ Market, said the market is a neighborhood initiative with university support.
‘For this market to work, it has to be a joint collaboration of neighborhoods,” he said.
UR held two showcase events over the past year, that according to Schauf, were two of the most populated days at the Market of the year. A few weeks ago, the Midnight Ramblers performed at the market. ‘There was a massive crowd, it was so much fun,” junior and co-president of Grassroots Liesel Schwarz, who has been heavily involved with the Market, said. ‘They [the Ramblers] picked out members of the community to interact with and the community really liked it.”
Community members like Borek are confident that University support can help remove misconceptions associated with the area.
‘Can it happen?” he asked. ‘Absolutely. The Brooks Landing development and the Riverview Student Apartments change the dialog and perception about the Westside.”
Penney is a member of the class of 2012.
Sahay is a member of the class of 2010.
Willis is a member of the class of 2011.
Additional reporting by Jerome Nathaniel.