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Great moments in Rochester's future: 2003-2013 

A City Newspaper special project about public stuff you should care about

Folks, in times like these, it's easy to get down about the state of our fair area. The economic picture looks bleak at present, and if you peer far enough into the future, it begins to resemble Picasso's "Guernica."

            But despair not! Greater Rochester is about to enter an era of unprecedented prosperity and growth. This is but the squat before the leap into Rochester's real renaissance, and we won't have to wait 'til 2010.

            These good times --- nay, great times --- will be sparked and then propelled by a series of public-private mega-projects already well underway: the fast ferry, the soccer stadium, Rochester Central Station, the new jail, High Falls Live. And there are more catalysts to come, as yet still developing in our community's collective imagination: a performing arts center downtown, retail businesses downtown, a Red Wings season above .500.

            This golden age will be enriched and sustained by Rochester's well-earned reputation as a "biotown." Biotechnology, the industry that insiders say will dominate this century's economy, is being nurtured in "The Flower City" the way we used to fuss over seedlings when that marketing slogan stuck.

            City Newspaper has partnered with the Psychic Network and WUFO (intergalactic talk radio) to bring you this special project: "Great Moments in Rochester's Future." We hope everyone in the Greater Rochester area who really cares about our community will take part in this clairvoyant community conversation by sharing your own visions with us --- telepathically, of course (please, no calls).

2003: High Falls Brewery's new malt product, Kipling Light dark beer, tanks, sending the brewery's stock into the toilet and its brewmeisters back to the labs in desperation. They emerge six days later, jubilant and thoroughly soused.

            Six months after that, the company introduces Conrad's Dark light stout. "The Heart of Dark Beers" is a huge hit. The company's finances do an about-face. High Falls undertakes a massive expansion and hires thousands. Alcoholism spikes accordingly.

2004: The New York State law banning smoking in nearly every bar and restaurant takes effect. It's roundly mocked and ignored in drinking establishments of integrity from Fredonia to Plattsburgh, and business goes on as usual.

            Unfortunately, in August (budget time) the cash-strapped state, counting on revenue from smoking fines to close an anticipated $126 billion "fiscal challenge," passes a particularly burdensome mandate of the unfunded persuasion.

            Counties must hire special lung-health inspection teams to enforce the new ban. As happened in New York City the year before --- when the inspectors, colloquially known as "The Butt Police," cracked down in earnest --- thousands of taverns, pubs, pool halls, sports bars, dives, college dives, dance clubs, and live music venues statewide lose approximately half their business overnight. Adding insult to injury, the people who still patronize the bars are all uptight jerks, either because they're jonesing for a smoke or, being nonsmokers, they're just born that way.

            Some Rochester bars are especially devastated. For example, suddenly overwhelmed with competition, Johnny's "Smoke-free" Irish Bar is closed before Labor Day.

            Democratic city officials, particularly incensed by the loss of the only downtown businesses young suburbanites would patronize, come up with a bold, yet practical, solution. They refuse to enforce the ban in protest, and roll out a new tourism slogan: Rochester: Made for Smoking. (A suburban school district was actually the first to rebel, when Fairport High School was declared a "student-smoker friendly building" during summer school.)

            Well over a million tourists converge, smokes in hand, on Rochester's bars, restaurants, and shops, resuscitating the local economy and the nightlife scene simultaneously.

            Albany responds, with characteristic irony, by withholding state funds for anti-smoking initiatives. When this fails to cease what Governor Pataki calls the "chemical and biological warfare" underway in Rochester, state troopers are dispatched. However, they make little progress in our smoke-filled streets, many defect, and they're soon redeployed en masse to Ithaca, where people are pulling bong hits on the sidewalks in broad daylight.

2005: The fast ferry traveling between Rochester and Toronto has been running for a year. Contrary to initial expectations, few Rochester residents take the boat across the lake to that comparatively more cosmopolitan city. Canadians, however, crowd every run, eager to enjoy our cultural attractions, and smoke.

            Plans are drawn up and state funding approved to add as many as 10 more ferries to the fleet, as well as a couple of "speedy subs."

2006: Executing a nearly flawless political flip-flop, County Executive Maggie Brooks publicly declares an enthusiasm for metro government and announces she's consolidating the county's motor vehicle license services with the city's Neighborhood Empowerment Team (NET) offices. The mobile DMV unit Brooks happily set up after the state, sadly, closed its downtown DMV office in early 2003, is completely reformed. This is done according to the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission --- consisting of three Republican county legislators, one wealthy Democratic businessman/legislator (skate-park magnate Chris Wilmot), and the Green Party's sole county legislator, former RG&E CEO Tom "Rainbow" Richards.

            A month after the Blue Ribbon report is released, the retooled unit hits the streets. The shiny black, bulletproof Humvee stops in a different city neighborhood Monday through Friday, at all times of the day and night, with no prior notice or warning. Routine transactions take place through cracks in the Hummer's tinted windows, while Hiphop booms from its thunderous, bass-boosted speakers.

            "The Notorious DMV" raps about staying off drugs, staying in school, abstinence, and safe driving. One of the songs the county commissions for him, "Buckle the F**k Up," becomes a club hit, knocking 50 Cent off the chart's top spot. Pamphlets about adoption, radon, and so on are also available, as are Rochester Police Department FIFs (Field Interview Forms) people are aggressively encouraged to fill out while they wait.

            The city and county both realize significant savings, until the unit disappears one night from the Midtown Plaza parking garage and is found the next morning, stripped and smoldering, on the shoulder of the Inner Loop. Authorities detain 50 Cent for questioning.

2007: The Rochester Raging Rhinos tie for three straight championships before capacity crowds in their new downtown stadium and, as expected, go pro. They also expand PaeTec Park, adding 600 seats, 6,000 skyboxes, and 26,000 "smokeboxes."

            In a political gesture to appease state lawmakers --- whose loan made the stadium, and the Rhinos' success, possible --- team owner Frank DuRoss starts a minor league affiliate in the capitol. The Albany Angry Armadillos play in a new stadium located on an urban brownfield DuRoss personally paid to clean up to the state's updated Superfund specifications. The 'Dillos also tie for the title, though competing teams lodge a formal protest with league officials, complaining of the squad's seemingly "radioactive" strength during home games.

2008: Once considered little more than holographic hype, Rochester Central Station is a reality, thanks to an influx of federal funds released the day after Rep. Louise Slaughter, the last Democrat in Congress, retires.

            The 60-story, $790-million complex includes 1.2 million square-feet of Class A office space, 900,000 square-feet of retail real estate, and a 600-kid-capacity day care, all of which are filled with Biotech-related businesses. Updated to compete with Syracuse's Destiny Mall mega-complex, RCS also houses 18 IMAX movie screens, 36 holes of putt-putt, a half-pipe, and the Bill Nojay Aquarium --- named after the visionary freshman Congressman, and former transit authority board chairman, who was a spirited promoter of the project. It's stocked with piranha, barracuda, mud sharks, electric eels, Taiwanese fighting fish, and Portuguese men of war.

            People drive there by the hundreds of thousands to work, shop, and bet on the fish fights. Bus traffic is also heavy, though riders who stop there to change buses still have to wait outside in the cold --- the underground bus bays and ground-floor waiting area were cut from the final blueprint due to cost overruns.

2009: The National Institute of Economic Health funds a team of research professors at the University of Rochester to develop a lilac bush capable of blooming year-round. The scientists splice genes collected from UR's sex-addled students into the plant's genetic code, and make encouraging progress.

            Then disaster strikes. A hybrid lilac escapes from a research greenhouse on campus (witnesses say it literally ran out the door), and begins pollinating with a passion. By early summer, lilacs are sprouting everywhere. Pedestrians are overpowered by the pungent clouds of sickly sweet-scented air wafting through the city. For asthmatics, it's practically genocide.

            Citizens fight back with weed whackers, sickles, and Super-Soakers full of RoundUp ®, but the powerful flowers stand their ground. (Some say you can hear them at night, panting and gurgling in the dark like perverts in a porn theater. It's unnerving.)

            Luckily, the same team of scientist-professors who created the monster-flowers comes to Rochester's rescue. Using the same research funded by the NIEH, they leave UR and form Lilax Inc. Their product, Miracle-kil®, works like a charm, and the lusty lilacs are eradicated in weeks. It's later discovered that Miracle-kil® is simply saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in slick packaging.

2010: Governor Golisano... (Actually, that's funny enough on its own. Make up your own item here.)

2011: OK, but just one. Governor Golisano, the trillionaire businessman, philanthropist, and owner/savior of the Buffalo Sabres, decides to relocate the team to our booming burg and rename them the Rochester Bodychex. This move is made after a long succession of frustrating seasons in which the Sabres, despite being having the highest-paid players and coaches in the NHL many times over, finish a distant third in their division.

2012: The former Genesee Hospital is finally redeveloped into something useful: yet another new jail. Named after Congressman Amo Houghton's successor, and Monroe County's former Executive, The Jack Doyle House of Fiscal Discipline holds offenders who violate New York's strict new laws against financial perfidy. Writers of bad checks are incarcerated there, as are hundreds of public officials who can't balance their revenues and expenses, either --- including the entire Monroe County Legislature, State Assembly and Senate.

            The state budget is passed, behind bars, but on time, for the first time in 28 years.

2013: The 2012 presidential election mirrors the 2000 recount debacle in some odd ways. Democratic candidate Jenna Bush charges that voting machines on the archipelago of Florida (flooded years before by global warming) were water-damaged. The dispute reaches the Supreme Court, where former Monroe County District Attorney, Chief Justice Mike Green, flips a coin and decides in favor of the Republican candidate.

            President Nojay takes office, and immediately issues a series of decrees...

            Wait, the crystal ball is getting foggy. No, that's smoke, a cloud of smoke, a mushroom-shaped cloud of....

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