10:58am

Wed September 15, 2010
Old is new

Canals: Economic engines your great great grandfather can appreciate

Canals? Innovation? We know, we know. You're all, "Hey, bro, this ain't the 1820s!"

To which we reply: canals may not be on the cutting edge of delivering goods and services anymore, but they may be the latest means of stimulating economic development for downtown Rochester's flagging west side.

That's what the plans call for at least.

"It's a good first step," says Tom Grasso, President of the Canal Society of New York State. "If it ultimately connects to the existing system so that boats could glide into city center, that'd be huge."

Grasso admits that seeing boats cruising around downtown is a long way off - maybe decades, or never. But seeing some sort of canal in downtown Rochester in the near(ish) future may not be so far-fetched.

According to City of Rochester Chief Structural Engineer Tom Hack, the city is currently seeking funding for a project that would create an "Historic Canal District" in downtown Rochester.

The plan would "re-water" the Broad Street Aqueduct and create a nine-block-long "boulevard of fountains" that would terminate in a triangular basin. Hack says it would be the kind of "great space" development that has re-energized cities like San Antonio, Providence and Oklahoma City.

"It's not just for the sake of putting water downtown," says Hack. "It's really about trying to spur development on the west side of the city."

Hack estimates that the project could generate $220 million in private investment. That's if the city can come up with the $66 million that it would cost to make the entire plan a reality.

According to Hack, developers are particularly keen on the idea. He says a canal district in downtown Rochester could lead to a niche market of waterfront properties.

Hack says the project could be finished in 12 years - once funding is secured, that is. And says that remains a big if.

Grasso, the Canal Society president, is optimistic. He says canal revitalization is a "well-proven formula for success."

"There's something about water that attracts us," says Grasso.

If all this canal talk really whets your whistle, the World Canals Conference kicks off in Rochester this weekend.

But really we should just get out of your way and let you watch this awesome video of renderings of what a more ambitious canal project in Rochester would look like.