Rochester: Reclaiming Underutilized Public Spaces


Rochester has water in its veins. It is located on Lake Ontario and the Genesee River flows through the heart of the City.  The Genesee River Greenway extends through the scenic, historic and cultural core of Rochester, providing pedestrian access to the Genesee River, its scenic gorge, and three waterfalls. The Erie Canal also plays an important role in Rochester’s history and heritage it basically transformed Rochester into an economic and cultural powerhouse, spawning its nickname as the “The Lion of the West”.   

Beyond their tangible qualities, urban waterways often strike at the very soul of our communities.  The author, poet and social commentator Andrei Codresku wrote this about the value of urban waterways:  

"Cities have always grown alongside the shores of a river or another body of water that served their commercial and civic needs.  Wise old cities like Paris have always known that the river is more than a thoroughfare for the passage of goods.  A city’s river is also a spiritual artery, a place for citizens to stroll and think, reflect, remember, and exercise.  The river focuses the soul of the city." 

This vital connection to the water stands at the epicenter of the Rochester Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), and is evident in the LWRP Vision statement:  

“The City of Rochester’s three great waterways and their unique assets and resources are a “world- class” attraction that enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors, preserves and protects the environment, encourages economic investment and is integrated into the fabric of our community.” 

With this Vision guiding the LWRP planning process, Rochester has begun to transform its entirewaterfront from an underutilized space into a vibrant place for residents, businesses and industry.

Revitalization Issues

The Port of Rochester, located near the mouth of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario, held extraordinary potential for redevelopment. Over the decades, port uses  shifted away from industrial and shipping to recreational; the City constructed the Ferry Terminal Building, a boat launch and dock for this purpose. However, there was still a surplus of vacant land, an underutilized parking area, and a demand for additional boating and fishing amenities.   

The Fix

Community planning and market analysis led to a master plan for the port site that centers around the creation of a new public marina, which would serve as a catalyst for private mixed-use development on the adjacent vacant land. While this ambitious plan will take time to implement, the LWRP set forth policies to allow for marina development and identified complementary projects to address deteriorating infrastructure and allow greater public access to the Genesee River. 

The Result

Using funds provided through several DOS Local Waterfront Revitalization grant awards, construction of the Port of Rochester Marina was completed in May 2016. The facility provides an 84 slip deep-draft marina basin with modern amenities;a new public promenade with benches and picnic areas that surround the marina; and connections to the Charlotte Pier and the Genesee River Trail System. 

Rochester Port

And just to the south of the port site, the City was able to secure a DOS Local Waterfront Revitalization grant to repurpose the derelict bridge abutment into a new overlook. This structure, which had been a safety hazard for years, is now a waterfront amenity on the Genesee Riverway Trail that provides safe fishing access and panoramic views of the historic Charlotte Lighthouse and Genesee River. Visitors will also find an informative interpretive display describing the historic railroad bridge. 

The Impact

The Department of State's investments in these projects has helped the City of Rochester plan and redevelop its underutilized waterfront. The municipal marina is now a regional destination providing recreational opportunities for both the local community and tourists. This project provides an excellent example of how public investment increases public access and enjoyment of the waterfront; spurs private investment; creates jobs; and grows the economy. The marina is expected to generate over $3 million in direct and indirect economic activity each year and create hundreds of permanent jobs. 

More Information

You can view the Rochester LWRP on the Department of State Website.