Effort to establish downtown BID ends

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Inadequate support from City Council has nixed plans for a downtown business improvement district. 

Instead, the Partnership for Downtown Rochester and Rochester Downtown Development Corp. plan to consider other options, expanding on their fundraising model, to revitalize downtown.

“After hearing over 1,500 responses to extensive community engagement, one thing was loud and clear: people want more from downtown Rochester,” the PDR statement reads. While a BID is a funding mechanism to do that, PDR noted that it is not the only way.

PDR is collaborative initiative launched in 2021 by Empire State Development, the city of Rochester, RDDC, and ROC2025, a regional alliance of economic development organizations.

City Council president Miguel Melendez acknowledged the end of the BID efforts, but he also noted that it marks a new beginning. There are many downtown residents, small-business owners, artists and members of the broader Rochester community who strongly believe in the vitality and promise of downtown, he said. 

“That’s why it’s crucial that we now come together as a community to determine a new direction–one that creates secure jobs, supports a strong school system, and promotes safety in our streets all while engaging and working with all the stakeholders who either call downtown home or engage in their livelihoods there,” Melendez said.

“I’m challenging downtown residents, the downtown arts community, business owners, community leaders and the city administration to meet us at the table with ideas, plans and dreams for a downtown that fights for equity, offers opportunity to those who need it and creates a framework that will allow the center of the Flower City to blossom for everyone.”

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans expressed his interest in working with PDR, RDDC and others.

“A vibrant downtown is a critical component of our efforts to create a safe, equitable and prosperous Rochester by inspiring hope and delivering opportunity for everyone,” Evans said.

PDR expects to continue to use community programming and services to draw people downtown.

“Over the last year and a half, you showed up at go-to-you tabling events, walked downtown, answered surveys, shared your thoughts at community meetings, and came to office hours to learn more about the possibilities ahead and share your thoughts on what is working and not working in downtown Rochester today,” PDR said.

More than 60 letters were received from small and large organizations in support of a BID.

The effort to create a BID in downtown Rochester began with the 2018 ROC the Riverway Phase I Vision Plan. The plan recommended a BID as a way to ensure a consistent level of services in the downtown area. Last November, the PDR released its draft for a potential center city BID, which included details on an assessment formula, a governance model, a budget, and proposed boundary lines.

The BID had its share of critics–including the BID Education Committee, which voiced concerns for the unhoused, asking for community-led initiatives.

“The decision to suspend the BID formation process is the result of sustained community pushback. A coalition of ordinary residents, small businesses, community organizations, and artists came together to oppose RDDC’s push to turn Downtown Rochester into a Business Improvement District that would benefit the largest developers and property owners,” the BID Education Committee said in a statement. “We are stronger for this struggle.”

“While the BID proposal may be going away (for now), political and economic power remains concentrated in the hands of a few. The future of Rochester is everyone’s business,” the statement continues. “Democracy thrives when the community is at the heart of planning and decision-making, not as an afterthought, but as the foundation. It is time to come together and stand up for the future our community deserves, where equity isn’t a missed goal in another report a decade from now, but the north star that guides our decision making.”

A Council meeting last week featured more than 150 community members who signed up to speak, with a portion of them expressing their dissatisfaction with the BID efforts. Councilmember Willie Lightfoot released the full meeting on his personal youtube page.

Lightfoot’s public opposition was relatively recent, aligning him with more progressive-leaning Council members Stanley Martin, Mary Lupien, and Kim Smith. In February, he submitted a letter signed by 30 downtown businesses and property owners urging the Council to reject the draft.

“We have to listen to the people,” Lightfoot posted on Twitter, in reference to anti-BID efforts and other issues, including pausing property tax reassessments and calls for a vacancy study and a Gaza cease-fire resolution.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. Jacob Schermerhorn, Beacon contributing writer, assisted with this article. 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]

3 thoughts on “Effort to establish downtown BID ends

  1. With all the real estate and other taxes that property owners pay, it’s disappointing that adequate services can’t be provided by the government. Government is the problem not the tax payers.

  2. If this effort to develop downtown Rochester is to move forward let me recommend a process that will assure some positive input and a forward direction. Any individual can step up to the mice and complain or criticize. That, however, should be followed with a solution. If you have solution based meeting and participation you’ll make progress. If you just allow the moaning and groaning with no solution, no recommendation, progress will be slowed down to a crawl at best. So, let those who volunteer to step up to the mice know that complaining by itself does nothing for any progress. Strongly encourage a solution based meeting. Lastly, including international politics in any discussion should be discouraged. We have enough problems and concerns at home, in Rochester. Focus on the “back yard”.

  3. I did not support the proposed BID for a variety of reasons. I do, however, think the community needs/deserves a broad-based, coordinated effort to support our downtown neighborhood.

    This outcome was probably more a failure of the process than it was a failure of the proposal itself. Like the effort to develop Parcel 5 a small group thought they knew best. They wanted a fast track leading to their preferred result. They weren’t willing to listen before the course was set.

    There is a large community of people who want to be engaged early in the process. They are willing to put their shoulders to the task. In fact, many are already doing so every day and in their own ways: small business owners, citizen activists and community volunteers. They will do even more if they are a part of the process early on.

    Instead of seeing early community input as an impediment to progress leaders should facilitate conversation and build these efforts from the grassroots. For those that think doing so is a waste of time, consider the time wasted on the process that just ended in failure.

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