Jazz festival spotlights revival of downtown Rochester

Nine days of music, culminating in a first-ever – and possibly last – outdoor concert in Midtown, provided the thousands of people who came to this year’s Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival with a front row seat. for downtown renewal.

The Midtown scene offered a unique vantage point – with high-profile projects like Tower280 as a backdrop, and bordered by Sibley Square, The Metropolitan, the newly completed D&C Digital building and 88 Elm.

Consider this: When the Jazz Festival started in 2002, Downtown had $437.5 million in proposed projects or under construction. Today, as the festival celebrates its 15th anniversary, the downtown investment totals just over $857 million, according to Rochester Downtown Development Corp. And the development is all around – on Chestnut, on East Avenue, along the Inner Loop, on State Street.

►MAP: See and read about developments in and around the festival area

“What do you call it, timing? Serendipity? Luck?” asked Marc Iacona, general manager and co-producer of the festival. “It kind of happened like that as we grew up.”

This has meant, and will likely continue to require, some adaptation and reworking of locations. But that’s part of the thrill of Iacona, who used to come downtown regularly with his parents as a child.

“I watched the evolution of this city,” he said. And now, for nine days each summer, he and festival-goers have a front-row seat to its evolution.

►Read more: Housing at the heart of downtown development

In 2002, Chevy Place had just been completed in the East End, and The Sagamore would be announced the following year. A new Monroe Community College campus and proposed performing arts center topped the list of projects.

There were a handful of housing projects underway then, compared to no less than 19 today, promising more than 650 units in the next few years just within the immediate one-block radius or so of Midtown. Downtown has also added a Hilton Garden Inn, a renovated Holiday Inn Downtown Rochester (formerly the Plaza Hotel), and the Downtown Rochester Hyatt Hotel is awaiting a $15 million renovation.

A new MCC campus tops the list of current projects again, on State Street this time, not Main. And Midtown Parcel 5, where Trombone Shorty and his fans will gather on Saturday, is the site of a renewed discussion about – wait for it – a performing arts center.

►Learn more: Does Rochester need a performing arts center?

“I think we’re still at the beginning of the city’s resurgence,” said Deputy Mayor R. Carlos Carballada. “We have to keep the momentum going. It’s not like we started it, and now we’ll see it succeed on its own. … We have to keep working, continuously, to make sure we don’t let any of those (investments) fall in. They have to keep moving forward.

For decades, One East Avenue was sandwiched between an alley of sorts and the largely forgotten intersection of East Avenue and East Main next to Midtown Plaza. During this year’s Jazz Festival, the building hosted events for Rochester Rotary, Rochester Institute of Technology, Bank of America and LifeMark Securities Corp. A side stage and raised bar have been built in the past few days, for a Friday night concert and a ticketed Saturday night that can accommodate up to 450 people during the Shorty show.

Brittany Brandt, the venue’s owner, took over event planning for the building’s 11th-floor penthouse in February.

Previously, “you didn’t want to come here because there was nothing going on,” said Brandt, who moved to the area six years ago from Charleston, South Carolina. But all that has changed. The Penthouse at One East Avenue has been “a roller coaster and a rocket ride”.

And the jazz festival provided an introduction to the masses. Next year, Brandt plans to hold events every day of the festival.

Chris Heath is manager at Fuego Coffee Roasters, which recently moved to Euclid Street.

Around the corner from Euclid Street, Eric Nagle is realizing a vision he had six years ago when he purchased a windowless and almost blind former fur warehouse. When he first suggested to his friends that they open a cafe inside, they hesitated. The building was adjacent to Midtown. To be fair, he was dwarfed by him, more like an alley behind him. Now, thanks to a few extra windows, it overlooks everything.

Last week, on the first day of the festival, this cafe opened its doors – in a shared space with Nagel’s recently reopened bar, The 45. Fuego Coffee Roasters moved from a location on Liberty Pole Way.

“We’ve moved into a space that probably isn’t ready yet,” said Tony Colon, 33, of Fuego, talking less about the near-ready store location and more about the multitude of redevelopments taking place in front of his front door. “We wanted to crash. … That’s the excitement.”

►Read more: Fuego moves

Customers inside the newly reopened Cafe Fuego near the Jazz Festival.

The festival “has completely changed the mindset of people,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the downtown development group. “People started noticing the beautiful buildings…it kind of reintroduced people to the center of the city in a phenomenal way.”

Walk the area now, she said, and “the sense of forward momentum is palpable.”

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