A forum on the plans for a key downtown space in Rochester brought dozens of people to City Hall Thursday night.
About 70 people signed up to speak at the forum hosted by City Council as council chambers were packed for a discussion on what has been a hot topic in Rochester for months now, but which has become even more controversial in recent days.
“As a low-income earner, placing a luxury theater on this parcel is no different than sealing it in a locked vault,” said Ravi Mangla, one of the speakers at the forum. “The median income in Rochester is $30,000 per year. The average Broadway ticket is $109 so I ask who are we building this theatre for?" Mangla said.
Among the chief concerns presented, access for the low-income, appeal to millennials and green space downtown were the most discussed. Some came to bridge the gap, suggesting there is space in Rochester for both.
Scotty Ginnett said that, “Both ideas can be in downtown Rochester. Both anchor the city. Both can provide needed spaces. Both can thrive. We can have a performing arts center at Parcel 5 and the proposed public use space.”
The Parcel 5/performing arts center proposal bubbled over last week, when a letter was sent by the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester to City Council calling on council members to review the estimated costs, and the impact on other local arts organizations. Geva Theatre also sent a lengthy list of concerns about the proposal to City Council members.
Dawn Lipson, president of the board of the Arts & Cultural Council, told WXXI News recently that the arts groups are not dismissing the project, which in total would cost an estimated $130 million. They simply want more discussion and information about its potential impact, including the effect it would have on existing arts organizations.
Mayor Lovely Warren continues to push for the venue, saying that its development is key to underlining Rochester’s identity as a city of the arts and she also says it could create hundreds of jobs. (she did not attend the forum)
The venue would have about 3,000 seats and be home to various events including everything from local graduation ceremonies to big-ticket performers.
“The (Auditorium Theatre) has limitations and restrictions…,” said producer Albert Nocciolino, who works with RBTL, in a statement read to the Thursday forum. His statement also said that, “the new tour of Lion King wanted to open here. They would’ve come to town for six weeks, performed for three and used more than 6,000 hotel nights and spend their dollars locally. Unfortunately because of no air conditioning and other limitations of the (Auditorium Theatre) they chose Syracuse instead. “
Gary Zakariat, stage manager for the Auditorium Theatre added that the Auditorium is “outdated,” and he said that, “The stage crew has worked hard to keep the Auditorium Theatre operating. It is getting harder to accommodate larger and heavier touring shows. We constantly must come up with creative and safe ways to address the problems that do arise from using this outdated space.”
The proposed performing arts center will be accompanied by residential living, 150 units spread out over 13 floors, in a project proposed by RBTL and developer Robert Morgan.
Tony award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan, who has a dance company in Rochester, also attended the forum, and called for a theater that would include space for various types of productions.
Councilman Adam McFadden, frustrated with what he believes has become nothing more than “election-year” politics, did not stay for the forum.
Council President Loretta Scott read a statement in his absence, which said that, “There are numerous reasons I am opposing the public forum. Chief among them I feel the timing of this public forum is nothing more than election year politics. Let me be clear: my opposition to the public forum is because I feel it’s being held at an inappropriate time not because I do not support public discussion on this topic.”
Both of Warren’s opponents in the September Democratic Mayoral Primary, Rachel Barnhart and James Sheppard have been critical of the process for filling the Parcel 5 space and both expressed concerns at Thursday’s forum.
City Council still has to approve any final plans for the space, and that vote will be some months away.