On July 26, 2023, a powerful demonstration of community solidarity took place at the Liberty Pole in Downtown Rochester. Over 50 concerned citizens gathered not only to share a meal but also to raise their voices against a proposed “Business Improvement District” (BID) by the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDDC) and the newly renamed Partnership for Downtown Rochester (PDR).
The event served as a platform for diverse perspectives, as presentations from local activists and advocates shed light on the potential impacts of a downtown BID. As the community united, the spotlight turned toward the need for transparency, accountability, and fairness in decision-making, especially when it concerns the welfare of the most vulnerable members of our city.
Presentations Unveil Major Concerns
During the gathering, dynamic presentations by Halima Aweis, Ya’qub Shabazz, Chiara Smith, Bleu Cease, and Kelly Cheatle explored the multifaceted concerns surrounding the proposed BID. The speakers delved not only into the potential repercussions of a BID including gentrification and displacement, but also into the recent actions of the RDDC under the leadership of Galin Brooks and its board members. The presentations highlighted how the RDDC/RDP have been using dubious methods and manipulating public perception to manufacture consent for their BID effort.
The Troubling Duality of Strong Museum’s Expansion
One prominent issue that came to light was the dual role played by Steve Dubnik, a vice chair of RDDC, who also serves as President and CEO of the Strong National Museum of Play. The museum recently unveiled a lavish expansion, receiving at least $15 million in Federal, State and private funds, which has garnered much attention with an international advertising campaign. However, the situation takes a disconcerting turn when examining the “ambassador” program that Steve Dubnik championed as offering concierge-style services to out of town visitors is seeking even more funding from the county and city.
The concierge program comes with a staggering price tag of $600,000, with the county already committing $300,000 without any prior approval of the county legislature, and the city’s funding pending. Nearby impoverished neighborhoods youth programs have been forced to close due to lack of funding. This discrepancy raises ethical questions about the allocation of resources and the already disproportionate amount of influence of this special interest group in downtown. The RDDC’s mission is centered in the economic development of a minority group of wealthy stakeholders that consistently ignores the genuine needs of the community. These issues are compounded by pre-existing concerns about infringement of the right to use and move freely in public spaces without discrimination or time limitation as documented in ambassador programs in other communities that harass and surveil individuals.
Towards a More Equitable Future
The Community Empowerment Potluck and its powerful messengers highlighted the urgent need for transparency, accountability, and fair decision-making in our city’s governance. The community’s united voice emphasized the importance of considering the well-being of all residents, small business, and especially the most vulnerable, in the pursuit of progress.
As Rochester grapples with the prospect of a BID and navigates the actions of the RDDC and its board, the path forward becomes clearer. It demands a genuine commitment to inclusivity and an unwavering focus on the greater good. By engaging in open dialogue and actively listening to community concerns, we can collectively shape a future where exploitation is replaced by collaboration, and where the needs of our city’s diverse population are met with compassion and equity. That equitable future does not include a BID.
There is Strength in Numbers
The Liberty Pole gathering on July 26, 2023, served as a testament to the strength of community voices when united against exploitation and injustice. The presentations offered crucial insights into the potential consequences of a BID and exposed questionable practices by those in power. The situation at the Strong Museum further underscored the need for fair distribution of resources and an unwavering commitment to prioritizing the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.
As we move forward, let us remember the power of collective action and the significance of active civic engagement. Together, we can build a more inclusive, just, and compassionate Rochester that works for the betterment of all. It is time for our city to rise above exploitation and embrace a future rooted in unity and empathy.