ROCHESTER, NY – Rochester City Council quietly shelved a proposal Tuesday that would have funded a downtown “ambassador” program sought by wealthy developers and other proponents of a downtown “Business Improvement District.”
The move represents a rebuke to the Mayor’s vision for a developer-driven downtown and a setback for the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDDC), the special interest group behind the push for both the downtown “ambassadors” and a downtown BID.
In September, Mayor Malik Evans asked Council to approve $125,000 for the downtown concierge service, but paired the request with an unrelated proposal to fund opioid outreach in the North Clinton and Jefferson Ave neighborhoods.
Community members called on Council to “split the bill” and reject funding for the downtown ambassador program, which many criticized as a frivolous giveaway to the RDDC, a special interest group backed by wealthy developers and property owners.
After weeks of community pressure, the Rochester City Council unanimously approved a revised proposal that removed funding for downtown ‘concierge ambassadors.’ The clean bill now focuses solely on funding neighborhood opioid outreach.
Community members praised City Council’s decision.
“City Council did the right thing by splitting the bill and ensuring money from opioid settlements isn’t held hostage,” said Alice Carli of Metro Justice, one of the organizational co-sponsors of a petition opposing the creation of a downtown BID. “The City needs to prioritize investments in our neighborhoods before another cent is given to downtown developers and special interests pushing to empower the few at the expense of the many.”
Monroe County has already allocated $300,000 for RDDC’s proposed “ambassadors” program, which they claim would make downtown feel safer and more welcoming. Yet studies have shown similar programs elsewhere have led to increased surveillance and criminalization of vulnerable groups, including teenagers, the poor, and the unhoused.
“Downtown ambassador programs subject a city’s most vulnerable residents to shame, judgment, and force, all under the guise of beautification,” said Gary Harding, a downtown Rochester resident and homeless advocate, during a recent rally at Rochester City Hall.
“BIDs often focus on beautification projects, increased security, and marketing campaigns. They divert resources from more pressing issues, like affordable housing, education, and social services, things that directly benefit the underprivileged.”
Representatives of organized labor have also spoken out against the proposed ambassador program. LaTonya Wilcox of the Federation of Social Workers, said, “The BID is an effort led by people who don’t understand our community’s needs that gives too much power to a few,“
adding “The RDDC is not a social services agency. Dedicated union members already perform job functions that BIDs contract out.”
A draft proposal for a downtown Rochester Business Improvement District is expected within the coming weeks.