Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rochester Public Market looking to improve facilities - Good idea?

According to The Rochesterian, the Rochester Public Market is looking to improve facilities to the tune of a $10,000,000 upgrade designed by Ty Lin, a non Rochester design company, and comparable to what Seattle has done with Pike Place Market.  I've visited Pike Place and our market.  I prefer ours.
While I support the addition of better, more sanitary facilities and better parking at the market I'm extremely concerned that the expensive and costly improvements suggested will have a negative affect on the market. With the facilities that are in place our Public Market recently won the top public market in the US award. The shoppers who love that market obviously don't feel that it's desperately in need of improvements. The residents of ALL economic categories and communities around Rochester love the public market. When the city compares the eventual result of the public market renovation to Pike Place I get extremely concerned. Pike Place is no longer a "public market". It's a yuppified funky mall. We don't need another mall - and if we did we should have renovated Midtown.
In my opinion as a downtown Rochester business owner (just a few blocks from the public market), and regular market shopper, friend of many vendors, local business promoter, and supporter of Friends of the Public Market here are the categories for any successful renovation in my opinion:
  • Must not drive prices for rent up. If rent goes up - either vendors move out, losing valuable vendor diversity, chains move in losing local focus, or prices go up losing the lower economic demographic that is a key part of what makes the market great.
  • Must not affect access for low income shoppers, while protecting the safety of all shoppers. The market is the ONLY PLACE IN THE CITY where low income and high income demographics mix and mingle peacefully, cooperatively and happily. It exposes and mixes our cultural demographic as well - attracting shoppers from all ethnicities and backgrounds. The vendor population is just as demographically diverse. Any improvement to the facility must preserve access for both vendors and shoppers for all these ethnic and economic demographics.
  • Parking must be addressed. The market is already one of the most popular destinations on a weekend attracting 10's of thousands of visitors. The most negative part of the market experience is NOT the smell of fish in the fish market or the piles of empty cardboard boxes behind the stalls - it's finding parking. Without addressing the parking issue at the market there is NO SENSE in performing any other improvements.  Rochester residents are used to bad weather - it's a fact of life.  But if you can't GET TO the market or park near it, you are discouraged from returning.
  • The wonderful diversity of the food vendors at the market must be preserved, and the ability to mix food vendor areas with other vendor areas is an important one. I love that as I wander the market if a craving comes upon me or I smell a heavenly smell I can just grab a samosa, or an empanada, an eggroll or a cup of coffee or just about any other ethnic variant from a nearby stall. If you move all the food vendors to a food court if feels more like a mall and less like a market. If the vendors actually WANT improved facilities and you're retaining the same vendors - fine. But if you're going to start bringing in MacDonald's, Taco Bell, Bill Grays and Chipotles - forget about it. Similarly if you're going to raise rent to the point where only one of these mass produced makers of fake food can afford to be a vendor there - no go. Most of the vendors prepare fresh food made with ingredients found right there at the market - let's keep it local, in fact lets encourage more localvore dining at the market.
  • It would be extremely disappointing to have non-local vendors start to sell there because now it was "gentrified and acceptable". If I want Wegmans I'll go to Wegmans. The market is not that experience and I don't want it to be.
  • It doesn't have to get bigger - sure it's crowded. That's ok. It's part of the experience and fun and excitement of shopping there. It doesn't keep people away. Having inadequate parking keeps people away.
  • We already have a "public market" space that's been upgraded. It's in Henrietta but has a very different feel from the downtown public market.
  • Alternatives should be considered. How many years could you run a shuttle from say the Village Gate back parking lot, the Hungerford lots, etc. to the market and back for $10M? I bet a lot of years. You could easily buy and dedicate a bus to that route. Placing parking in the back lot at the Gate would also benefit Gate vendors as well, improving people's exposure to a unique and wonderful neighborhood. Could we buy more nearby unused space from the railroad to host more parking spaces for minimal cost? I bet we could buy and pave a lot of land for $10M, and maintain it for years tax and entrance free.  Maybe we could boost bus routes from all over the city to the market on market days.
  • We should not be farming development, design and construction of this facility to a foreign, international or non-NYS firm. I'm sure TyLin is very well known and famous, and have no doubts that they make beautiful structures. But I don't want to see $10M of my tax money going to an out-of-Rochester firm when there are in Rochester firms every bit as capable as TyLin. Selection of the design and engineering firm should be limited to upstate NY firms only.
Improving the Public Market is an awesome opportunity to advance and improve downtown infrastructure, continue to foster the tradition of mixing key demographics from both a vendor and a shopper point of view, while drawing people downtown to try to economically improve what is rapidly becoming a hole in our center city. Let's not muck it up by turning this into a mall but with crappier parking, or losing sight of what makes our market beautiful and wonderful to begin with - the vendors and shoppers that frequent it every weekend and throughout the week.

If you want to provide your own input on what they're doing with the RPM do as I did and email