ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — While speaking in Rochester earlier this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans to move forward with Phase 2 of ROC the Riverway, a state-city endeavor to help Rochester better leverage the value of sites along the Genesee River.

Part of that Phase 2 plan includes the development of a new state park in downtown Rochester called High Falls State Park, and the governor’s executive budget called for $6 million in initial funding to get the project going.

“Let’s launch Phase Two of ROC the Riverway, and let’s build on the success of Phase One,” Gov. Hochul said. “A new High Falls State Park will help us protect the gorge and give public access there for the first time in centuries. This area has it all, and the Finger Lakes! We need to put it on the map. We really need to let people know that this is a community that is fantastic, and is on the move.”

Picnics at the base of High Falls — it’s something that’s been impossible for generations, but the plans to turn the area around the downtown waterfall into a state park would make these renderings a reality:

High Falls State Park renderings

A focus on waterfront development is something many agree has been lacking in the past. Visit Rochester CEO and President Don Jeffries says fixing up high Falls would drive more tourists to the Flower City.

“It’s fantastic news for Rochester,” Jeffries said. “Several years ago there was a study done by a group of urban planners and the No. 1 thing that was found is that we [as a city] underutilized the water.”

The idea is to create a way for the public to access the lower river gorge and create a green space there. Additionally, $2.5 million in state funding proposed in the executive budget would also help the City of Rochester retain ownership of the historic Water Works building at High Falls and renovate it as an improved visitors center.

“A third of the population of the United States within a five-hour drive of Rochester so this will be a great attraction,” Jeffries said. “The neat part about it is the governor, county executive, and mayor — everyone is on the same page with this one so it’s going to happen. It’s going to take some time, but it’s going to happen.

The new park will have a phased opening over the next five years following renovations of different parcels of land there, officials say.

ROC the Riverway Phase One, which began in 2018, included 13 projects. Aside from the new state park, other Phase Two focuses include:

  • Rochester Riverside Hotel & Convention Center Expansion: According to the governor, this project will include the reopening of the former Riverside Hotel on Main Street as a renovated mixed-use facility that will include updated meeting space to be operated by, and attached to, the adjacent Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
  • High Falls Visitor Center: The governor said $2.5 million in state funding to help the City of Rochester retain ownership of the historic Rochester Water Works building at High Falls and renovate it as an improved public visitor center that could ultimately allow elevator access to the river gorge level and benefit the aforementioned High Falls State Park.
  • Aqueduct Reimagined: The governor said this is the largest ROC the Riverway project, which envisions a central gathering space for the entire community. Funding includes the originally announced $4.5 million committed in Phase One, plus an additional $5 million for Phase Two. The governor said this will develop in tandem with the construction of the new Constellation Brands headquarters, which announced a relocation to downtown back in September 2021.
  • Rochester Downtown Partnership: The governor previously announced this new public-private entity (RDP) as a management group for public waterfront spaces. State officials say the RDP was recommended by the community advisory board that helped the ROC the Riverway Vision Plan. The governor said the RDP, in partnership with City Council, property owners, residents and stakeholders, will help create a new “business improvement district” for Downtown Rochester.