The initial proposals submitted for a key parcel of the Midtown site – for a performing arts center, a 14-story mixed-use development, and green space for concerts, festivals, and other public uses – had already created a bit of public debate. But the latest one, submitted well after the city’s September 9 deadline, has generated reactions ranging from quizzical surprise to derision.
The proposal, from Xerox marketing retiree Fraser Smillie and Rochester architect Bud DeWolff, is for a shiny, 25-story, diamond-shaped building and would include a hotel, offices, a restaurant, a 3,000-seat performing arts center, housing, and other features. An optics museum to showcase Rochester’s rich imaging history as well as its future in photonics is another possibility, Smillie says.
Social media comments about Smillie’s proposal haven’t been kind. The building has been compared to a supervillain’s lair, a giant helmet, Avengers Tower, and the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang
, North Korea.
The building would consume all of Midtown’s Parcel 5, one of the most important development sites in downtown Rochester. Muscling its way into the Midtown area, it would dwarf its neighbors rather than complement them: a sci-fi design intended to call attention to itself rather than add to the character of the center city.
Smillie says he came up with the idea after he saw the other proposals for Parcel 5 and decided that Rochester deserves better. He enlisted DeWolff, an acquaintance, to help.
“Is it a final plan? No,” Smillie says. “It’s just a plan to say that there are other options available. I think what we have done is sort of stir the pot a little bit by saying, ‘Here’s another chance to do something right.’”
Smillie puts the price tag at about $150 million, and he says he potentially has a group of interested investors. But investors are reluctant to commit unless the City of Rochester shows it is taking the proposal seriously, he says.
But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Patrick Flanigan, a spokesperson for the City of Rochester, says the mayor will not consider any proposals that were submitted after the September deadline. Doing so could put the city at risk of legal action, and that would undoubtedly slow the development of the parcel, he says.
The process is for the mayor to issue a Request for Proposals, choose one of those submitted, and then send the recommendation to City Council for approval. Flanigan says the hope is to get a proposal to City Council by the end of the year.
The Democrat and Chronicle quoted City Council member Carolee Conklin recently as saying she’d be willing to interview Smillie and DeWolff about their Parcel 5 proposal, but in a phone interview earlier this week, Conklin said that won’t happen.
“I don’t think we should consider that, because it came in late,” she said.
The D&C also reported that Council members would interview all of the potential Parcel 5 developers, but Conklin said it’s too early to say what Council will do, if anything. If Mayor Lovely Warren recommends a project and the majority of Council agrees, “I’m not sure where we go from there,” Conklin said.
Parcel 5 is a pivotal parcel in the heart of downtown — maybe the most important developable site in the city. Of the remaining proposals, questions about funding to build and operate the theater continue to be raised, although RBTL officials say they can document its feasibility. It’s unlikely that the city would choose the open-space plan, which would deprive it of tax revenue.
Supporters of keeping Parcel 5 as green space, called Rochester Visionary Square, say that it would be a way to bring people downtown and to show off Rochester’s long and rich artistic and cultural history.