ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Malik Evans hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of work along the West River Wall Wednesday.

West River Wall is located along the west side of the Genesee River adjacent to Exchange Boulevard. It offers a riverside walking path for residents extending from Corn Hill Landing to Ford Street Bridge.

Work on the project began nearly two years ago after master plans for its development were crafted in 2015. Completion of Phase I finished this week, greatly improving the visual aesthetic of the river trail and adding an assortment of upgrades to flood prevention, seating and overall ease of use.

“Just look at this amazing public space,” Mayor Evans said. “I’m sure you remember the crumbling concrete wall and shrub that blocked the view of our amazing city. We are returning to what made this city great — the Genesee River. Rochester has a past to remember, a present to live and a future to build and you can see all of those things right here.”

The first phase of development included a new alignment for the walking trail, new lighting, landscaping, fencing, and other pedestrian amenities. The plaza now features aesthetic stairs, railings, planting beds and provides overlook viewing of the river and downtown skyline.

In total, $8.4 million was provided for its completion, funded in partnership with the city, the New York Canal Corporation, the Corn Hill Neighborhood Association, and RG&E.

While pointing at the riverbank, Evans noted the influence of development in the city.

“Just north of us is Aqueduct Reimagined, construction of the Main Street and more,” Evans said. “In the next two years, the canal corporation will celebrate 200 years of the Erie Canal. This part of the Genesee River is part of that canal system. The completion of projects like the one right here confirms that we are heading in the right direction, voyaging toward a prosperous future.”

The project’s completion comes in time for the return of Corn Hill’s art festival. This weekend will mark the first time it’s running in more than two years after it was canceled due to COVID.

Improvements to the west wall should enhance the overall entrance to the neighborhood.

“Everyone in Corn Hill loves living in Corn Hill,” said President, Board of Directors at Corn Hill Neighbors Association Jeff Holdsworth. “This ties the past and present beautifully, we’re also super excited to invite all of Rochester and the New York community into the neighborhood for our arts festival. It has truly changed this place for the future.”

Corn Hill’s Art Festival is taking place Saturday through Sunday across nine streets. It showcases hundreds of artists from across the country, as well as talented musicians from near and far.

Planning for Phase II has yet to be announced but officials say the river wall area will see more upgrades down the line.

“The River Wall Project is just one of many things that are fueling the resurgence of Rochester,” said Director of the Canal Corporation Brian Stratton. “This is just the beginning, it’s only phase one so there is more to come. If I lived in downtown Rochester, this is where I would want to live.”

History of West Wall

The West River Wall was originally built in 1918 as part of the Barge Canal System to protect the surrounding area from flooding. In 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) determined that the severely deteriorated concrete wall could no longer provide flood protection.

The North Star Commons was dedicated in 2021 in honor of Frederick Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper, which was published in the basement of the AME Zion Church in Corn Hill.

You can watch the full press conference here: