Cement plant gone, South Street ready for its encore

Things are changing in Rochester’s South Street neighborhood along the Clinton River. It’s been happening for a while, but tucked as it is beneath the south Rochester Road bridge, it’s easy to miss.

Zoned industrial, the area was home, until very recently, to an unsightly cement plant. But the neighborhood is cleaning up and trending toward what city officials are calling a “quality of life” area. With an update of the city’s master plan just getting underway, the planning commission will guide the metamorphosis.

Chairman David Gassen said the area is ripe for redevelopment.

“I think it’s going to be very different in 20 years,” he said. “I certainly think we’ll be looking way out into the future. That area’s going to play an important role in the development of downtown. Development is going to fund it.”

Though industry came first, you could say the Clinton River Trail set the stage for recreation in the neighborhood in 2003. A few years later, new residents began moving in with the opening of brownstone-style condominiums on Mill Street.  The river and trail were a big part of the attraction.

Leisure-oriented businesses have moved in, one by one, including South Street Skatepark, Eisenhower Dance Ensemble and, more recently, Wet Noses Pet Camp, which is now planning to expand. Next up is a new Goldfish Swim Club at the eastern, unpaved end of South Street. It just received the blessing of the planning commission and plans to open by winter.

Robert Wineman, a spokesman for the swim club’s owner, said customers from Rochester already flock to the company’s Birmingham site.

“We know there’s an audience; we’re not speculating,” he said. “As far as the South Street district, it’s actually perfect for us. We don’t need the Main and Main location. … We’re going to be building a building in a part of town that is regentrified, to put it nicely.” 

The city currently allows recreational uses as a special exception in industrial zones on a case-by-case, if the planning commission approves.

“In general we’re open to anything,” Gassen said. “Some things have come forward that are not a perfect fit.”

Approval requires a paved road, so the coming of the swim club means the unpaved eastern section of South Street will be paved, most likely through a cost-sharing arrangement known as a special assessment district.

“We’re going to finish the paving, we’re going to put a new water main in,” said Nik Banda, Deputy Rochester City Manager and Director of Economic Development.  A second special assessment for sidewalks and lighting would come next, he added.

“First things first. We’re just trying to connect it all together.”

Though the area feels cut off from downtown Rochester, South Street is really only steps away via the trail or Walnut Boulevard. To add another option for cross-access the city, at its own expense, extended Mill Street to Second Street.

Since Banda was hired, he’s been steering potential businesses to South Street, which he called “good, affordable land.”

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that area is ripe for redevelopment,” he said. “Now’s the time to start some planning.”

One good place to start may be on the west side of the bridge, along Diversion Street. A total of 11 adjoining acres, literally the gateway to South Street, could be for sale, Banda said. It’s in the river’s floodplain but, “There’s ways to mitigate floodplain,” he said.

There will still be room for industrial-type businesses. One start-up Banda is talking to is in the clean energy business.

“We’re talking about geothermal, little plants down there,” he said. “Right now we’re looking at everything.”


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