Advocates want city workers for Rochester Inner Loop North project

The removal of Rochester’s inner North Loop promises to be transformative for the city.

But when U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited on Monday to tout what could be Rochester’s biggest ever federal infrastructure project, the focus wasn’t so much on the construction project.

Rather, it was whether the investment would sustainably benefit those who live in neighborhoods long cut off by the sunken highway.

It was about jobs.

And the senator’s promise that the locals would do the job.

Those assurances have already been made – on the downtown football stadium and the multimillion-dollar school modernization project, for example. But critics said many of the workers on those projects came from out of town.

“I mean, you have a nice new gym, a great new library. But what does it do for the community? asked Kereem Berry, executive director of the Multi-Trade Learning Readiness Program. “Parents are still in the same economic position. What do we do? Nothing has changed.”

The program aims to prepare people from historically disadvantaged communities for jobs in construction and the building trades.

Berry urged Gillibrand to go beyond local labor provisions included in federal law to specify city zip codes when hiring.

White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu (center) speaks during a panel discussion on the Inner Loop North project hosted by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (left) Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, at the Prayer House Church of God by Faith in Rochester. Rochester Mayor Malik Evans (right) and Congressman Joseph Morelle were among local officials who attended the discussion.

Much of the area around the Northern Inner Loop has higher poverty, higher unemployment, and lower wages than the city as a whole.

“I know when they say local labor it doesn’t specifically mean the area you’re working in,” Berry said. “More so the jurisdiction of this particular trade, of this particular union.”

And it can span multiple counties.

A study anticipates a real estate boom

Rochester wants to replace the Inner Loop section between East Main Street and Interstate 490 with an at-grade boulevard, reconnecting neighborhoods along downtown and opening up acres for new development and restored green space.

The scope of this project is enormous.

Inner Loop North consists of 1.5 miles of roadway (Inner Loop East was two-thirds of a mile), 10 bridges (the eastern section removed three), and 7,000 feet of retaining walls.

A recent study predicted strong demand for housing, much of it multi-family, primarily for renters – mirroring Inner Loop East.

This would go against the wishes of residents, who pushed for single-family, owner-occupied housing rather than large apartment buildings.

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The inner loop west of North Street at Joseph Avenue in Rochester.

The study breaks the market down into segments, with the strongest for housing and office being south of the current inner loop and closest to the city center. Single-family homes and townhouses are considered most likely to come from infilling or redevelopment of existing housing.

Expectations are to start tearing up the sunken highway in 2026.

The study forecasts a flood of new housing by 2040, including hundreds of additional apartments, increasing the already high share of rental housing in the area. Coupled with new townhomes and infill single family homes, the total housing stock in the immediate area could increase by 50%.

Demand for office space is also considered considerable, despite a largely vacant Kodak Tower located at the western end of the study area.

keep the promise

The recovery of these neighborhoods has been central to the planning of the project from the outset.

But promises from community leaders were tempered on Monday by recognition that it remains a work in progress and the understanding that the proof will not be in the planning but in the doing.

That seemed to impress Mitch Landrieu, who is White House infrastructure coordinator and special adviser to President Joseph Biden.

“I think it will be one of the best projects in the country,” he said.

Landrieu joined Gillibrand on a tour of upstate towns highlighting federal infrastructure investments. Before Rochester, he was in Syracuse, where he reportedly offered similar praise for his much larger freeway reconstruction involving a stretch of Interstate 81.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCAL HISTORY AND GENEOLOGY DIVISION, ROCHESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY

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The Inner Loop under construction, circa 1960, looking towards State Street from the west.

“I saw some really great things today,” he said. “I mean, what I love about what I’ve seen is the cohesion in the communities and the fact that the community has come together with a plan.”

He and Gillibrand met other dignitaries in the basement of the Prayer House Church of God by Faith, which is on Cumberland Street overlooking the inner loop.

Deacon Hollie Williams sat in the back, recording.

“We think we can keep them to the promise, and we recorded it,” he said with a smile. “That’s what they said. And we intend to force them to do so.

The project has only just entered design, with construction still several years away. But it buys time, officials say, to prepare a neighborhood workforce.

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