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Is it Time to Start Thinking Differently on the Renn Square?

Rachel Barnhart at Channel 13 has the story about the Renaissance Square (damn, if I ever spell that fucking word right). It’s simple: they’re pushing ahead to start construction this year, come hell or high water, and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the guy leading the ship on the federal level. The broad-strokes reason seems to be that union support is behind this and also because the federal stimulus package money is floating around looking for “shovel-ready projects.” Renn Square certainly qualifies as that, at least on the bus terminal side.

OK. So it’s no secret that I’ve been fairly opposed to the Renn Square project as it sits right now. I personally believe that the project got way off track and makes less and less sense as time wears on. Now, they want to postpone the building of the last remaining theatre, leading me to wonder what’s so Renaissance about the Renaissance Square?

But whatever is the case and whatever my opinion might be, it seems all but certain at this point that the Renn Square project is officially on. And to the extent that it will provide jobs and more importantly, commerce to Rochester, it is a good thing that it will happen this year. I’d wished that we’d taken the opportunity to combine the bus garages with the Amtrak station and worked it into a larger plan for transportation commerce in Rochester, but even without these other things, the potential benefit for downtown is there. Increased downtown foot traffic, commerce, profile and jobs are all potential boons for an ailing downtown.

There are significant problems in the absence of the theatre, however. For one, a great deal of the traffic the RTS bus system gets is high school students and young adults. One of the reasons the Midtown Mall failed was because of the inability to provide the security necessary to corral a bunch of hormonal kids with time to kill. What is the plan for security at the Renn Square? Without the theatre to provide high-income traffic, are we going to just get a lot of Sbarro Pizza and other stuff we used to have at MidTown? There is a need for such fare, but if that’s all that’s offered, we’re in danger of sliding right back where we were in a new location. May as well start lining up the sports teeshirt stores and smoke shops while we’ve got the time.

So since there’s almost no chance of wrestling this one to the ground and since there are a great many issues to be worked out for which the rest of us in Rochester can voice our opinions, I suggest that we on the Left in Rochester find a way to embrace this pig and work for it rather than against it. Rather than boycotting the process, maybe the better way to tackle the problem of Renn Square is to go full-bore into supporting it. After all, the problem with boycotts is that you may feel better about not being involved, you don’t really have a say in what happens anymore. You can’t make anything better, you can only make it fail.

I’d be very interested in knowing other people’s thoughts on the matter.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.