The appeal of rivers, lakes, and canals has turned some communities into robust tourist destinations. But the same can't be said of Rochester, and a group of sixth graders from the GeneseeCommunityCharterSchool wanted to know why.
So they went on an extended field trip in search of answers.
"The entire project was a year long," says Lisa O'Malley, the school's curriculum specialist. "Students began by actively investigating ways to revitalize downtown" --- particularly the city's plan to fill in the former Erie Canal bed under Broad Street. Critics have been urging the city to open the bed up again and fill it with water.
The students visited four cities --- San Antonio, Ottawa, Oklahoma City, and Providence ---that had experienced an economic renaissance after they restored their waterways. Greg Marshall, director of marketing for the Rochester Visitors Association, helped the students to understand the economic impact of tourism and hospitality and to prepare questions for officials. Among them: What environmental and structural challenges did those cities encounter? What does it cost to maintain and manage the waterway now?
Ottawa, they learned, turned its Rideau Canal --- built in 1832 --- into the centerpiece of a popular winter festival that attracts 1.5 million visitors. Providence convinced the federal government to provide $100 million to move a stretch of railroad track and two bridges and create WaterplacePark, a man-made basin on the WoonasquatucketRiver.
When they returned from their trips, the students were convinced that Rochester should consider filling the Broad Street portion of the Erie Canal with water, and they recently presented their findings to Mayor Bob Duffy.
For the sixth-graders, understanding the technical and financial concerns wasn't hard, says O'Malley. More difficult: learning about reality, says O'Malley: that despite their effort, their recommendation might not be used right away.
--- Tim Louis Macaluso
On the fourth floor of the JoshLoftonBuilding on West Main Street is a large room. One wall is covered with 5-by-12 cards containing the names of city schools, a description of proposed construction at the school, and projected costs (which range from $30,000 to $16 million).
On the other walls are architectural drawings of redesigned schools, showing everything from new athletic facilities to health clinics.
It's all part of the planning for the Rochester school district's 15-year, $500 million "facilities modernization" project.
But, for now, the project is on hold. The district didn't get approval of state funding before the legislative session ended for the year. The reason, apparently: differences between the Senate and Assembly versions of bills providing the funding.
Half of Rochester's schools are more than 70 years old, and while the district spends $25 million a year to maintain them, some of them need major upgrading, such as new heating systems. Other buildings need expansions. And the district hopes to buy adjacent property for some land-locked schools to provide space for athletic fields or playgrounds.
State Assemblymember David Gantt, who pulled the funding bill from the legislature at the school district's request, said late last week that he's optimistic that Rochester will get its money. But, he says, there's no plan to reintroduce the bill in a special session this summer.
"We will use the time between now and January to rewrite the bill to get it passed," said Gantt. "No one is to blame here. It's better to have a good bill than the wrong one. We're going to go back and we're going to get it through. That's a promise."
--- Tim Louis Macaluso
From Jack the Ripper to the Son of Sam, Hollywood has lifted details from true-life events to make movies that fall into the lucrative serial-killer genre. The feelings of fear and loss brought about by those tragedies are usually abstract to those of us in Western New York, but they might not be come September, when production is scheduled to begin on The Alphabet Killer.
Directed by Rob Schmidt (2003's Wrong Turn), The Alphabet Killer is based on Rochester's double-initial murders of the 1970s, in which three girls with the same first and last initials were killed, each of their bodies found in a suburb whose name began with the same letter as the girl's. The story has been relatively fictionalized for the film. (The parts have not yet been cast; updates can be found at www.alphabetkiller.com.)
Whether the film reopens one of this region's wounds or it brings needed attention to an unsolved crime, there could be one clear benefit: for the local economy. When the cameras roll on The Alphabet Killer this fall, it will be right here in Rochester.
--- Dayna Papaleo
When a tiny plastic toy soldier holding a machine gun showed up on a table at the Park-Oxford Café and Deli last week, says owner Roxanne Armstrong, she no idea how it got there. Neither did her son Jason, who works behind the counter. The two-inch GI had a white label wrapped around one of its legs that read: "Bring Me Home Now!"
Turns out the soldiers are a message from some of the members of FirstUnitarianChurch, who have been leaving them at sites around Greater Rochester.
"We support the troops," says Marilyn Lambert-Fisher, a member of First Unitarian's Ad Hoc Committee on War Issues. "But we think the best way to support them is to bring them home."
The toy soldiers have surfaced in area gas stations, grocery stores, libraries and restaurants.
"We want people to pay attention to the fact that while we are going about our lives --- shopping, dining out in a restaurant and driving to work --- our soldiers are over there dying at a rate of two a day for this terrible war," she says.
The protest is in its second month, and Lambert-Fisher says more than 100 of the army-green figures have been distributed. They're also available free to anyone who wants them, at the War Issues information table in the First Unitarian lobby (220 South Winton Road) at the 10 a.m. Sunday services.
"Reaction has been very positive," says Lambert-Fisher, whose son is in the Army Reserve and served in Iraq for nine months.
"We just feel that we have to do what we can to get the message out there to stop this," she says. "It's not just our soldiers who are dying and the thousands that are coming home with serious injuries, but there are also all of the Iraqi lives taken in this war."
Information on First Unitarian's Committee on War Issues, including its Realities of War film series, is available at www.rochesterunitarian.org.
--- Tim Louis Macaluso
Exit county. Enter city. City Council approved a measure last week that will return control of all or a portion of DurandEastmanBeach to the city --- a task that had previously fallen to county officials.
The move amends a decades-old agreement that gave control of several city-owned parks, including Durand Eastman, to the county. Under the new agreement, the county will retain control over the park, but city officials will be able to open the beach for swimming ... officially, that is.
Although the beach is off-limits for swimming, people have used it for years, and there have been several drownings. "It is a very high priority for the mayor that we provide a safe alternative to Charlotte beach," says Deputy Mayor Patti Malgieri.
Opening the beach on a temporary basis will cost about $300,000, Malgieri says. Initially, the city planned to amend the agreement for this summer only --- a move which the county approved at a meeting earlier this month. Current negotiations, however, indicate that the city will likely take over the beach for the long term.
In approving the measure, city councilmembers asked that Mayor Bob Duffy provide a full report of beach operations before the end of this year. They also asked that he submit a copy of the final amendment to City Council President Lois Giess prior to its execution.
City officials will meet with representatives from both the county and state sometime this week, says Malgieri. The city is still waiting for the necessary variances to open the beach, but is still aiming for a July 1 opening date. If not, she says, officials hope they'll be able to open it later in the summer.
--- Sujata Gupta
Animal-rights activist Adam Durand is out of jail. At least for now.
Durand had served a month of his six-month sentence for trespassing at the Wegmans egg farm before being sprung from Wayne County Jail last week. Judge Eugene Pigott granted a stay of sentence while Durand's appeal is pending. The appeal will focus on the sentence, which his lawyers say is unduly harsh, particularly for a first-time offender.
Durand's lawyers also hope to have the conviction itself overturned. The lawyers, who were brought on just before his trial, claim that his former lawyers had a conflict of interest (they represented two other activists accused in the case). And they claim that the judge improperly denied a justification defense.
No date has been set to hear the appeal.
--- Krestia DeGeorge