January 3rd, 2012
Take a little drive on West Main Street past the thriving Cascade District and the Inner Loop, and you will discover a city neighborhood on the cusp of renaissance.
Past Nick Tahou’s Hots, the landmark home of the Garbage Plate, there are signs of the progress under way. The new Voters Block apartment complex is nearing completion on the south side of the street a few blocks west, and directly across the street from the new construction is the restoration of a historic block of buildings in what will become the Frederick Douglass Apartments.
But to see the full scale of potential for this neighborhood — the home of famed suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony — you have to explore the side streets off West Main, such as Canal and Litchfield streets, where several century-old factories stand in waiting for restoration and reuse.
These massive, weary brick buildings with boarded-up windows, padlocked doors, leaky roofs and signs of deterioration don’t look like much now, but for each there is a new owner with plans to restore and redevelop for housing, office space or whatever the market will bear.
For the first time in perhaps decades, there is reason for positive buzz on West Main Street.
Listen to Larry Glazer, chief executive and managing partner of Buckingham Properties:
“The old Cunningham Factory has been purchased by DePaul and will be a major redevelopment for housing. The city records building is a very stabilized building. The old office furniture manufacturing building has been purchased by a developer and that is ready to be redeveloped, and (Nelson) Leenhouts has purchased the buildings on Main Street for housing, plus the new housing project across the street.
“What we have here is critical mass.”
Larry Mastrella, a manager with RealtyUSA in Pittsford, grew up in the 1950s on King Street across the square from Susan B. Anthony’s home. He said his childhood memories of the neighborhood are very different from what it has become.
“It’s great to know that you can drive down those streets and in that area now and that it is coming back,” Mastrella said. “There was a time not long ago that it just was not the place to be, and now to see it coming back is really refreshing for all the people who grew up around there.”
The renaissance of the West Main Street and Susan B. Anthony neighborhoods has sputtered for more than a decade. The area has been in a slow decline since the late 1950s because of the closure of factories and increased concentration of poverty and crime. One of the first important steps was in 1998, with the closure of FIGHT Square (which had been renamed West Square Manor), a low-income housing project built in the 1970s by a community group that formed after the race riots in Rochester in 1964.
In 2001, the city completed Anthony Square, a development of 45 new apartments and nearly 30 single-family homes, built on the plot where the dingy housing project plagued by drugs, violence and despair once stood.
“That was a really good project, but it stopped there,” said Bret Garwood, the city’s director of housing and development, referring to Anthony Square. “Over the past four or five years the city has taken a different approach to development and has really tried to surround good investments like Anthony Square with a lot of other activity.
“We have been concentrating on the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, doing our focused investment strategy … and then really using our affordable housing development as a way to start a mixed-use, mixed-income renaissance of that area.”
The effort is beginning to pay off. The Voters Block development — the Leenhouts project referred to by Glazer — is expected to open in April. It will include a three-story building with 39 energy-efficient apartments, a café and a community room at 431 W. Main.
The development also will offer a mix of single-family or doubles affordable to people with low and moderate incomes, as well as for market-rate renters, a total of about 90 units altogether.
The $20 million project is a partnership among the Rochester Housing Authority, Home Leasing LLC, Spiritus Christi Church and Edgemere Development Inc. The city provided a low-interest loan and property tax incentives to help support the project.
Across Main Street, the Frederick Douglass Building will have nearly 30 apartments and 10 commercial spaces.
“What is exciting here is that these things are adding up and we are doing a transition from an area that was extremely concentrated poverty (to) an area that is getting more income-diverse,” Garwood said.
Glazer joins in
The projects are also attracting more development to the area. Glazer’s Buckingham Properties is one of the development companies responsible for a renaissance in the Cascade District just east of the Inner Loop. The company turned an old factory on Plymouth Avenue into market-rate loft apartments called Buckingham Commons. Glazer also renovated the Washington Building on Washington Street between West Main and Broad streets.
Buckingham is now making an investment in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood. It has purchased a five-story factory on Canal Street for future housing, office or mixed development.
“The layout and design of the building with the openness of it and the fact that it is in great structural condition, it has great potential for redevelopment,” Glazer said. “You can have offices or apartments opening up to windows everywhere, very similar to … Buckingham Commons only bigger. The day we walked in, we knew it was an opportunity.
“The question was the neighborhood, but the neighborhood is in such play right now in terms of redevelopment that this building is just another building that is going to be redone.”
Just across Litchfield Street sits what looks like a crumbling remnant of Rochester’s heavy industrial days. The Cunningham Carriage Factory building has been vacant since the 1980s. It was once part of the historic James Cunningham & Sons Co., which produced carriages in the 1800s and cars, tanks and planes until it closed after World War II.
The four-story building is being purchased by DePaul Key Housing for a $22 million renovation and redevelopment into 68 rental apartments for low-income residents and people with special needs. The project was recently awarded a $3.3 million grant from the state through the Regional Economic Development Council initiative created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We are going to bring it back with beautiful one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said DePaul Vice President Gillian Conde. “That corner is also really significant for the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood because the square has been so developed and that has always been the dark corner. So we hope bringing this back and having housing there is going to be a really nice addition.”
With so many projects under way and so many buildings in play for renovation, much is at stake for the neighborhood over the next few years.
The hope is that the investment in the area will continue and spread to adjoining west-side neighborhoods.
“They are doing a beautiful job over there,” said Mastrella, the RealtyUSA executive. “I have gone through two of the buildings visiting business associates and it’s really improved.”