Delivered by Mayor Lovely A. Warren at the Vision Future luncheon on Dec. 5, 2018
This is Rochester’s moment!
Rochester is often compared with other Northeast cities that are seeing a renaissance – cities like Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland.
But the thing people don’t understand about those cities is that their post-industrial decline was sudden and devastating.
One day there was a steel mill or a factory, and the next day there wasn’t.
The owners locked the doors and walked away, leaving behind empty buildings, staggering unemployment and broken dreams.
In contrast, Rochester’s decline was a slow drip over two to three decades - each year a little worse than the last.
Those other cities had to find a new identity.
And that’s what they did – but they started their re-birth 20 years ago.
Which gave them a head start on us.
So now Rochester is racing at 100 miles an hour trying to catch a train that left 20 years ago.
But we have something going for us that these cities do not.
We have our incredible history of tenacity, resilience and innovation …
… a powerful story of a city that has been shaped above all else by two factors:
the Genesee River …
… and our ability to change.
Bringing industry to Rochester
It was the Mighty Genesee that brought industry to this part of the country; it brought excitement; it brought life.
And it was the tenacity, resilience and innovation of our people that drove each phase of our city’s many economic transitions and changing identities.
The River brought early settlers like Ebenezer Allen and Nathaniel Rochester, who turned Rochester into America’s first boomtown – the Young Lion of the West.
They were followed by the innovators of their time: people like George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, who were on the cutting edge of Rochester’s transition from a Flour Mill City to a City of Flower Nurseries.
Soon Rochester caught the attention of the next generations of innovators: Henry Lomb and Jacob Bausch; the Wilson family and George Eastman - determined business leaders who set the course for Rochester’s transition to the Image City.
They also helped build our colleges and universities with their generosity, especially R.I.T. and the University of Rochester.
They laid the foundation for Rochester’s photonics industry and knowledge economy.
From the “Young Lion of the West” to the “Image City” to the “Photonics Capital of the World, the story of Rochester has always been a story of evolution, a story of change.
But somehow, as the world economy shifted beneath our city’s industrial base and the slow drip of economic decline continued, we lost sight of the first chapters of our story.
We forgot about our greatest asset: the mighty Genesee River.
And today, that may be hard to understand.
Because I know we have something very special in our river, which flows like the Nile from south to north -- right through the heart of our city.
It connects to one of the Great Lakes on our northern border.
And it connects to a world-famous canal on our southern border - with a magnificent gorge and three beautiful waterfalls in between.
I can’t think of any other city that can say that.
All of these great natural resources are the envy of other places. But up until now, we haven’t used them to drive our future.
But today is a new day; this is the year that we face our fears and we face our river.
Because this is our moment.
This is our moment in time to follow the example of those bold innovators who embraced change and led our city through each of its transitions.
The Next Chapter
This is the time to write the next chapter of Rochester’s amazing story, starting with the mighty Genesee.
And this is what it looks like:
It looks like thousands of people going to a great party hosted by the Genesee Brewery on a beautiful summer evening to ROC the Falls.
A brewery that was founded along the Genesee riverbank, but changed itself – reinvented itself.
It looks like people walking on a boardwalk trail across the gorge, and zip lining over the High Falls.
It looks like a state-of-the art Skate Park that will be a regional destination for skateboarders and BMX riders.
It looks like people riding their bikes or hiking along the Genesee River Trail, from one end of our city to the next.
It looks like people in the water on kayaks, canoes and jet skis.
It looks like Corn Hill Navigation taking tourists on boat rides and teaching school children about ecology and history along the river.
It looks like cruise ships coming into the Port of Rochester and visiting what was once known as the Coney Island of the North.
It looks like people going to Charles Carroll Plaza, a park in the heart of Downtown that will once again be a gathering place for our city.
It looks like light mapping around the Convention Center with the help of students from R.I.T.
It looks like fire on the water in front of the Riverside Hotel.
It looks like the Broad Street Aqueduct with the top removed to create a public space that connects the Blue Cross Arena and the Convention Center.
It looks like a brand-new hotel, Performing Arts Center and new convention space on the Genesee riverside that will create hundreds of jobs, boost tourism and benefit other arts organizations.
It looks like the winter wonderland that Jenna, Sean and Kelly created this holiday season at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.
If you haven’t been there, you must go and enjoy free ice skating, cookies, hot chocolate, great restaurants and excitement in Downtown once again – it’s an amazing experience.
It looks like thousands of people gathered at Jazz Fest and the Liberty Pole Lighting.
It looks like the vibrant Rochester that people who grew up here remember and love.
The Rochester of my childhood.
The Rochester of my childhood
When I was a little girl, about my daughter Taylor’s age, my sister and cousins and I would ride our bikes along the banks of the Genesee River. We would create adventures.
My friends played little league in the park and we all learned how to swim in the local pool.
A Rochester where we weren’t afraid to conquer new challenges.
A city of hope.
A city of determination.
A city that was made to roar like a lion.
The future of this city is not just about industry. It is also about quality of life.
Quality affordable housing must be available in every neighborhood, so we’re working with our partners to invest in quality developments like Warfield Square and Upper Falls Square.
People deserve to feel safe in their community, so we are bringing policing back to the neighborhoods.
Every citizen, regardless of their zip code, deserves a job that pays a living wage, so we are working together with the County Executive, Empire State Development, the Chamber of Commerce, RDDC and the GRE to bring more jobs to our city.
Bausch and Lomb is growing. NextCorps, CloudCheckr and the Innovation Zone are all creating opportunities for our citizens.
Every child deserves a quality education, so we are open to City Hall being a resource to help educate children beyond pre-school.
In this community, we will lift as we climb so nobody is left behind.
WE ARE Rochester -- the third largest city in New York and we don’t lead from behind.
We are ready to take our rightful place at the front.
We are raising the next generation of innovators, designers and business leaders by thinking outside of the box with programs like Kiva Rochester.
With People like Patrick Dutton, Zury Brown, Chris Hill, Lauren Gallina, Shawn Dunwoody, Austin McChord, Tanvi Asher, Craig Webster, Fred Rainaldi Jr. and Zaaqi Johnson.
With a talented workforce of graduates from 19 colleges and universities who are driving the success of companies like DATTO, CGI, Live Tiles, and Brand Networks.
Companies that show us that Rochester is no longer a Company City but a city of companies.
We have revitalized Main Street, with bike lanes and on-street parking instead of idling buses – welcoming new businesses like Starbucks and Morton’s …
We’ve responded to the community with every level of government working together to open a new Downtown DMV office with a Traffic Court and Parking Bureau and Social Security Office – along with a Census Bureau so every one of our citizens will be counted in 2020.
I must say that our community is fortunate to have a governor like Andrew Cuomo, who has committed to investing millions of dollars in Upstate and shares our vision of a bold future built on the pride of our past.
After all, we are Rochester!
We turned an empty parking lot into a world-class Marina.
We removed an underutilized expressway and made it a destination of play for the Strong Museum to build a hotel with a water-park feature.
We partnered with the Pegulas and we are investing in the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
We tore down an old dilapidated building and built the Genesee Brew House and saved the brewery.
When some counted us down and out we came back -- bigger and better than before.
Because we are not afraid to defy the odds.
If I’m betting on anything, I’m betting on us. Because we have the ambition to compete with the best.
And I can assure you that this Mayor has competed with the best and has come out on top, because of God’s grace.
Some can say what they want, but we started from the bottom. And now we are here and there will be no half stepping.
When you begin to doubt yourself, when I begin to question our future, I think about our history – our story.
I think about Eastman Business Park.
People wrote it off and now it’s the home of more than 100 companies, a new housing development called the Eastman Reserve and the location of a Netflix series, thanks to New York State.
I think about Wegmans, which went from a mom-and-pop store on Fernwood Avenue to the nation’s most prestigious grocery chain.
I think about Bausch and Lomb.
This proud Rochester company fought for its survival and now is on its way back, adding 100 jobs here in Rochester.
I think about Kodak’s Hawkeye Plant.
Once a source of Cold War intrigue, this building overlooking the Genesee River is now on its way to becoming a job creator in Northeast Rochester’s most challenged neighborhood.
I think about Constellation Brands, a company that started as a small Finger Lakes wine producer and now it’s a Fortune 500 Company.
A new chapter
The ability to change.
This is who we are.
A boomtown started on the banks of the Genesee River.
It is along those banks that we are starting a new chapter in our story.
A chapter filled with purpose …
Like a lion, we waited in the brush for our time to come forth.
And that time has come.
That time is now!
Rochester, Young Lion of the West, let them hear us roar!