Rochester: A City Transformed
Transcript of the 2013 State of the City Address
Delivered by Mayor Thomas S. Richards
Presented at the School of the Arts on May 6, 2013
Good evening. And thank you Bob for the warm introduction. There is only one problem, with the disruption on Main Street with the filming of the Amazing Spider-Man 2, I seem to have forgotten my speech. It is on my desk in City Hall. I am at a bit of a loss here, but I will muddle through unless I can get some help. Thank you Spidey, good to have you and enjoy your stay in Rochester. That was quite the trip from City Hall to the School of the Arts. I would like to thank Columbia Pictures for bringing the Amazing Spider-Man 2 to our town and for allowing Spider-Man to deliver my speech. Thanks also to Bergmann Associates for providing the 3-D Spidey trek. Bergmann is always willing to help with these cool 3-D movies.
Welcome to the School of the Arts. Our choice of this marvelous place is deliberate. Each day the School of the Arts cultivates the talents of our city’s youth. This is a good school full of good kids with good teachers and it is not the only one. That is important to remember, despite the well known challenges of our school district. Thanks to SOTA and the Rochester City School District for serving as our hosts this evening.
I would be remiss not to thank the citizens of Rochester. I appreciate your support. It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your Mayor. Despite its challenges, this is most rewarding job of my career. I appreciate each of you here tonight, for your commitment and dedication to the future of our city. I have just completed my second year as Mayor. We have accomplished much and have set in motion much that will continue the transformation of Rochester for its residents. But, we cannot do it in a vacuum. I am extremely grateful to our other partners in service to the citizens of our city.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the federal level. To Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy; your efforts have assisted Rochester in these difficult economic times and you have given back faith to all New Yorkers in the functioning of our state government.
My thanks to our Assembly delegation: Assemblymen David Gantt, Joe Morelle and Harry Bronson. To our Senate delegation: State Senators Joe Robach, Ted O’Brien and Michael Ranzenhofer. Thanks also to our partners in County government, County Executive Maggie Brooks and the County Legislature. And, my sincere appreciation goes out to the members of the Rochester City Council. President Lovely Warren, Vice-President Dana Miller and fellow Council Members: Carolee Conklin; Matt Haag; Adam McFadden; Jackie Ortiz; Carla Palumbo; Loretta Scott and Elaine Spaull. We have worked in a cooperative and collaborative spirit to address the challenges that face our city. I also want to acknowledge our hard-working and dedicated City employees. City workers provide the highest level of service to our residents and visitors and do so in a customer-oriented fashion. My thanks also to School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, School Board President Malik Evans and the other Board members from the school district. Bolgen, you have been an excellent partner as we work together to make our schools more effective. Finally, my sincerest thanks to my wife Betty, my family and my grandchildren. Being Mayor takes a toll on all of them. They are my touchstone, helping me to maintain balance and perspective.
This is a unique time in the history of our city. We are seeing a fundamental change in our circumstances. The old politics of making promises and ignoring obvious realities are over. We need a new politics of governing for our city and we need to begin to remake our city; not by pretending the new world doesn’t exist – but rather by pulling together and facing our new reality with new policies and new actions. With the right leadership and our collective will – we can make our city a place where all of our residents can have the opportunity to thrive and prosper. Tonight, I want to focus on the new reality we face and what to do about it.
We are a city undergoing a transformation. Some of this is due to factors that have gripped cities like ours across the country. They include the loss of the industrial base that was largely concentrated in the cities and was the source of stable employment for our citizens - employment that required skills and commitment, but not significant levels of education and preparation. We are seeing a shift to a knowledge-based economy that is no longer rooted in large industrial facilities that were tied to a place. This economy places a premium on education and technical skills. Our society has seen a shift to suburban living and to suburban employment. That suburban shift has fostered a change in transportation and infrastructure investments. And the recent prolonged recession and its impacts, have confirmed the economic changes that have been occurring over some time.
Some of this transformation is due to factors that are particular to our community. We depended on a few large companies and we were dominated by one in particular. They provided employment and civic leadership. This dynamic has not existed for some time and the bankruptcy of Kodak provides symbolic evidence. These industries were always relatively high tech and attracted people with transferable skills. Downsizing often brought separation plans that were relatively generous to the individuals affected. The shift in the economic base that affected many cities was more gradual and, to some extent, milder here. Nonetheless, the change was real and it has had a real impact.
As a result of all of this and other things as well, we are a changed city. We were built for 330,000 people, we are now 210,000. Kodak no longer employs 60,000 people. It is not just that we are smaller. We are different. There is a dichotomy between a significant part of the city and the suburbs in wealth, public education performance and race. Our city has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the state — if not in the country — and that is disproportionately defined by race. Our school system is struggling at a time when there is a premium on education. With large annual budget gaps, it is increasingly difficult to fund our government. We are at a place where just two state mandates completely swallow up our entire property tax levy. The City’s dynamics – its industry base – its population base and its traditional funding streams are forever changed.
So there is no doubt that we are a city being transformed. This is not a choice. It is a fact. Our choice is whether this transformation will be for good or for ill. Our choice is whether we will control it, or whether it will control us. I say these things, some of which are hard to hear, not to scare or discourage you, but in the firm belief that if we are to take charge of our future we need to understand and be honest about our present. I seek to get out in front and steer that transformation so all of us can remain and prosper in the city we love. My intention tonight is to show that we have started down that path and how I intend that we continue.
At the start, I see two key risks that can lead us astray. The first is to fail to understand what is going on – to mistake the change as one of degree, rather than transformation – to mistake it as a matter of size, rather than of fundamental difference. In the face of a new and uncertain reality – I understand the temptation to trivialize the challenges, particularly the financial challenges, and to substitute the traditional laundry list of promises of benefits to one individual or group. This strategy may sound good to the recipient, but we are way past that point. That is the old politics and we need a new politics of transformation.
The second key risk is to not allow the changes to isolate the city and its people. There is a temptation to turn inward. To define the city in isolation. To define it in terms of one segment or race or problem and to use that definition to political advantage. There are cities across the country that have tried this approach and none have succeeded. A campaign may be won by a strategy of divide and conquer – but a city cannot be governed that way. Again, that is the old politics – and a certain path to failure.
Successful cities have always had a constituency broader than themselves. In the last century they earned it as the center of the broader community and to no small extent, we need to earn it again. We need to be seen as more than a place where some of us live and work. We are, and need to be recognized as the cultural and financial center of the region. We need a broad spectrum of people to identify with the city – its success and its future. We need those people to proudly say they are from Rochester, whether they live within its boundaries or not. This is no time to narrow the definition of our city.
So how do we go about doing that? We start with public safety. Perhaps the most fundamental purpose of government is the protection of its citizens. By far, the lion’s share of the City’s budget is dedicated to police and fire services. But that is far from the full extent of our investment in public safety. Clean water, street lighting, lead safe and affordable housing, code inspections, after school programs, Rec centers and libraries are all pieces of the puzzle in keeping our citizens safe.
Despite this investment and despite our vigilance, some of our citizens prey upon others and participate in violent acts. Those activities violate not just the individual victim – they violate us all. A neighborhood infringed upon by violence damages us all. While it’s a fact that violent crime is steadily decreasing, that is of little value to someone who has been the victim of a crime or violence or one who has witnessed it. These past few months, Chief Sheppard and I held Voice of the Citizen, or VOC meetings on crime and violence. They were well attended and citizens shared their concerns and ideas for helping to stem violence and lawlessness.
Some of those ideas we are already acting on. Some, were already in progress, and some are things we are taking a good hard look at now. I want to thank each and every one of the folks who attended and participated in those VOC meetings. The Chief and I know firsthand that fighting crime is not just for the police. We need our citizens to help. In fact, just last month, the arrests of two very violent individuals were made possible because of the cooperation of people in that neighborhood.
With the summer fast approaching, we need to pay attention to the potential for escalating violence. Last summer this was met with a variety of strategies called Operation Cool Down and we have already started it this year. Looking at it from a more comprehensive point of view, we are approaching crime and violence from three perspectives: Engaging Neighbors. Engaging Young People. And Targeting Gangs.
We will do these under the umbrella of Chief Sheppard’s “Policing in the Spirit of Service.” Being a police officer is a tough job. You are asked to deal with many things that the rest of us do not want to, or cannot deal with. It can be dangerous and often thankless. Being a cop is tough because despite the pressures you encounter on the job, you are expected to not allow those pressures to affect your performance.
I believe that is part of what the Chief means by “Policing in the Spirit of Service” and I admire the men and women who live this day in and day out. Whatever our response to crime and violence, we cannot lose sight of this principle.
Regarding the first part of the plan which calls for Engaging Neighbors, I believe Chief Sheppard is doing an excellent job of reaching out to neighbors in many ways, including his Chief on the Street meetings and his Barber Shop talks – several of which I have attended. As a result of those experiences and our VOC meetings, we have seen the importance of citizen input and citizen collaboration to combat crime and violence. They are convinced, and so am I, that we can be successful in this effort. Therefore, in the forthcoming budget I have set aside money for a competitive grant for neighborhood groups and organizations to develop action plans to work with police to stem violence and criminal activity in their neighborhoods. This will be a new form of citizen budgeting. There are no predetermined outcomes for these grants. They will go towards what works best for that particular area as decided upon by the residents living there. Maybe the money goes for another police camera or a more efficient plan for safely reporting criminal activity. That is for the neighbors to decide.
Engaging Young People. A particularly unfortunate part of the problem with crime is the involvement of young people. The Police Department has directly addressed this issue by engaging youth with the Police Activities League and other interactive programs that involve children shopping with police officers. This builds a bond of trust. By working to improve police and youth relations and by training our young people for jobs, we can reduce the temptations to participate in activities that can lead to crime and violence. However, this is not just a problem for the Police Department. We must focus on keeping our young people occupied with gainful activities.
One of the best activities I can think of is a job. Thanks to Senator Joe Robach, we have $250,000 to bolster our Summer of Opportunity jobs program. In this upcoming budget, we will invest an additional $300,000 to employ more than 400 of our young people. This is combined with the Rochester Works Summer Youth Employment Program that reaches another 500 youth and the Hillside Work Scholarship program that operates throughout the year. Summer of Opportunity is a summer job and education program that matches city youth with job opportunities. It encourages youth to complete high school and pursue further education. It gives youth a real life experience in the world of work and reinforces the relationship between what is learned in an academic setting and what is needed for a job.
Targeting Gangs. We need to continually remind ourselves that crime, particularly violent crime, results from the actions of a very small number of people. Most people, no matter where they live or how old they are, want to live peaceably. That is how they live their daily lives. However, there are far too many illegal guns on our streets and increasingly, those guns are in the hands of a relatively small number of young, self-identified gang members. These gangs or street clubs are involved in drug sales and other illegal activity and use weapons to defend their turf or settle a score with a rival group. Chief Sheppard confirms that most gun crimes in our city stem from this kind of activity. We will use all the tools at our disposal to break up these gangs. Just last month, the RPD, the U.S Attorney’s Office, Monroe County D.A. Office, and ATF collaborated on a major bust of one of these gangs. It resulted in 11 arrests of people who tried to hold a neighborhood in our city hostage. They all face federal prison time. Let that be a warning to all gang members. We will not tolerate this behavior any longer. The Chief recently sent a communication to known gang participants to let them know they are on our radar.
There has been much discussion about the formulation of how police are deployed. Some prefer the current east/west divisions and some say we should return back to the seven sections arrangement we once used. I don’t necessarily buy that public safety was better under the section system we used to have. Despite what some have said, we had significant police/citizen issues under that system, higher crime rates and some response times to crimes were longer than they are today. But, I don’t dismiss the well-reasoned opinions on how to best deploy our police. This includes the possibility that it will improve police relationships with the community. However, creating more sections with all of the cost that will generate may not be the best way to do it. This is a discussion that should not be based on nostalgia or emotion. It needs to be based on the facts and be thoroughly reviewed.
We have created a downtown district to respond to the rapidly changing Downtown. It operates generally during the working hours when 50,000 people come Downtown each day, making it the most densely populated area in the city. Some of those people live there, some work there in all types of jobs, some are in school and some are passing through on the bus. Those police resources are there because that is where the people are and where the demand exists. Thereafter, the resources are shifted to other parts of the city. We are responding to a fact-based need and maintaining the needed flexibility to respond elsewhere. These are the kind of considerations we will have to bring to any other changes. To that end, I will include funding in the RPD budget to study this issue. Let’s look at what we are doing and see if there is a better way. But let’s work from the facts.
Closely tied to public safety and almost everything else we aspire to is the public education system. In the past, the conversation about the school district throughout too much of the community has been dominated by adults. Adults who are often competing for center stage by one upping each other over who could be the most critical. We have endured repeated changes in district leadership and one grand plan after another that promised to solve it all. The children were often pawns in an adult game. I have sought a new course. It does not back-off for a minute from the need for dramatic improvement and accountability for us all. It is, however, one of active, cooperative participation with the school district. I believe that I can have willing partners in Superintendent Vargas, the Board and the unions.
First of all, there are no points awarded for trashing the district. Everyone, including those directly responsible for the district, knows that it needs improvement and it is too late for anyone to claim they discovered the problem. The issue at hand is what we do about it. Our children -- some 30,000 of them – continue to move through the system. They cannot wait for us to get organized to put the allegedly perfect plan in place. Our students often struggle because they come from unstable circumstances and we shouldn’t repeat those circumstances at school. School should be stable, something children can count on. This means consistent programs in consistent locations with consistent leadership. We need fewer programs, done well.
The District must be credible and it starts with the basics, like taking attendance and enforcing it. You can’t benefit from any program, if you are not there. It starts at the beginning – in kindergarten -- so that the practice is ingrained and a child does not drift behind. We have actively partnered with the District on this issue. Our children must master the basics, like learning to read by third grade, so that they can read to learn thereafter – this, by the way- unlike some of our other challenges - we know how to do. I support universally available pre-school and an extended school day – we should have the longest school day in the county, not the shortest, like we have now and it should include enrichment - sports, music, arts – some of which we have lost.
The schools that are being rebuilt under the Facilities Modernization Program should accommodate this and the City can help through the development of community schools that support a broad range of community needs. We have studies underway now to see how our libraries and recreation centers can coordinate and support such a program. There are charter schools in the city and there will be more, some of which are actively being planned now. I support this as a necessary option, just as the Catholic school system once was.
However, I am the Mayor of the City of Rochester and I have a primary obligation to the Rochester public school system. There will be tens of thousands of children in that public school system for the foreseeable future and I have no intention of giving up on them. None of this puts the Mayor in charge of the school system or tells it how to educate our children. That is the district’s clear responsibility. The major programs I have mentioned are all announced intentions of the District. What I have done and what I propose to continue to do is to use a collaborative approach to put children first.
In all of this struggle and attention to problems, I would like us to remember that it does not take away from our commitment to improvement to acknowledge some good things about our children, their families and their teachers. I have joined the Superintendent and Board President Evans in visiting the homes of students in the early grades who have been experiencing attendance problems. However, we shouldn’t forget the almost 10,000 of our children have excellent or nearly perfect attendance, that is more than 97 percent. At the Superintendent’s suggestion, we also visited the homes of some of those children to present a certificate of recognition. If you have perfect attendance in second grade, somebody is making sure you get there, so we recognized the parents and guardians as well. We have to reinforce that the best way to show your love for children is to get them to school.
Schools can only flourish in neighborhoods that are strong. I pledge to keep investing in our neighborhoods to expand our affordable housing efforts and improve the quality of life. This upcoming year, you will see work begin on a new Public Market storefront building and we will complete work at the Son House housing project in the Northeast. In the Northwest, the Holy Rosary Campus and its infill housing element will be completed and work will begin at the Photec site. In the Southeast quadrant, we have begun work at College Town and will begin work on the second phase of the Culver Road Armory. The Pinnacle Apartments renovation will be completed. And in the Southwest, the Flats at Brooks Landing will get underway and the Carriage Factory, Hardy Apartments and the Corn Hill Townhomes will be completed.
Let’s talk about where our money goes. Big projects in the Center City get the most attention, but it is important to remember our primary commitment is to our neighborhoods. The obvious examples include the many people and facilities in our police, fire, 311 and emergency communications departments. Our recreation centers and libraries, our Neighborhood Service Centers. Our staff that maintain the parks, pick up our refuse and recycling, plow and keep our streets and sidewalks clean. Our lead inspectors and code enforcement officers. The staff in our animal services, our business and housing development, our planning and zoning, our neighborhood preservation, our water bureau, our employment opportunities and youth services – the list of staff and services goes on and on. In the last four years we have invested more than $24 million in personnel to support programs in recreation and youth services. Nearly $33 million in our libraries; $137 million for the people who maintain our roads, sidewalks, refuse, street lighting, parks, environmental services and clean water provision; and more than $465 million in public safety for police, fire and 911 personnel.
Why do we make such significant commitments in our neighborhoods? Why do we make sure that our libraries and recreation centers remain funded? Because if the City doesn’t provide these services, our residents would go without them. For example, our libraries have become safe havens for our children, offering programs and structured activities. City libraries host programs like “Safe to be Smart” which provides cultural and literacy related field trips, life skills training, community service activities and guest speakers. The youth workers and librarians serve as counselors, tutors and mentors to these children.
Take the 16 year old boy who comes into the Phillis Wheatley Library with his 11 year old brother every day. Their parents are from Somalia and they don’t speak much English. They come in to get help with homework. They’re excited to see a sign-up sheet for an upcoming field trip to see the RPO. What’s the RPO they ask? Their interaction at the library opens up a new world for them.
Significant program commitments in our neighborhoods are vital for their positive impacts on people. Take Officer Brandon Ince. From a young age, his parents instilled in him the need for giving back to the community. That sense of community stayed with him and he serves our city not just in uniform, but as a volunteer with the Police Activities League. Officer Ince has a special connection with kids. He grew up on the west side, he’s experienced the same things children are going through today and volunteering helps him strengthen his connection with citizens. We continue to invest in our neighborhoods and our families. Over the last four years public and private investment in infrastructure, housing and business development in Rochester is more than $1.7 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”
It has been a very long time since this city has seen this kind of investment. It is only occurring because the City has become an active partner. For example, in real estate developments, every City dollar invested attracts more than twenty dollars from other sources. Our investments also include roadway resurfacing so that residents and visitors have safe streets to drive on. Sidewalk and curb replacements along with street lighting so our citizens have great places to walk, bike or run. Park and trail improvements, environmental and green improvements for our citizens to enjoy nature and for sustainability for our future generations. And, also for water system improvements so that families have a clean, healthy and reliable source of drinking water.
And we invest public money in our public facilities and infrastructure in every quadrant. In the Southeast, over the last four years there has been more than $102 million in investments. You can see it at Akron Street and Cedarwood Terrace, Mt. Hope Avenue, Melville Street and ArtWalk. In the Southwest, more than $47 million has been invested in infrastructure. You can see it in the Westfield Street and Aberdeen Street neighborhood – South Clinton and South Plymouth Avenues. In the Northeast, more than $84 million has been invested. You can see it at the David Gantt Community Center, the Smith Street Bridge, Joseph Avenue and Avenue D. And, in the Northwest, more than $78 million has been invested. You can see it in street replacements along Dewey Avenue, Winchester Avenue and Emerson Street, or the new spray park at Edgerton. These are just a few examples in each area of the city.
In addition, let’s look at improving housing in our neighborhoods over the last four years. Beyond the 350 units of market rate housing, we assisted more than 4,700 low and moderate income households by creating new units, rehabilitating existing units and performing lead hazard controls. In all, 4,700 families have benefited. 4,700 families whose quality of life has been improved and 4,700 families who are now living in safe, affordable housing. Much of our investment goes to providing safer housing for people, such as housing development, Emergency Assistance Repair, exterior repair in the Focused Investment Strategy areas, HOME Rochester rehabilitations or lead hazard control.
In short, we are providing our residents, our children, our families, those with disabilities and those with low incomes with clean and safe homes that they can afford to live in. And the total investment in housing has been immense. We have been particularly successful in attracting support through the State housing programs. This, along with an excellent group of developers involved in affordable housing has produced great success.
In the Northeast quadrant, over the last four years there has been more than $62 million in housing investment including El Camino and Mildred Johnson Estates and the Son House to name a few. In the Southwest, more than $112 million has been invested in housing, including Voters Block, Brooks Court and the Carriage Factory Apartments. Again, these are just a few. In the Southeast, more than $163 million has been invested in housing at Erie Harbor and the Hamilton and at Norton and Fernwood Villages. And, in the Northwest, more than $79 million has been invested in housing at such places as Eastman Commons, Clay Avenue and in JOSANA.
We also help cultivate city businesses in our neighborhoods, from mom and pop stores to manufacturing facilities. They improve the neighborhood and generate jobs that enhance the community and keep people employed. In the Northeast, over the last four years there has been more than $25 million in investment in businesses. Just look at El Pilon restaurant, Upstate Furniture Company and Inclemas Grocery. In the Southwest, more than $19 million has been invested in businesses at the Brooks Landing Business Center and Pro-tech of Rochester. In the Southeast, more than $266 million has been invested. Look at College Town, the Culver Road Armory, Alexander Park, Highland Contractors and Freedom Market. And, in the Northwest more than $78 million has been invested. You can see it at Main Ford General Supply, Mercury Print and Woerner Industries.
These investments have paid off. Since 2004, the assessed value for homes and businesses in Rochester rose 14 percent -- despite the worse economic recession that this country has seen since the Great Depression. As an example, since we changed the nature of the High Falls District, the assessed value of the property there rose by 53 percent and properties surrounding the new investments in High Falls rose by more than 40 percent. Our residential investments also cause a ripple effect. HOME Rochester commissioned a study on the impacts of their work on neighboring property values. The results of the study show that the HOME Rochester program significantly boosts the value of neighboring properties by eliminating the blighting effect of vacant properties and introducing attractive owner-occupied homes. In fact, HOME Rochester homes boost the value of surrounding properties by an average of $15,700.
I want to show you a sample of how all of this is impacting our people and our neighborhoods. We will start in the Southwest. Look behind me and you will see the Frederick Douglass Apartments and across the street is part of the Voters Block community. They are part of the expansive rehab of West Main Street. These attractive and affordable apartments and first-floor commercial spaces will bring economic vitality back to this gateway to Downtown. This $27 million investment touches an entire neighborhood. Together, they provide homes for 120 families and places for 12 businesses in the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood near the site where she and 15 other women voted illegally in the 1872 Presidential elections. What you are seeing is the café at Voter’s Block. This is part of a building that is also home to 39 families and overlooks the future site of a Susan B. Anthony memorial that will be designed by local artist Pepsy Kettavong. These developments on West Main are affording residents there a new start. Residents like Betty Smith.
Now we move to the Northeast, where we find the Genesee Brewery and its new Brew House. The Brew House is a symbol of the resurgence of the Brewery in recent years that has nearly doubled its employment. The City actively supported the rebirth of the Brewery. And it has paid off handsomely. The City worked actively with the Brewery to transform the Brew House into a destination location for Upstate New York and beyond. The Genesee Brew House captures the 135-year history and the experience of the Genesee Brewery. It also provides a magnificent view of the High Falls and the place where Rochester began. It is an attractive addition to the neighborhood that was supported by its residents who participated in the approval process. I am proud of the City’s efforts in bringing the Brewery and this project to fruition and the jobs that come with it. Here is the CEO of North American Breweries, Rich Lozniak.
In the Northwest, we see the Holy Rosary Campus. This historic church was totally repurposed into affordable apartments and a vital community center for the neighborhood. The redevelopment also includes 25 homes throughout the Edgerton neighborhood. These additions and enhancements will generate new opportunities for their residents and the community. These families are a great addition to the Dewey – Driving Park Focused Investment area. The Apartments and homes are for individuals and families earning less than $25,000. It is next door to the Price Rite grocery that opened a few years ago and is more evidence that these investments are recreating a neighborhood. Let’s hear what Juan Sanchez had to say about Holy Rosary.
Finally, in the Southeast, we see a view of the resurgent South Avenue. This Avenue has once again become the mixed-use community that we hope for all of our commercial corridors in the city. Behind me is South and Hickory Place. This residential and retail building has 33 apartments with an affordable housing component. This building breathed new life into the neighborhood. This effort is not about the bricks laid a few years ago, it’s about our effort to set the stage for many new businesses to open and thrive and provide jobs for our residents. Places like Zak’s Avenue, the Surface Salon and Full Moon Vista bike shop. Across the street, there’s Hedonist Chocolates and Harry G’s New York Deli. The South Wedge is thriving and many thanks go to the tireless efforts of the South Wedge Planning Committee and the Business Association of the South Wedge Area.
We spoke with Jennifer Posie at Hedonist Chocolates.
The essence of a city is the combination of its neighborhoods and business activity. We have a classic example of this in our midst at Eastman Business Park, which was the principal manufacturing location for Eastman Kodak. It was the economic engine that built the neighborhoods that surround it. With the changes at Kodak, it has become critical to ensure that Eastman Business Park is maintained and can again be an economic driver for the city. We can’t take it for granted.
I am working with Monroe County, New York State, including the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, Kodak and the businesses located there so that we can count on it to continue to be a magnet for new and expanding companies. The future of the Park is vital to our economic well being. Just like Eastman Business Park, our Center City is an economic engine not just for Rochester, but for the Greater Rochester area. It is our business, social and cultural center. Each day 50,000 people come here to work, visit and conduct business.
Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood. We are making significant progress. In the last four years, $104 million of City funding has driven a total of $606 million invested Downtown. The transformation is evident everywhere. From Midtown Rising to Bridge Square, the Sibley Building, the Transit Center, Nothnagle Headquarters and the Trolley Barn to name a few. Midtown Rising will see the completion of infrastructure improvements and a return to a street grid with green space and places for people to congregate and parcels for development. Windstream employees will be moving into their new headquarters in the next few months. Work will begin on Midtown Tower, where people and families can live and businesses can set up shop. Elsewhere Downtown you will see action at the RIT Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, the Cox Building and the new Hilton Garden hotel.
People are coming back to live in the Center City with both market-rate and affordable housing options. The Center City is a living and breathing entity of which we can be proud. New residents are filling up the renovated Andrews Terrace, the Mills at High Falls, North Plymouth Terrace and the Kirstein Building. With developments such as this, people often imagine that most of our investment occurs Downtown. In fact, it’s far from it. For every dollar that is invested in the Center City, two dollars are invested in our neighborhoods where people live, work and raise their families. You have seen ample evidence of that in this presentation tonight. All of these investments are working together to benefit the whole of the city.
We are also working to ensure that these investments are creating jobs and that our minority and city residents are sharing in those opportunities. For many years, the City has had minority opportunity programs. However, we have not been satisfied with the opportunities this has provided for employment. Since I took office, we initiated the City’s first Project Labor Agreement, or PLA for the Midtown Rising Project and with support from others, the Facilities Modernization Program for our schools and the Transit Center. The PLA is an agreement with organized labor and contractors to complete a project at a lower cost to taxpayers. But almost more importantly, as part of the PLA, we insisted upon the hiring of minorities and city residents to share in the jobs created.
Also for the first time in the city’s history, we brought together labor, contractors and the City to create a job training program for city residents and minorities. This program is supported by the building trades and provides a trained workforce for publicly funded projects. As we gain confidence in these programs, we are working to include them in a broader spectrum of projects in which the City is involved. College Town and the Flats at Brooks Landing are examples of this.
We also addressed the historic problem of minority representation in the City’s public safety ranks. This is an issue that has vexed mayors for the past several decades. The historic barriers to women and minorities and the rigid civil service system were seemingly impossible to overcome. But it had to change. We brought together a team which included City Council, police and fire officials and other City employees. We changed the process. The result was a breakthrough in minority representation in both the Police and Fire Academies. For the first time ever, women and minorities were the majority in our latest recruit classes. 61 percent of the current police academy; and 57 percent of the fire academy classes were minorities and women.
I am pleased to announce that this summer, the City will collaborate with the University of Rochester to conduct a two-day career training and city-wide job fair with other major employers. This event is designed to improve minority employment in the city. It will provide workshops and job training, as well as instruction on resumes, job search and testing for Civil Service jobs. Increasing diversity and opportunities for city residents is a task that’s far from done. We intend to stay with it.
With our PLA arrangements, our minority training programs and this breakthrough in our public safety recruit classes, we are writing a new chapter in addressing racial disparities in our city. We are committed to this.
I began this speech tonight talking about transformational change in the funding of our city. I said we cannot pretend that our financial situation does not exist. We can no longer rely on the old politics of shifting money around to individuals or groups. For example, we began the upcoming fiscal year with almost a $43 million shortfall out of a budget of about $500 million. We lowered that gap to $28 million by reducing our capital expenses, by creating a self-insured health care plan with the cooperation of our unions and, we are benefiting from an early retirement program which was created two years ago. The details of how we will address the remaining shortfall in this coming year will be part of the budget presentation at the end of next week.
I can tell you it will take some pain and resolve to get it done. In the following budget year, I can guarantee that the shortfall will be in the tens of millions once again. This underscores the fundamental changes we must make. Our transformation will require that we move away from the old politics and dependence on the antiquated property tax. Our discussions should not be about where we allocate our dwindling funds, pitting residents against each other – that is the old politics.
Rather, the discussion should be on how to preserve all the fundamental services of urban life that our residents want and need. As I said earlier, we need a constituency that is broader than ourselves to address our structural financial problems. I will seek a new relationship with the State to develop a 21st century plan to finance cities. We don’t expect to solve the problem all at once, but it is time to acknowledge it and it is time to get started on a permanent solution or else we will rue the day we didn’t.
Everything I have done in the past two years as Mayor has been towards one goal – to successfully guide our city through this transformation I have discussed. We have not presented tonight all that has been accomplished to claim that the job is done. That we have solved every problem. Cured every ill. Reached every person. No city could claim that.
Our intention is to show that much has been done in the face of significant obstacles and that is the basis for our faith that we will transform our city. That is the basis on which to assert that it is no time to turn away. I have sought to lead our city’s transformation so that all of our citizens can participate fully in our future. And to participate in that future, we need to be safe, we need to be educated and we need to make investments in our city.We need to do this together-- citizens, unions, City employees, City Council, the School District, neighborhood and business groups, investors, educators, all of us.
If you come away with anything from tonight, it is that we are a city in transformation. I believe we have made much progress despite our challenges and have confidence in our ability to shape the future. We decide – you and I – which way that transformation will go from here. I stand for a new politics – a new way of governing for the 21st century realities that we face. A Rochester on a path of growth and stability with opportunities to prosper for all of our citizens. United with that goal, we will successfully transform Rochester. I ask you to join me. Thank you.