The Rochester Downtown Development Corporation today released a new community engagement plan for the downtown Business Improvement District effort. The plan, announced on the behalf of the Rochester Downtown Partnership, invites further input from the public.
Last year, City Council approved a plan to explore a BID in downtown Rochester. Central to each step in the BID effort process is an effort to engage with the community — to listen, discover, and respond to community needs and preferences, officials say.
“I want to thank the members of the Rochester Downtown Partnership (RDP) for their work to establish an accessible public input process for the BID effort, ensuring that we hear from any and all who want to be heard,” says Rochester Mayor Malik Evans.
The plan includes forums, outreach, office hours, small group interviews and surveys, most of which will be held between February and July.
“WalkShops” will be held at various locations and office hours at the Bausch & Lomb Public Library Building. They will occur on the third Wednesday and Thursday of each month as informal opportunities to chat with project staff about the downtown developments. The first public meetings have been scheduled for March 29. Sessions include in-person and zoom options.
This plan was formed after pre-engagement interviews were conducted with 15 downtown stakeholders which included Excellus, the Ibero-American Action League, Konar Properties, The Little, YWCA Rochester & Monroe County and others. In addition, RDDC and RDP used preliminary survey data collected in late 2022 from over 550 people. Those conversations revealed a need for better, regular and transparent communication.
“Our community is invested and interested. We were told there would be opportunity to be heard and these events show that commitment, and that what we think really matters,” says artist and activist Shawn Dunwoody.
RDP defines BIDs as legally established geographic areas, formed when the majority of property owners choose to make a collective contribution toward new programs and services. These contributions fund additive maintenance, improvement, and promotion of the district. These areas aim to promote business development, activate public space, and improve quality of life.
Following the recommendation of a consultant study, New York State, the city of Rochester, and the ROC the Riverway management entity working group decided a BID would be appropriate. (RDP is a public-private partnership between RDDC, Finger Lakes Empire State Development, city of Rochester, and ROC2025.)
As a result, the BID has largely been attached to Rochester’s ROC the Riverway plan, a program which consolidated more than two dozen projects along the Genesee River to “better leverage the value of its riverfront.” Projects include the revitalization of park and public spaces, bridge construction, building expansions, and more.
“While the city continues to manage and implement improvements to its parks and public spaces, a BID could generate additive dollars to fund additional upkeep and maintenance, programming, and marketing – on top of what the city already provides,” RDP says. “A BID could guarantee consistent levels of services over time while responding directly to the unique needs of downtown.”
However, enthusiasm for the BID has not been universal. “No BID Roc” was launched by concerned parties as a social media campaign and website last summer and continues to hold events in opposition to the BID effort. Activists involved with No Bid Roc have claimed links between BIDs and redlining, anti-homeless policies, and policies that hurt the poor.
“BIDs use government-collected property assessments to advocate for the enactment, preservation, and strengthening of local and state laws that violate the rights of poor and homeless people,” No BID Roc says. “BIDs hire private security often called ‘ambassadors’ whose primary purpose is to keep people ‘who aren’t ideal for commerce’ out of the district.”
RDDC and RDP point to the fact that more than 1,200 BIDs exist in municipalities across the U.S. with over 70 in New York City alone. Out of the fifth-largest cities in New York, Rochester remains the only one without a BID dedicated to downtown. (There is a BID in the High Falls area)
The Community Engagement Plan could be a way to find common ground and bring all voices together. Following the engagement plan, the district plan is expected to be finalized by August 2023.
“Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood. I’m energized to see what we can develop together: a BID that is community-focused, with community involvement, that sets the stage for immense growth and opportunity,” says Patrick Dutton, a downtown developer and long-time resident. “I don’t want to miss any progress or steps during this process, and the engagement plan clearly outlines what we can expect as a community in the months ahead. Together, we can do it.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].