Downtown restaurant owner: Jazz Fest move another ‘nail in coffin’

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester’s East End Entertainment District is always quieter in the winter. In the winter of the pandemic, it’s a ghost town. Some restaurants like Unter Biergarten on East Ave. are temporarily closed. The plan was to reopen in March and get ready for a return of outdoor festivals.

They’ll still reopen, but owner Al DePorter says the future looks grim, “That’s another nail in our coffin,” he says. “For them to move or think of moving the Jazz Fest is just more harm than good.”

The Rochester International Jazz Festival isn’t just moving this year’s 9 day event out of downtown, it’s also pushing back the date. Organizers say relocating to RIT in Henrietta will allow them to better meet COVID-19 safety guidelines, and a later date will allow more people to be vaccinated.

But they acknowledge the impact it will have on the city. “Every intention we have is positive,” says John Nugest, artistic director of the RIJF. “We’re not trying to abandon anybody, we’re not trying to say ‘see you later’, we’re making a concerted effort to do something in 2021 for our community and this place we’re going to do it is the safely viable way to do it.”

Rochester City Hall was surprised by the move. In a statement, spokesman Justin Roy says the announcement “should remind us all of the need to fight the COVID pandemic so life can return to normal.” He said the city looks forward to working with festival organizers to return the event to downtown next year.

The Jazz Festival usually gets some $240,000 in city funding If it moves, it won’t get that money. Some lawmakers, and merchants like DePorter, hope they can convince the Jazz Fest to stay. “I can’t believe that there’s not a venue in downtown Rochester that wouldn’t work for them,” he says.

“I understand it has to be safe, we want everyone to be safe. But I just can’t believe there isn’t a way to do it.”

MORE | No city funding for Jazz Festival if it’s not held in Rochester, officials say to RIT plans

Because of the pandemic, the Jazz Festival was cancelled altogether last year. The tentative date for this year’s event is July 30th to August 7th. Even with a move to RIT organizers say their plans depend on the state’s Covid19 health guidelines and whether those guidelines will allow for travel and large gatherings. They expect to make a final decision in the spring.

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