Midtown Plaza (Rochester)

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Midtown Plaza, with the Clock of Nations in the center.

Midtown Plaza (1962–2008) was an indoor shopping mall in downtown Rochester, New York, the first urban indoor mall in the United States. The site is currently being redeveloped for a variety of uses.

History[edit]

Designed by Victor Gruen, Midtown Plaza was dedicated on April 10, 1962 as the first downtown indoor mall in the United States. The first enclosed shopping center had been Southdale Center in suburban Minneapolis in 1956, also designed by Gruen. The idea for this mall started with discussions between Gilbert J.C. McCurdy, owner of the McCurdy's department stores and Maurice F. Forman, owner of the B. Forman Co. department stores. At that time strip plazas were growing in popularity. Though both owners had opened branch stores they were concerned about Downtown Rochester's viability and came up with the idea of an indoor shopping center.

Gruen was at the height of his influence when Midtown was completed and the project attracted international attention, including a nationally televised feature report on NBC-TV's Huntley-Brinkley newscast the night of its opening in April 1962. City officials and planners from around the globe came to see Gruen's solution to the mid-century urban crisis. Midtown won several design awards.

Gruen described the aerial view of Rochester as a giant parking lot with a few buildings to inconvenience traffic flow. His intention was to create a pedestrian friendly town square for Rochester, NY, a medium sized city near the mouth of the Genesee River. He incorporated art, benches, fountains, a four hundred seat auditorium and a sidewalk cafe into his plans hoping to encourage the sort of social intermingling that he saw as the enriching essence of urban life.

Later in life Gruen dismissed the strictly commercial suburban malls as "those bastard developments" but continued to hold Midtown in high regard. It is probably the project that most closely followed his plan and shared his civic vision. In addition to the shopping center, the Plaza also includes a skyscraper office building, which at one time held an upscale hotel and restaurant — the Top Of The Plaza — on its top four floors. Gap Mangione played at the Top Of The Plaza several times, and the restaurant was a popular site for receptions, business parties and special-occasion dinners.

Midtown Plaza was economically vibrant, and a center of retail activity for its region, during its first 20 years of operation. It began to struggle in the 1980s as a number of suburban shopping malls opened outside of the city, while the region's population increasingly spread outward from the city center into suburban and even rural areas. Surrounded by pockets of poverty, Midtown struggled to keep tenants. Midtown's struggles increased in the mid-1990s when the mall's two anchors, McCurdy's and Forman's, closed in 1994. Their closing was quickly followed by the closing of the Midtown branch of Wegmans Food Markets, a regional grocery chain. Once considered the sign of a New Urbanism, the Plaza was placed on the list of 2002 Empire Zones, and grew to be considered a symbolic victim of suburban sprawl.

During its last years, the mall's tenants included Peebles department store, Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, some downscale clothing stores, a dollar store, two jewelry stores, a gift shop, a Record Theatre store which became the last original tenant in the mall and a US post office. Located directly underneath Midtown Plaza was a three level, 1,843 space parking garage.

Mall's closing[edit]

It was announced on October 16, 2007 that Midtown Plaza would be demolished via eminent domain to make way for the new PAETEC Headquarters. The PAETEC tower, originally planned to be a 40-story tower and 500,000 sq ft (46,000 m2) of space was later downsized to be about 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) of office space in an 8–12 story building. Ground was to be broken in the fall of 2010.

The final Christmas season at Midtown Plaza took place in 2007. A 40-foot (12 m) Douglas Fir was donated to the mall by Dave Manioci, Midtown's Chief Engineer. A tribute to Midtown took place on December 1, 2007, which attracted thousands of people from Rochester and the surrounding areas to what was called "a magical event." The Monorail, which was operated every Christmas season, had its last run on December 24, 2007. All retail and office space at Midtown except for the adjoining Euclid Building wing was to conclude business activity on or before July 29, 2008, while some demolition work on unoccupied portions of the building complex began before that date. The Euclid building, which housed some offices and the studios of Clear Channel Communications' six Rochester area radio stations, closed at midnight on December 31, 2008. Clear Channel moved to new quarters in the HSBC Bank downtown Rochester office tower, in a studio complex formerly occupied by CBS Radio.

On July 29, 2008 Midtown Plaza closed its doors to the public for the last time, as scheduled.[1]

Many retail and service businesses which had been operating at Midtown Plaza during its final months relocated and re-opened in other locations in or near downtown Rochester, some of them taking advantage of relocation help offered by the City of Rochester.

On Tuesday, November 3, 2009 the last occupant of Midtown Plaza, the Adirondack Transit Lines bus station, closed. The bus station relocated five blocks away, near the railroad station.

Clock of Nations[edit]

Midtown Plaza was well known for its Clock of Nations designed by Geri Kavanaugh. The clock, which represents 12 nations, has 12 cylinders each with a scene with puppets for each nation. Considered a significant piece of art when it was unveiled, the original puppetry was not well maintained and was replaced in the mid-1970s with the work of a local housewife. The clock has been moved to the Greater Rochester International Airport terminal, before it plans to move to a permanent home at Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong Memorial Hospital following completion of that facility's expansion.

Destruction[edit]

Remnants of the mall in 2012

On September 27, 2010, demolition began on Midtown Plaza. Mayor Robert Duffy announced that within a few months the site will be ready for the construction of the new PAETEC Headquarters.[2] PAETEC later further scaled back plans for an ambitious new building and instead opted for a smaller office complex based on a reconstruction and expansion of the nearby Seneca Building.

Reconstruction[edit]

Midtown Tower[edit]

In 2011 the high rise tower section of Midtown Plaza was stripped to a skeletal state in preparation for its conversion to a mixed-use residential and commercial building, expected to be completed and opened around 2015. The Tower was sold by the city to the local construction and re-development company Buckingham Properties who renamed the tower The Tower At Midtown. Re-construction of the tower to turn it into a residential and commercial Building began in 2014.

Seneca Building[edit]

The building known as the Seneca Building the only other remaining building from the former mall was remodeled as a standalone and opened as an office building for Windstream who bought PAETEC in 2011. The upper level of the building is currently for lease. The building opened in 2013.

Democrat and Chronicle Building[edit]

In 2013 it was announced that Gannett was moving its headquarters for the Democrat and Chronicle as part of the paper's downsizing from it's current location in the Gannett Building on Exchange Street to a building in front of the Seneca Building at the corner of Main Street and Clinton Ave. The building will have three floors and be 42,000 square feet. The Democrat and Chronicle Media Group would occupy two floors, with a coffee shop/cafe open to the public. The third floors of both buildings would connect and be accessible through the Seneca Building Windstream elevator lobby. [3] The building is planned to be built in 2014 or 2015.[4]

Performing Arts Center[edit]

Original plans for the site called for a new performing arts center to be build along Main Street next to the Seneca Building. In 2012 then mayor Thomas Richards refused to help the Rochester Broadway Theatre League find funding for the project among other issues between the organization and city hall. This led the RBTL to change plans and have the theatre built in the future development of what is now the Medley Centre in Irondequoit.

In 2014, new mayor Lovely Warren began talks with the RBTL about plans for a performing arts center on the midtown site once again after promised developments with the Irondequoit site failed to materialize. Warren has issued a request of $200 million dollars from New York State to fund the project. The funds are currently pending.

Other features[edit]

With the redevelopment came a full modernization and repair of the three level, 1,843 space parking garage under the site. The garage is used for employees of Windstream in the Seneca Building and will also be used by The Tower At Midtown and the performing arts center once constructed.

A new streetscape has also been constructed on the site complete with new sidewalks, traffic signals and a common area between the Seneca building and Midtown Tower now called Midtown Commons complete with benches and soon to be placed public art.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Current Development[edit]

As Midtown Plaza[edit]

Coordinates: 43°09′23″N 77°36′17″W / 43.15652°N 77.60480°W / 43.15652; -77.60480