Buffalo Can Learn from Rochester’s Monroe Avenue

While on a recent trip to
Rochester for some work projects, I had some time to kill between meetings and
took a stroll down a few blocks of Monroe Avenue. The street reminded me of a
mash up between Hertel Avenue and the possible future of Grant Street. There’s
a nice array of different architectural styles, it’s relatively walkable, and a
lot of the newer infill is urban-friendly. That means it’s “built to the curb”,
has parking to the side or the rear, and prioritizes the pedestrian over the
automobile.

Monroe Avenue is a great
street for Buffalo to take some cues from as commercial corridors like
Connecticut Street, Jefferson & Bailey Avenues, and Grant Street begin to
come back. For example, there were several corporate chains that occupied
buildings on Monroe, but on a few of them were in new builds. A historic
Italian villa style home is now a small Starbucks, Subway has taken up half of
a typical early 20th century commercial block, Rent-A-Center occupies
an Italianate commercial building with a mid-century storefront remodeling, and
Pizza Hut made its home in an old standalone storefront building.

Although the new Rite-Aid
wasn’t very architecturally exciting, the parking was at the back, pedestrian access
from the sidewalk was great, and the storefront windows are not obscured by
shelving or signs. The building maintains the same streetwall that other
buildings on the block have and the scale is appropriate given its context. The
main mass of the building (right of the entry) even tries to have some historic
references with the projecting parapet, simple cornice, and fenestration
pattern; they actually tried, which is something Buffalo rarely gets with new
builds.

Monroe Avenue is a good
example of reusing the existing historic assets and adding new buildings that
work at the pedestrian level. Next time you’re in Rochester take a walk down
Monroe and if you can’t wait, Google Streetview will have to do. The good
stretch of Monroe lasts about nine blocks between the 490 Highway and Meigs
Street, northwest of Meigs things start to look more suburban and less pedestrian
friendly.

This is the type of thing
that the Green Code can offer the people of Buffalo once finalized and
implemented. We can finally have commercial corridors that represent walkable
and sustainable communities. We’ll have buildings built to the curb to engage
pedestrians, parking will be hidden to the back or sides, and existing historic
buildings will continue to play host to new uses. The end result is a community
we can all be proud of and that effectively mixes historic buildings and new
infill to create unique and interesting neighborhoods.


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About the author  ⁄ Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

27 comments
RPreskop
RPreskop

It looks like Monroe Avenue in Rochester is a very vibrant, well kept and interesting street. Isn't Monroe Avenue part of NY Route 31?

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

Not an Ellicott Development Rite Aid--? Then I got bad information from John Lam! Thanks for the clarification.

Dan
Dan

Syracuse, too. Mattar too!

Dan
Dan

Zombies want braaaaaaaains!

Buffalonians fear chaaaaaaaains!

Dan
Dan

Well, income tax preparation services have filled up a lot of vacant storefronts along Bailey Avenue in Kensington. Seriously, every other block there has a income tax office.

Mike Puma
Mike Puma

I'll have to take you up on that!

billthevampire
billthevampire

I lived on monroe ave for years, its gross and has gotten nothing but worse over the years. We dont need any lessons from them.

paulsobo
paulsobo

Well, Rochester still has Bausch & Lomb and Xerox and a number of very healthy small to medium sized businesses with Fortune 500 access.

Rochester has decades head start with Strong Hospital, UR Medical School and Research. All recognized nationally and internationally.

Buffalo is getting good growth out of its Center for Excellence led by UB but its VERY late to the party. Sadly Buffalo still isnt connecting with the Fortune 500 business community, still slow on small to medium business growth.

Buffalo still doesnt work together for leadership. There is very little consensus and partnership between colleges, universities, government and private sector business.

Even when Buffalo does get an interested company...the Chamber of Commerce cant put a package together in a timely manner until someone is ready to walk out the door in frustration.

jasonharemza
jasonharemza

Thanks for the kudos from the Queen City! Any time you're back in town I'd be happy to give you the city planners tour. Though Monroe is far from perfect, I am proud of several projects on Monroe, including the Rite Aid. FYI it is not an Ellicott Development Rite Aid, it was built by Rainaldi Development, a Rochester firm.

North Park
North Park

Where are houses being knocked down for commercial on Elmwood? Just the house next to Pano's and that was what 5 years ago (more?)?

Elmwood is a commercial street now. . . .I am happy to see storefronts added onto houses wherever possible, I'd be happy to see houses removed and commercial take their place. We need more density on Elmwood. Density = success in commercial districts.

Freethrow
Freethrow

I know it cracks me up, too. Although I'm sure the advertisement helps their Rochester office and litigators there. I always laugh when I see Wegman's commercials in Buffalo.

grad94
grad94

it cracks me up that cellino & barnes buy billboards in rochester, too.

Up and coming
Up and coming

We can't even get a Panera Bread built without hearing people complain. What if a Pizza Hut or a Rite Aid tried to get built?

rb09
rb09

My wife lived on Oxford when we were dating.

Many memories and crazy nights on Monroe Ave... :)

paulsobo
paulsobo

Actually, if one were to think of Rochester's Park Avenue as equivalent to our Elmwood and Monroe equivalent to our Grant Street that would be more accurate just dont think of it in terms of size comparison.

Park Avenue is just a sliver of a street but its street, its retail association, its surrounding residential, its festivals are all intact. The over-flow for those who cant afford or find space on Park Avenue is Monroe or University.

In this respect, Elmwood is becoming over priced and some businesses are choosing to take a chance on Delaware or Grant.

Unfortunately for Elmwood, there is little control over urban planning. They cant keep homes from getting demolished for retail, they cannot get anyone to preserve and restore homes/residences and they cant get suburban style store fronts to put up an architectural style that fits with the surrounding street.

As with everything and every problem in Buffalo...everyone wants to do their own thing and answer to no one...that goes from the poorest of the poor up to our leadership and management.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

The cravings for a white hot were real, BTW. But after some lunch, I'm glad to report I'm feeling better ;-)

Speaking of eats, the pho restaurant shown next to Subway is excellent. I had a very happy lunch there a couple of years ago when I was back in Rochester working on the special mayoral election.

STEEL
STEEL

I agree - though looking on google there are a few better blocks than what is shown here. I think Buffalo is already at this level and slightly above on several streets. This is an example of what not to slip below more than a goal for improvement.

jim1234664
jim1234664

nicest rite aid ive ever seen in this area but its a shame that 3 storey brick corner building had to be sacrificed

TheRepatformerlyknownasosirisascending
TheRepatformerlyknownasosirisascending

Similar to the look and feel of the 48th & Chicago neighborhood in Minneapolis. It's just a two-block stretch right now, but it's a good example of what can happen "on the wrong side of the tracks", in the case of Minneapolis, the areas east of I-35W.

http://www.48chicago.org/

The Boss
The Boss

looks more like Buffalo's University District to me, and it has that feel in person too.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

I think we can shoot for better than this. While I appreciate that the neighborhood is built to the curb, I find it a pretty mangy looking place.

Let's take it to the next level: plant trees, inspiring infill, public art, etc.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

Unfortunately there was some demolition there, with facade preservation. That building spent just too much time in the clutches of the pornographer who treated it and the community with wanton disregard.

A lot of that unfolded after I moved to Buffalo, and unfortunately the best source of information on the project, City Newspaper, lost all of their archived content in a server crash last year :( But this article has some background:

http://rochesterhomepage.net/fulltext?nxd_id=218857

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

OMG I AM NOW HAVING STOMACH CONTRACTIONS CRAVING A WHITE HOT FROM DOGTOWN ON MONROE AVE!! OH THE AGONY.

Mike Puma
Mike Puma

That makes a lot of sense. It looks like the student has become the master or getting there at least. I took a long look at the Monroe theater and couldn't quite figure it out. Did the demolish the auditorium or is it just a really small space?

ParksideStreetCar
ParksideStreetCar

I love how the first photo has a Rent to Own store displayed... like we need more of those to spruce up Grant and Fillmore.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

Trying to make me homesick, colleague--?

I agree with your title -- there are always things other cities & neighborhoods can learn from each other -- but the funny thing is that Monroe Ave has in fact tried to learn from Buffalo! I was involved in some community planning in that part of the city, and served a stint as an officer of the Neighbors-Building-Neighborhoods (program from which Buffalo's Good Neighbors Planning Alliance is derived) planning sector encompassing Monroe Ave. 5 years or so ago we had Justin Azzarella from EVA visit Monroe Ave and talk with us. The idea was to make Monroe Ave into something more akin to the Elmwood Village for Rochester. While it will never play that role precisely (in Rochester, it shares that function with Park Ave a block away), several good things have happened in recent years on Monroe as a result of planning and community effort, including:

* the effort to preserve the Monroe Theater

* forcing the Rite Aid pictured here to be built in an urban-friendly manner (believe-it-or-not, it's an Ellicott Development Rite Aid)

* establishment of a farmers' market (in the parking lot of the well-attended parish church on Monroe)

* securing funds through a state legislator to widen sidewalks and establish bumpouts on a key section of the street.

Monroe Ave has overcome many hurdles, and has more to go. But it has a solid upward trajectory, and is a good place to visit when in Rochester. Anyone with even a passing interest in planning and community development will find Monroe Ave fascinating. Explore it on foot, but also try to see it in its entirety from DT to the Town of Brighton line (or even beyond).

Enjoy!

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