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Metro ink - 10-18-06 


SAFDIE UNVEILS REN SQUARE DESIGN

click to enlarge COURTESY COUNTY OF MONROE/MOSHE SAFDIE AND ASSOCIATES
  • Courtesy County of Monroe/Moshe Safdie and Associates

There were no earth-shattering revelations this time around, but the Renaissance Square project has taken one step closer to reality.

At a public presentation last week, lead architect Moshe Safdie unveiled the latest iteration of design for the performing arts center-bus station-college complex.

The new design doesn't deviate substantially from the rough plans Safdie unveiled here a year ago; it merely add layers of detail.

Perhaps the biggest difference is with the performing arts center, which a year ago was a blank spot in the design. Now that's been given form: a smooth, off-white, egg-like shape that rises from out of a glass box that forms its lobby. The main theater will seat 2,800 people and be suitable for Broadway style shows. A small community performing space --- variously referred to as an auditorium, black-box theater, or rehearsal space --- was scaled back from 500 seats to 250 for "budgetary reasons," according to Safdie.

Other changes include reducing the number of piers where buses stop to transfer --- one now, rather than two --- to make transfers easier, and enclosing that area to heat and cool it. There's also a new courtyard full of trees in the college campus section of the complex.

If the designs are all but finished, plenty of other questions remain about Ren Square. Some of them were answered at last week's presentation.

Several people wanted to know about parking; Safdie's plan doesn't include any, although it does include a link to a municipal garage across North Clinton Avenue.

"We've determined there's enough capacity around," said Safdie. "We do not need to build more parking for the project."

Others expressed concern that complex would fail as a retail center, citing the factors that dogged MidtownPlaza, just up the street.

But that comparison's not apt, argued Safdie, since retail isn't a major part of Renaissance.

"Retail is very minor compared to Midtown," he said. "It's very minor, but it's critical to make it a lively space."

Other questions weren't answered so completely. One suggested that there may be a $2 million annual operating loss for the performing arts center and a $3 million loss for the bus station. County Executive Maggie Brooks rejected the question's premise. "Those figures aren't accurate," she said.

Brooks admitted, though, that the project might not be self-sustaining.

"I think it would be disingenuous to say there won't be any subsidy at all," Brooks said. "There is a certain level of subsidy that the community will accept."

To minimize that subsidy, Brooks said, the project's principals have adhered to a guideline of "What is affordable, what is sustainable."

"We want to live up to that," she said.

Also unknown is how the performing arts center will be operated.

"These are conversations that will continue," said Brooks.

Despite the unknowns, the mood at the presentation was optimistic. Most of the people present, even many skeptical about the project itself, liked the designs.

Buoyed by the public optimism, Brooks expressed what's been the hope of the project's backers all along: that the center will be a catalyst for success downtown.

"Communities that take on a project like this, that go for the wow factor," she said, "really succeed in the end."

But perhaps Brooks should have compared notes with Safdie beforehand. The very last question taken during the forum was directed at Safdie and addressed the "wow factor."

"The 'wow factor' means nothing if there isn't timelessness to the design," said the architect. "So beware of 'wow.'"

--- KrestiaDeGeorge


OUR WELL-PAID SCHOOL OFFICIALS

The competition for good school administrators is intense. So maybe this is no surprise: again this year, area school-district leaders dominate the Rochester Business Journal's list of highest-paid public officials. Of the top 25, published in RBJ last week, 23 are school administrators, most of them superintendents. Rochester's Manny Rivera heads the list, with an annual salary of $230,000, according to RBJ. Pittsford Superintendent Mary Alice Price is second with $194,000. Neither County Executive Maggie Brooks (at $120,000) nor Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy ($116,243) are on the list. The only two non-school officials making it: the county's public health director, Andrew Doniger (Number 21), at $143,727, and the county's medical examiner, Caroline Dignan (Number 22), at $142,430.


D&C LOVES APPLE PEELERS

click to enlarge PHOTO BYJUSTIN REYNOLDS

Increasingly, the Gannett daily has been emphasizing local news. But you know you're in Rochester when the front page of the front news section (October 16) includes a story about a Wayne County woman who still holds the record --- set 30 years ago --- for carving the longest peel from an apple. Among the news pushed inside that day: Violence in Iraq postponed an important national summit --- and Iraqi militias declared a rival state.


NY LOVES GOVT

Alan Hevesi, the state's comptroller, has been making a name for himself by attacking local public officials. Last week, Hevesi had a new target: the way New Yorkers are separated into cities, towns, and villages. The divisions were designed in the 18th century, and now they're expensive, outdated, and discriminatory, says Hevesi. He doesn't suggest solutions, and proponents of regionalism won't find anything new in his report on local government. It is, though, one more piece of evidence of the cost of the state's multiple layers of government.


From our blogs

FOLEY'S FAILURE

The Mark Foley thing has been bugging me for days, even though I was hardly surprised when I first heard about it. It's not just that leading Republicans like Congressman Tom Reynolds and House Speaker Denny Hastert knew about Foley's inappropriate e-mails and did nothing. And it's not just they may have been motivated by a desire to hold onto Republican seats in the House.

But shouldn't the GLBT community be outraged? It has been strangely silent.

I'm not an advocate of outing people. But there've been a lot of comparisons made between "gay Hollywood" and "gay DC." Gays in the entertainment industry have a legitimate concern --- especially those in front of the camera, who feel audiences won't accept them in heterosexual roles if their real identity is made public. But DC is different.

Closeted gays in the highest levels of government are pretending to be someone else in order to obtain privilege and power. Their goal is not to suspend our sense of reality but to improve it. It's hard to excuse a closeted gay man in the Republican Party, given the bigotry and hardship this administration has heaped on GLBTs. This is the party that used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to win the 2004 election.

I understand men in Foley's generation who either haven't come out or have come out only to a few close friends. If they began wrestling with their sexual orientation 20 or 30 years ago, there was no "Will and Grace." There was no "Ellen."

And there was no Barney Frank either.

Maybe what really bothered me was realizing that flagrant abuse of public trust is not limited to heterosexuals. And just because someone is gay in government doesn't mean they care about we the (gay) people.

--- Tim Louis Macaluso


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