Visioning session imagines downtown Rochester of the future

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 6, 2016

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ROCHESTER — Downtown Rochester is booming, but how can city officials make sure it stays that way?

Community officials, leaders, businesses and residents recently came together to share ideas on how to do just that during a Downtown Visioning Session at the Royal Park Hotel in April.

Nationally known downtown revitalization expert and “Flip This Town” author Ron Drake facilitated the event, which grouped over 140 participants at 14 tables — each with a moderator and a student scribe from Rochester College — to share their ideas for a future downtown Rochester.

“The vision was to guide future development and growth of downtown, to engage the greater Rochester community, and to inspire ownership of downtown,” Rochester Downtown Development Authority Chairman Mark Albrecht said during a recent presentation to the City Council. “I think we achieved that.”

During the event, Drake asked participants three questions, and participants at each table had 30 minutes to gather their thoughts, which were then shared with the entire room.

“The enthusiasm I felt at every table to really try to get a clear direction of where (they) want Rochester to go (was amazing),” Drake said.

Over 220 downtown redevelopment opportunities were identified. The most popular responses included more entertainment; a movie theater and/or live entertainment; a greater downtown connection to the city’s trails and water, and a Clinton River district; a town center or square and a more enhanced downtown park; an expanded and diversified retail mix; a boutique grocery store; a year-round enclosed farmers market; a carousel; and a visitor center or museum with public restrooms.

“Ron really gave us the power to just imagine and think and not to be scared — just really to see what could be,” Mayor Pro Tem Kim Russell said.

The next question asked what would bring visioning session participants to a downtown, which garnered
211 responses and 22 pages of data. Again, the theme of entertainment — including theater, music and cultural events — was brought up; as well as an enhanced retail mix; expanded store hours; cross-cultural events and festivals; and an expanded farmers market and/or a flea market.

Similar features and themes were discussed during the final question — what asset makes a downtown vibrant? Of the 146 responses shared, participants identified a strong sense of community and identity; intergenerational, cultural and economic diversity; gathering and green spaces on Main Street or a town square; walkability and a bike-friendly atmosphere; nightlife; a welcome or visitor center; maximizing the waterways and trails and connecting them to downtown; a carousel; historical features that have been preserved; as well as the presence of young people and college students.

“Some of these ideas, though far-fetched, I’d like to be standing in here years from now saying, ‘Hey that came up on April 13, 2016, and we made it a reality,’” Albrecht said.

Over the next few weeks, Albrecht said, he will be sharing the results of the session with various city boards and commissions, distributing the summarized findings to the visioning session attendees and then posting the info on DowntownRochesterMI.com.

“The big issue is, how do you take 566 responses and 66 pages of data and work with it? What we plan to do is mine that data, leverage that data — the feedback and information — and develop plans and programs that are responsive to the results of the visioning session. Furthermore, we look forward to continuing to mine that data and listen and create dialogue for future planning,” he said.

Rochester is really the regional downtown, according to Albrecht.

“Rochester Hills doesn’t have a downtown. Oakland Township doesn’t have a downtown — we are their downtown. They come here to shop and entertain, and we welcome that in our community,” he said.

Progress and the future of Rochester are one and the same, he said, adding that the city welcomes ongoing feedback and dialogue.

“I think this future is very bright,” he added.

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