UPDATED 05/14/2005 Update 2017 High falls is long gone - - - Letter to the editor re Laser Light Show I read with interest that Mayor Johnson wants the laser light show at High Falls to resume. Great!! I read with dismay that Stone Mountain Lighting Group (a GEORGIA company) will be doing the productions. I know Stone Mountain did the original shows (and some of the audio had to be redone because the voice over talent mis-pronounced Charlotte and Chili,). They're a fine company. But don't we have lots of talent here that could produce the laser shows? Don't we have the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office as a wonderful resource for LOCAL talent and production information? Aren't there Film and Video degree programs at local colleges? An internship program would be a great way to get new, exciting, and creative shows and give excellent experience to students. The laser equipment is still at High Falls, correct? Or did Stone Mountain rent it to the city - I'm afraid to ask - with an exclusive on future productions? Give the work and the money and the experience back to this community that is supporting (which really means taking the economic hits on) High Falls. Jackie Kaspersin
Maplestar collects rent and, meanwhile, pays the city only $1 a year for the next 40 years ??? Will someone please explain this to me ? I have been in business in Rochester for over 40 years and this is the most ridiculous deal I have seen yet. And while you' re explaining the Maplestar deal, please tell me why the City paid David Flaum, and now David Cordish to "Manage" High Falls ? "Cordish pays no taxes. City taxpayers get just a dollar a year rent, but they pay for all structural repairs to the building." Then there are the fees paid to Kordish: $525,000 the first year--$10,000 a week." And what happened to the money loaned to the Empire Brewing Company ? "City officials said the company still owes about $400,000." I thought a business paid rent and had to work hard to make it. Deals like this, that according to today's article City Council members don't know about, do not seem honest, and I think a full investigation should be mounted - perhaps it's not just Kodak Management who are in the business of kickbacks ! Dave Kaspersin
High Falls is finally starting to work. By work I mean its busy sometimes. But it still has a long way to go, the laser show still stinks, and its still losing money.
Nightspots close at High Falls ahead of redevelopment
By David Tyler Democrat and Chronicle (March 11, 2003) — Flaum Management Co. decided to shut down its clubs and restaurant at The Centers at High Falls to “get out of the way” of the new managers, a Flaum official said. Flaum Management’s contract to operate the centers expired in January, said Michael Palumbo, Flaum’s director of acquisitions. City officials have chosen nationally recognized Baltimore developer David Cordish to take over the facility. The City Council votes on the Cordish deal tonight. On Saturday night, Flaum Management closed the nightclub, jazz club and cajun restaurant that operated in the centers. The Triphammer Grill, museum and art gallery will remain open. “The fact of the matter was, in order for this transition to take place smoothly, it was necessary for us to close,” Palumbo said. More than 60 people lost their jobs. Cordish said last month that if the council approves his contract, he will bring four national bars and restaurants to the site. The building, to be renamed "High Falls Live" could reopen by June 1, Cordish said.
Rochester, NY - The Rochester City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to allow the Cordish Company to take over the Centers at High Falls. The company, based out of Baltimore, plans to put nationally known restaurants and clubs in the complex. Local bar owners are upset and claim they weren't given a chance to put in bids on the centers to lease or buy them. They said when it comes to local bars, they know better what will work than someone from out of town. Anthony Sapienza, owners of Taylor's Nightclub, said, "These people [local owners] have been in the business 20 or 30 years. They know how to run a business. They know how to make it work." City Council members said they approved of the plan that the Cordish Company presented. Council vice-president Gladys Santiago said, "The proposal is attractive. I have high hopes for High Falls..." Local bar owners said they would have used their own money to front the centers and that no taxpayers' dollars would have been needed, as with the Cordish plan. Cordish plans to have the centers up and running by June 2003. The current centers closed this past weekend and it's unclear when the renovations for the new clubs and bars will begin.
Cordish gets High Falls City Council OKs $2.4 million renovation and management pact City Council Tuesday night unanimously awarded a five-year contract to The Cordish Company of Baltimore to run the city-owned complex, which includes bars, restaurants and a museum. The agreement is worth $2.4 million. City officials said the new contract allows them to save money while bringing in a national developer. The council previously had considered a five-year contract worth $703,000 annually for Flaum. If the pact with Cordish is renewed after five years, the company would pay the city $485,000 over the following five years. The city has pumped more than $30 million into the High Falls district since 1990, when the area was filled with abandoned warehouses. The district now boasts several entertainment venues. Many companies have moved into the formerly vacant buildings.
I don't understand why the city pays to have High Falls managed ??? A business takes its chances and has to make it or fail. The city PAYS someone to run a bar / restaurant - - - and if they fail the city (the taxpayers) take it on the chin - - - not the High Falls management ? I wish the city would pay me to run my business ! I am a friend of Mayor Johnson, and I respect him. (I have recorded him on the organ and piano and he's a good musician :) But I wish he would put the money that has been wasted on High Falls into Charlotte Harbor, which also belongs to the city. Very sadly downtown Rochester died over 20 years ago, and I don't see anyway to bring it back. And if we all think about it - - - shouldn't this money go to EDUCATION ??? Dave Kaspersin BTY: If the Mayor runs for County office, I wonder what his stand on Rochester will be. The County owns part of Charlotte too.
Update September 3, 2003 Empire Brewing closes doors Debt forces popular tavern and High Falls anchor to abruptly shut down. By Rick Armon, David Tyler and Todd Grady Staff writers (September 3, 2003) — Empire Brewing Co., one of the anchors in the High Falls entertainment district, abruptly shut down Tuesday, the victim of crushing financial problems. The brewpub was losing too much money despite having a loyal clientele and had too much debt to overcome, a co-owner and city officials said. “ We’d dipped below our break even point,” co-owner Michael Hodgdon said. “ We made efforts to cut costs… but in this business the margins can evaporate pretty quickly.” The closing leaves city officials scrambling to fill a prime location in High Falls and creates a major hole in the old Button Factory at the corner of State and Platt streets. But city officials said that they are already working with a prospective buyer and that the closing isn’t an insurmountable setback to their goal of creating a regional nightlife center at High Falls. “ They did have success there so we should not have any difficulty in helping a new tenant move into that site,” Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. said. “ I just hope that that place will not be dark too long.” City officials declined to identify the prospective buyer for the business here, but also said a separate tenant was interested in moving into the location. The 200-seat, 11,000-square-foot brewpub opened in January 1997 and employed 45 people. The brewpub, which has won national awards for its beer, was one of the first major restaurants to open in the fledgling nightlife district and was viewed as a trailblazer. “ They were kind of the pioneers of the neighborhood,” said Sharon Napier, president and chief executive of The Wolf Group, which has offices in High Falls. “ It was so important to us to get that critical mass in High Falls, and they were a big part of that.” Owners Hodgdon and David Katleski received tax credits and utility discounts under the state’s Economic Development Zone program to open the brewpub. It also qualified for $417,000 in federal and state loans under the Enterprise Community Zone program. The loans were shipped through the Rochester Economic Development Corp. City officials said the company still owes about $400,000. Johnson said that the city would try to recoup as much of its investment as possible. City Councilman Robert Stevenson also said that Empire owes about $560,000 in bank loans and $20,000 in rent. Hodgdon declined to discuss how much debt the restaurant had. Paul Gatza, director at the Association of Brewers, said that debt is the top reason that brewpubs close. There are about 1,006 brewpubs now operating nationwide, up from 996 a year ago, he said. “ We have seen some growth in the brewpub sector,’’ Gatza said. He added that while 90 percent of restaurants fold after two years in business, two-thirds of brewpubs have stayed in business since the early 1980s. Empire produced only 1,175 barrels of beer in Rochester last year, according to the Association of Brewers — down from a high of 1,800 in 2000. Some of the drop in business could be attributed to declines in downtown employment, including losses at Eastman Kodak Co., Hodgdon said. In 1996, before the brewery opened, Kodak employed 7,506 at its 343 State St. headquarters, according to company figures. In 2001, it employed 3,995. “ We just don’t get the business meetings or the evening happy hours that we used to,” Hodgdon said. At one time, Empire operated brewpubs in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The Syracuse location is t he only one left open. The closing here was reminiscent of how Empire shut down its Buffalo operation in February 2001. A little over a year after opening in Buffalo and receiving a $100,000 low-interest loan, the company closed overnight and left town. That both surprised and irritated Buffalo officials. Many workers, neighboring businesses and customers in Rochester were similarly shocked at Empire closing here. “ I’m sorry to see them go,” said Aaron Josephson, owner of Jimmy Mac’s and president of the High Falls Business Association. “ They really are great neighbors.” The doors were locked Tuesday and chairs were neatly stacked on tables. Employees were told in the morning that the brewpub would not reopen. “ Things have been slow lately,” said Michael Paul, 22, a server who reported to work only to find the doors locked. “ The last month has been pretty bad.” Fran Antonelli, one of the co-owners of the Button Factory building, said he also learned of the closing Tuesday morning. “ They’ve been there longer than we’ve owned the building,” he said. “ We were shocked.” In a statement issued later, the owners, who bought the building in 1999, pledged to work with the city to find a new tenant. The city has much at stake in High Falls. Since 1990, the city has pumped more than $30 million into the High Falls district. This year, the city hired The Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, a nationally known developer, to help run city-owned property in High Falls and boost the reputation of the entertainment district. The company opened Tiki Bob’s Cantina and McFadden’s Restaurant and Bar in June. Reed Cordish, a vice president at Cordish, said the company was surprised at the closing, but still has high hopes for High Falls. “ We’ve been very pleased with the High Falls area and Rochester since our opening and we think the potential for the area is tremendous,’’ he said. The news was difficult for some to understand because the brewpub seemed to be a popular hangout for beer and food. “ I thought they were always so busy,” said Charlene Doell, 27, of Rochester. “ My favorite was the bisque. I would go there just for that.” Doell also said that Empire was a place you could rely on and its proximity to Frontier Field gave it a strategic location. Stephen Brilling, who has a food cart outside Empire, said some workers at the restaurant told him business was slow. “ They knew it was going bad, but weren’t ready for it to close,” he said. RARMON@DemocratandChronicle.com DTYLER@DemocratandChronicle.com TGRADY@DemocratandChronicle.com
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- People in this beleaguered city on the south shore of Lake Ontario are pretty excited about a new Toronto-Rochester car ferry promised for May. For their part, people in Toronto have barely noticed. That's all to the good because there are several important reasons why Torontonians wouldn't ever want to come here.
Take Rochester's homicide rate, at triple the U.S. average. The car-theft rate is 2.6 times the U.S. average. Robbery is nearly triple the national rate. Then there's the culinary treasure known -- this is true -- as the Garbage Plate.
For $6 (U.S.), you get home fries and cold macaroni salad, topped with a cheeseburger or hot dog, all drowned in ground meat, hot sauce, chopped raw onions and Day-Glo orange grease. It takes a tattooed cook 14 seconds to assemble. It looks unpicturesque.
"That's why they call it the Garbage Plate," says Mayor William A. Johnson Jr., 61, who is no fan.
Don't sample it at Nick Tahou Hots (slogan: "Home of the Garbage Plate''). At this fluorescent-and-Formica joint, the cheeseburger is as dry as a cracker and the grease pools at the bottom of the paper plate.
"It's supposed to be greasy," says the skinny cashier, who appears to eat elsewhere.
Nick's used to be open all night until it hosted one too many shootouts. Located on West Main Street, it's a quick but perilous walk from the mayor's office, past a homeless shelter, shuttered businesses and a high school for troubled youths.
"You walked there?" Mr. Johnson says. "I wouldn't walk there. Don't go there again. If you had made a wrong turn, you would have been in no man's land." He pulls out sheets of statistics. Rochester's homicide rate, at 17.4 per 100,000, is double New York City's.
In 2001, Rochester had 39 homicides, mostly execution-style hits.
"Only a couple of times a year, a purely innocent person gets shot," the mayor says.
He dreamed up the ferry idea in 1995, a year after he took office. He thought tourism might halt the city's decline. Conjuring up a vision of Torontonians streaming across Lake Ontario, he persuaded New York state to kick in $14-million toward a ferry service.
Currently, the $42.5-million (U.S.) high-speed catamaran is out of dry dock in Perth, Australia. At the Rochester harbour, a 30-minute drive from downtown, work crews are rushing to convert an abandoned warehouse into a terminal.
But neither side has received approval from customs and immigration authorities. And construction hasn't even begun in Toronto. "I'm in the dark as to exactly what kind of structure they're talking about," says Mr. Johnson, who has heard rumours that Toronto's terminal might be a concrete pad covered by a tent.
Henry Pankratz, Toronto Port Authority chairman, didn't return calls. Nor did Dominick DeLucia or Howard Thomas, executives at the ferry company, Canadian American Transportation Systems.
"The last I heard they wanted somebody else to put in money," says Joe Pantalone, a Toronto city councillor who chairs the municipal waterfront group.
In a sign of how few tourists come to Rochester, rooms at Microtel Inn & Suites cost $39.95.
"I get the stupidest calls from the stupidest people," the desk clerk complained to a room attendant the other morning. "Like, 'How big are your rooms?' " In fact, Microtel has queen beds and full baths, and includes continental breakfast, free local calls, cable TV and the morning paper.
Rochester would be a bargain, except that Air Canada charges nearly $900 round-trip for a 25-minute flight. (Advance bookings are $387, with a $150 penalty for any change.) By car, the trip via Buffalo takes about 3½ hours, plus gas and tolls. In contrast, the thrice-daily ferry will cost $40 (U.S.) per car, plus $20 per passenger, or $28 for walk-ons. Shore to shore, the trip takes 2½ hours, an estimate that doesn't include customs and immigration checks.
But such comparisons miss the point, according to Carol Miller, a retired hospital worker (and my cousin-in-law), who has lived in Rochester her whole life. "What do they expect people from Toronto to do when they come here? There is so nothing here."
Hers is a typical Rochesterian psyche, less civic boosterism than civic dumpsterism. Indeed, last June a number of local organizations offered a "Reality Tour" of the city's poorest neighbourhoods.
Ms. Miller offers her own blightseeing tour. At the ferry docks, she points out abandoned buildings. "The beach is polluted," she says over the roar of front-loaders. Later, she drives her family van over potholed streets to the downtown core. Here, on the Genesee River, is Rochester's star attraction: a 30-metre waterfall.
High Falls is no Niagara Falls, but it did power Rochester's first flour mills. On this sunny November day, the footbridge is deserted. "I hate to tell you this, but it's like this in the summer, too," Ms. Miller says. "To be honest, I wouldn't come here day or night alone."
Downtown, all-day parking is $3. A nearby heritage building is vacant, with smashed windows and torn plastic sheeting. Traffic is so sparse it's unnecessary to look left or right when crossing the street. But pretensions to a bygone era remain: no-left-turn signs on every downtown corner.
Two hundred years ago, High Falls made Rochester the largest flour-milling city in the world. A hundred years ago, George Eastman invented the 10-cent flexible film roll and the $1 Brownie camera here. His 50-room mansion, which now houses a museum of photography, is the city's only five-star attraction. In 1932, at the age of 77, the lifelong bachelor declared his life's work done and shot himself in an upstairs bedroom.
Rochester's decline can be traced to governor Thomas E. Dewey. In 1948, Rochester voted against him when he ran for president, ensuring he lost the state -- and the White House. Two years later, Mr. Dewey saw to it that Interstate 90 bypassed Rochester on its way from Buffalo to Syracuse.
Today, digital technology has slashed employment at Eastman Kodak Co. to 21,000 from a high of 60,000 in 1982. Two other main employers, Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc., have also cut jobs. In the past decade, Rochester's population has shrunk 6.3 per cent to 220,000 (Greater Rochester has about a million) and taxable city property values have plunged 15.3 per cent. It now ranks 173rd among the nation's 200 largest metropolitan areas in terms of job creation and economic performance.
At the end of a depressing tour, Ms. Miller is pressed for a genuine Rochester attraction. She suggests Wegmans, a supermarket. Don't laugh. "It's the store where I take my relatives and out-of-town visitors," Neil Stern, a food-industry analyst, told The New York Times.
Cher went there this summer. Wearing dark glasses and a cowboy hat, she signed autographs and cooed to the manager, Bill Congdon, "I'd love for you to build one of these stores in Malibu where I live."
At 130,000 square feet, the Pittsford Plaza Wegmans offers a caviar bar, a kosher deli that authentically boils the bagels before baking, and a less authentic Chinese buffet. The fish department cooks to order, free. The flower department has a five-day guarantee on roses. You can hook your latte cup onto your shopping cart. Your toddler can "drive" a red plastic car also hooked, yes, to your shopping cart.
Aside from gargantuan restaurant portions -- the Scotch N Sirloin offers 48-ounce slabs of prime rib, Nick Tahou Hots sells 42-ounce drinks -- everything in Rochester seems to be disappearing. Downtown's revolving restaurant has closed. The nightly laser show at High Falls has been mostly discontinued. Even the Red Wings baseball team had five consecutive losing seasons, including, in 2002, its worst in 23 years.
"Then they moved the team to Ottawa, and immediately it got better," says Mr. Johnson, who himself was trounced this month in a race for county manager.
Not surprisingly, Rochesterians prefer to look to the past. Visitors are told to go to Mount Hope Cemetery, where Frederick Douglass, the slavery abolitionist, and Susan B. Anthony, the women's suffrage leader, are buried. Her home is another attraction, but everyone from cab drivers to Ms. Miller to the mayor warned against venturing into the neighbourhood (just past Nick Tahou Hots).
"Oh, we have no problem here," Joanne Middleton, the docent, insisted to the one and only visitor of the day. "The neighbourhood is fine."
January, 2004 If Rochester wants to see the economy / Ferry / anything succeed and move forward we need to: 1. Close High Falls and move it to Charlotte. 2. Take the money that would be wasted on the aqua duct project and spend it in Charlotte. 3. Take the money that would be wasted on the corn hill waterfront project and spend it in Charlotte. 4. Move whats left of downtown Rochester to Charlotte. (There isn't much left to move) 5. Start with the old Changing Scene restaurant. (Remember the one where you got to see all the air conditioning units as you dined) If it had been built in Charlotte it would still be operating. 6. Build the bus terminal in Charlotte. 7. Build the Megacenter in Charlotte. 8. Save the railroad bridge in Charlotte. It would attract visitors if it was a restaurant / street of shops. And yes have it rotate for gods sake ! 9. Someone tell the Mayor that DOWNTOWN Rochester died over 20 years ago. Its time to give "No Man's Land" a decent burial ! 10. Rename Charlotte Rochester North. (Remember Charlotte is City property) Dave Kaspersin
10/10/04 -- A new neon sign "Welcome To High Falls" now lights up the entrance to Rochester's planned entertainment district. However, on this Saturday night, it appears that the crowds have gone elsewhere. The section suffered another setback this week after popular spot Jillian's closed its doors. Last year, another popular bar and restaurant, Empire Brewery, closed after financial problems.