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New Rochester City Council members share their thoughts on future of Parcel 5

(WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. - Tuesday’s primary brought some changes to Rochester City Council. Candidates Malik Evans, Willie Lightfoot and Mitch Gruber won the Democratic Primary.

But three new Democrats, well-poised to win seats on council in November, are preparing to formulate their positions on the future of downtown’s prized piece of property called Parcel 5.

At-Large Council candidates Evans and Gruber are excited to help shape Rochester.

"Transforming out vacant lots into gardens and nature-based spaces,” said Gruber. “That's work that I think that I can hit the ground running on pretty fast."

Evans wants to help bring jobs and city neighborhoods.

“I’m interested in seeing what I can do to improve out city block-by-block, street-by-street,” he said. “I think that would be a major part of my time over at City Council."

This new City Council would potentially have to vote on whether the Rochester Broadway Theater League and mayor could build a performing arts center on Parcel 5.

No formal legislation has been submitted, and raising money to fund a portion of the costs is still ongoing.

RBTL Chairman Arnie Rothschild said he's confident Council will vote "yes" for the theater.

“Because I know where we are,” Rothschild said. “I have been working with our fundraising team, and those are some of the finest community leaders, and they are very confident about this being pulled together."

Rothschild says is still working to fund $20 million of the $85 million, 3,000-seat performing arts center.

Evans agrees there needs to be a strong downtown neighborhood, but the plan has to make sense.

"I’m big on numbers. It's all in how the numbers add up,” he said. “I think that, as a community, we have to ensure that, number one, whatever goes there has to be self-sustainable and it can't ask the taxpayer for money."

Last month, City Council held a public hearing where many in the community voiced their concerns, including those in the arts community - something new Council members are looking forward to hearing.

"I want to see what comes back,” Gruber said. “I want to listen to the community before I can possibly make a judgment. Does it take into consideration all of the different points that were made?"

That resulted in Councilmember Elaine Spaull meeting with arts leaders at City Hall last week. The point was to learn more about their needs and how the city can help. Spaull is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Committee, a former Geva Theater board member, and Parcel 5 is in her district.

Gallina Development Corporation's proposal for a four-story building that has 31 owner-occupied condominiums, restaurants, retail and entertainment space wasn't selected by the mayor.

However, with no legislation submitted to City Council on a performing arts center - or, if the theater is voted down by Council - could Gallina be back in the running?

“My brother is out,” Spaull said. “He doesn’t have any interest at all, anymore. Probably not come back,” she said. “If he did, I would totally. If his proposal was on the table, I would have to recuse myself for sure.”

Rothschild said he hopes to have a proposal by the end of the year.

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