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


Paula P Marra said...

Lee, I'm with you 100%. It scares the heck out of me to think of the impact of investing all that dough into something that could be "fixed" with only a small percentage of the money they are proposing to invest. I truly hope that more business owners like you, including those who sell at the market, will voice their opinions. Then I hope someone will actually listen. Regards, Paula Marra

Anonymous said...

Amen! I shop the Market year round, and the improvements needed can be done for a fraction of what they want to spend.

Benny Bell Jr. said...

Lee, you nailed it on this one.

Your reward will be a top spot in my fav blog sites column on Upstate Digital Post @ and a free bunch of slightly over-ripe bananas from the RPM.

Think they'll put another Cheese Factory in the new food shed?

Childish Democrat said...

Thanks for all the supportive comments. I thought long and hard about this one. I love our public market, and I'm all for improving downtown - but not at the expense of losing the purpose and character of a market near and dear to my heart.

Unknown said...

Great piece, Lee, and well thought out. We'd probably go to the Public Market at least 2-3 times a month, if not weekly, if it weren't for the parking hassles. We therefore go maybe 1-2x a year.

Nick said...

Perfect. Nailed it!

Childish Democrat said...

Note from the author - all comments moderated. Please be patient - I'll post your comment as soon as I see it (if it's not spam)....

Unknown said...

Interesting post, Lee. I have found it ironic that the city has long had this thriving one-of-a-kind market, an ultra-diverse social experience driven by local vendors and yet its planners still ignore the lessons from it when attempting to attract retail business to other areas. Like all of the best of urban experiences, our market brings in people from the greater community because there is nothing else like it within the region. On the other hand, I have met some of the people who revitalized the market starting at the end of 70s and I believe those who are still active within the city are extremely protective of many aspects that you fear could suffer from remodeling. But despite my trust, your post puts on it my radar to check this upgrade out in more detail. Thanks

Benny Bell Jr. said...

MT: you are a gentleman and a scholar as you truly understand what makes our RPM click.

This may sound absolutely crazy, but I also speak from long years of direct experience and observation of re-development decisions in our area.

At the root of the insanity to compartmentalize our redevelopment land uses is the fact that we really don't like each other very much around here. We don't like sharing spaces, especially public ones, while spending our money or going from the car to our place of work.

We will do anything we can to compartmentalized our eating experience in a retail setting.

The reason why the RPM survives in a contrary fashion to this community trait is because the hunt for a bargain price for one of the basics of life, food, overshadows it.

If you start compartmentalizing the shopping and eating experience with enclosed sheds and eateries, this experience will be minimized at the RPM and it'll become another Windmill mall.

There's this leftover thing in ROC redevelopment that goes back to the '60's: development planners have been trying to suburbanize the city with X-ways, widened avenues and sidewalks, setbacks on core buildings like Chase Bank and State St. and low density housing even on core downtown sites.

And, the walls. Walls everywhere in downtown, just like the big red one on West Ridge Rd. and Lake Ave. We like walls with a guarded entryway on our commercial and office building frontages because we don't like who is out on the sidewalks.

PS: as for shopping at the RPM in the cold weather: you can always wear your skiing or hunting outfit.

Susan said...

Same goes for software - why improve it? No reason to change it. It's fine just the way it is.

As for the Public Market - we would visit in the winter or rainy days if it was enclosed and warmer. My husband has cardiac issues and now a pacemaker and I'm just cold. This is Rochester, after all, on Lake Ontario. If it's outside in the winter and it's not skiing or snowboarding or sledding or ice skating it's not going to be attended by less than the hardiest. (Are you related to Meg?)

Childish Democrat said...

Susan - in some cases that is absolutely true. There are many pieces of software I've developed over the years (some even in MS-DOS) that are still in use and don't need to be changed. Re-writing them would cost hundreds of thousands, and the software does what it's supposed to do and doesn't need change. If change is needed it's frequently less expensive to modify what you already have then to completely gut it and re-do it in a new technology.

Childish Democrat said...

Also - not related to Meg.