(Rochester, N.Y.) – Gone are the days when people went downtown to shop. The decline of Midtown Plaza started in the 1980s and never stopped.
“Retail moved to the suburbs,” said Sandy Parker of the Rochester Business Alliance. “That took a lot of people out of the downtown area.”
“We shop differently. We shop in malls. We shop on the Internet. We shop by mail order catalogues,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation.
Along the way, there were ideas to do something else with Midtown. Someone suggested a performing arts center. Another wanted to put in a casino. Most recently, there was a plan to install an Italian marketplace.
Former Mayor William Johnson said it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
“We had a major department store that was willing to come into Midtown. They wanted a deal that required so much subsidy, with so little guarantee,” he said.
It became clear that even if a developer came up with a viable plan for Midtown, the place needed to be cleaned up. Midtown needed more than $140 million worth of work, including infrastructure upgrades and asbestos removal.
Rather than rehabilitate Midtown, city leaders decided it was far cheaper to knock it down.
No developer would touch the project.
“The asbestos that exists in the building, plus the cost of demolition in this market, meaning upstate New York, impossible to make the numbers work,” said Zimmer-Meyer.
City leaders despaired of making anything happen at Midtown until two things happened. The state offered to pick up the $65 million tab for demolition and PAETEC agreed to locate its world headquarters at the site.
At that point, the end was finally near for Midtown Plaza.