ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — “Focused” investments in the Finger Lakes region for “transformative projects” will bolster regional tourism efforts and improve overall quality of life for ‘generations to come,” state and local leaders said Monday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul traveled to Monroe Community College’s downtown Rochester campus Monday morning for a press conference to discuss the 2023 executive budget and specific investments included for the Finger Lakes region.

Local highlights of the proposed budget includes $100 million to fully fund the design and creation of the Inner Loop North transformation project, accelerate Phase Two of ROC the Riverway which includes a new state park at High Falls, plus more than $50 million for the Seneca Park Zoo and Frontier Field.

Gov. Hochul presented the $216 billion executive budget in January. She said it was a “responsible” budget that would pay dividends for future generations.

“I want New York to be safe and for residents to know know that we’ll be socially progressive, but fiscally concservative,” Gov. Hochul said. “We know people need money back in their pockets. This is really painful for many, with gas now over $4 and prices of homes going up.”

The governor said the executive budget calls for $216.3 billion in spending, aided by better than expected tax revenues and federal funding from coronavirus relief packages. The total spending proposal represents a 1.6% increase from the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

According to the New York Constitution, the state budget is due for approval by the legislature by April 1, although in recent years the deadline has been missed by a few days.

The governor said 319,000 Finger Lakes taxpayers would benefit from proposed tax relief for residents, homeowners, and small businesses. Additionally, she said the executive budget calls for $250,000 million in tax credits specifically for small businesses.

“Let’s give New Yorkers some relief,” Gov. Hochul said. “We have a $2.2 billion property tax rebate. Small businesses in Rochester — some of them barely hanging on — I know that pain and it’s nothing you could control. You had to write off your employees. We have to help rise them up.”

The governor also proposed $10 billion to help rebuild the state’s health care workforce, help hospitals rebound from the pandemic, and help prepare New York for future public healh emergencies.

“We are going to keep investing in our health care,” Gov. Hochul said. “We knew we were heading into a shortage of health care employees in 2018 and then COVID happened. What they have been through is excruciating. We owe you a debt of gratitude, and we also owe them a debt of money. We will need to rebuild our hospitals. If we don’t put this in now, we’ll regret it later.”

The governor’s plan also calls for $31 billion to strengthen the teacher workforce and invest in schools.

“Our schools have taken it on the chin,” Gov. Hochul said. “We will be paying for losing two years of classroom education for a long time. We need to invest in our schools for the future.”

For the Finger Lakes region, the budget included funding for raising and renovating the Inner Loop North, and several projects for Phase Two of ROC the Riveryway, with several downtown development proposals.

“I love what happened at the Inner Loop East,” Gov. Hochul said Monday. “We need to be investing in communities, not separating them. This can be extraordinary. Infrastructure is not about asphalt, it’s about community, and in particular, communities of color who have been separated. Today I’m announcing $100 million to revitalize the Inner Loop North. Let’s get this done. We have a two-year plan, we know how to do this and we can do it again. We are only limited by our imagination.”

As part of the executive budget, the $100 million allocation for Inner Loop North remains a proposal pending approval from the state legislature.

“We are not waiting to make this a reality,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said. “This is not for the future, but right now. Gov. Hochul has not only spoke about it, but she has delivered. This is clearly the most significant investment in Rochester from the state in modern history. You would have to go back to Gov. Clinton and the building of the Erie Canal to this significant of an investment from the state. With the funding announced today for ROC the Riverway, Gov. Hochul has changed the conversation on the new vision of downtown from ‘if’ to ‘when.'”

Last September, Rep. Joe Morelle announced $4 million in secured funding for the project was included in a federal infrastucture bill. Elected officials have said public input will continue to play a role in the Inner Loop North transformation project. According to the organizing committee:

“The transformation of the Inner Loop North will reconnect Downtown Rochester with several Rochester neighborhoods, the Public Market, and High Falls; create new active and passive green spaces that promote multi-modal connectivity and accessibility; and foster opportunities for economic and community development. Together with Rochester’s ROC the Riverway project and Downtown Revitalization Initiative, the vision for true transformation of Rochester’s downtown is coming to fruition.”

Inner Loop North draft concepts

Another proposal ptiches the creation of a new downtown state park at High Falls as part of ROC the Riverway.

“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 fantsastic, and is on the move.”

The governor’s budget also calls for $10 million to help Frontier Field meet new stadium standards from the MLB, and $42.5 million for improvements to Seneca Park Zoo. Both Frontier Field and Seneca Park Zoo operate under the umbrella of Monroe County.

“Revitalizing our industries in a primary peice of pandemic recovery,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “These investments are a huge step forward. The Seneca Park Zoo and Rochester Red Wings are bedrocks of this community. These are institutions that elevate tourism and the quality of life in Rochester. Gov. Hochul’s priorities are Rochester’s priorities. Monroe County is rebounding faster than any other area in the state.”

Inner Loop North

According to the governor, the Inner Loop North project will build upon the city’s success of the Inner Loop East project, which raised and reconnected a below-grade expressway into an at ground boulevard. The East project freed approximately six acres of land for new development, and enhanced pedestrian and bicyclist safety and mobility, while removing a physical barrier to Downtown Rochester.

The Inner Loop East project is acclaimed as a major success by local leaders, and was recently featured in the New York Times as an achievement in removing urban highways to improve American cities.

City officials say filling in the eastern portion of the Inner Loop — with $22 million of public funding, and more than $230 million in private investment — included housing, retail, and an expansion to the Strong National Museum of Play. Officials say that success can be replicated as they turn their focus north.

The governor says raising the Inner Loop North, which the New York State Department of Transportation is partnering with the City of Rochester on, will “fully reconnect severed communities within Downtown Rochester, provide direct links to the Genesee River and the High Falls District, and expand upon the investments of the ROC the Riverway program.” Speaking of which …

ROC the Riverway: Phase Two

The governor described ROC the Riverway as a “comprehensive initiative to revitalize the Genesee
River corridor in downtown Rochester,” with a goal of spurring investment, attracting businesses, and increasing quality of life with “lively public spaces and active waterside walking-cycling routes for the local community.”

Phase One of the project, which began in 2018, included 13 projects and Phase Two will focus on the following:

  • Rochester High Falls State Park: The governor says this project will crate a new state park in Downtown Rochester. At High Falls, and mostly within the Genesee River gorge, the governor says this area has been restricted from public access for generations. She said the new park will have a phased reopening over the next five years following renovations of various parcels of land.
  • 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.

High Falls State Park renderings

Gov. Hochul encouraged Rochester residents to submit comments and ideas for the proposed High Falls Star Park via email to ROCHighFallsPark@esd.ny.gov. To date, the state has announced $6 million in proposed funding for the establishment of this park.

Phase One of ROC the Riverway included a new downtown skate park, park improvements, trail upgrades, new public spaces, infrastructure improvements, public facility upgrades, and more.

Along with the ROC the Riverway improvements, the governor also announced that the Broad Street Bridge in Downtown Rochester was targeted as one of the sites statewide designated for infrastructure improvements or renovations.

“Today’s announcement is a testament to Governor Hochul’s commitment to uplifting families and moving the Finger Lakes region forward,” Rep. Joe Morelle said in a statement. “These investments will help revitalize our downtown corridor, strengthen our regional economy, and ensure a more equitable and inclusive future for our community. I’m grateful for her partnership and look forward to our continued work together to advance these exciting projects.” 

Some of the highlights of the proposed budget, according to the governor, include:

  • $10 billion to rebuild health care workforce, build “health care system of the future”
  • $31 billion to strengthen teacher workforce and invest in schools
  • Tax relief for small businesses and the middle clase
  • Five-year $32.8 billion Department of Transportation Capital Plan to leverage federal funding in support of infrastructure projects throughout the state
  • $900 million in child care stabilization grants to cover operational costs for 15,000 child care providers statewide
  • $1 billion to fund small businesses and tax credit for COVID-related expenses
  • $1.5 billion invested in SUNY and CUNY over next five years, expands TAP eligibility
  • $4 billion for Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act
  • $500 million for offshore wind projects
  • Launches five-year, $25 billion “comprehensive housing plan”
  • $224 million to fund law enforcement and community-based gun violence initiatives

2023 Executive Budget

Before addressing the potential budget impacts on the area, the governor recognized Rochester’s Ukrainian population amid Russia’s invasion of the country.

“This is the largest Ukrainian population in the nation per capita,” Gov. Hochul said. “Their homeland is under attack by a dictator and we will not let this continue to happen. “This is the land of the Statue of Liberty. More than 40,000 Ukrainians here, and until they go back, this is there home. I truly hope we an welcome them and I want to regonize you in this time of sorrow.

“What we have done in this community, to welcome refugees, that’s what makes us so unique,” Gov. Hochul said. “we will continue to do that, not with just people from Ukraine, but all over the world.”

Regarding COVID, the governor said there’s been a 99% drop in new cases across the state.

“Finger Lakes are at a 1.48% positivity rate, just a tiny bit higher than the state average,” Gov. Hochul said. “So congratulations, you did that here.”

The governor’s press conference took place at Monroe Community College’s downtown campus and she thanked MCC for being at the “forefront” of job creation in the Finger Lakes region.

Following the morning press conference, Gov. Hochul met with Mayor Evans to further discuss issues in Rochester and how to address them. One of the topics discussed in this closed-door meeting was violence as the city set a new record for most homicides in a year in 2021. The two elected officials released a joint statement on Rochester gun violence following their meeting:

“The surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic has taken too many lives across the country, as well as here in New York State, and particularly in Rochester. Combatting the troubling increase in gun violence is going to require all levels of government to work in close partnership with both law enforcement and communities, and now is the time for urgent action.

“The State of New York and the City of Rochester are deeply committed to working together to keep our communities safe, and we will use every tool at our disposal, including efforts to crack down on ghost guns and get illegal guns off our streets, historic investments in violence interruption programs, extensive coordination between law enforcement across city and state lines, and investments in education and opportunity for all New Yorkers, so that we can begin to stop the violence before it starts.”

Watch The Full Conference:


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