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With nearly 600 signatures, Armory petition deserves the council's attention

With nearly 600 signatures, Armory petition deserves the council's attention

When it comes to the future use of the Armory building, the Rochester City Council has a decision to make. It can reject both proposals — and risk alienating numerous arts and cultural groups — or it could play fair.

Tonight the council is expected to formally reject the two proposals it received for the re-use of the historic downtown structure. Members will then decide whether to begin marketing the building for sale or to re-open the RFP (Request For Proposals) process.

To proceed in either direction would be a slap in the face to the two groups who spent months putting together proposals for the Armory.  

It's not that either proposal  one from a consortium of local art and cultural organizations and another from an emergency service veteran museum — is perfect. The problem is that neither were given a fair shot.

Sure, both groups were allowed to present in front of the council. But there was never a concerted effort on behalf of the City to follow up with either group.


During a meeting last month, council members complained about the lack of detail included in the proposals. But in talking with local leaders and artists, the proposals were a reflection of the ambiguity of the RFP.  

Council Member Mark Bilderback, who represents downtown, acknowledged there was "a lot of confusion about the process and requirements." He suggested re-opening the process and allowing new groups to submit proposals.

On the surface, that seems like a noble idea. But then consider the groups who submitted the original proposals. They made the best out of a broken process; they stepped up to the plate when others didn't; and they deserve the opportunity to make their pitch without interference from some new shiny object that pops up in just in time to steal the council's attention.

Now, to their credit, the arts group — officially called the Rochester Arts and Cultural Initiative — is not giving up. They already have the support of two council members, Michael Wojcik and Nick Campion, and have spent the past two weeks meeting with other council members and state legislators in an effort to gain additional support. 

"Having seen firsthand what C4 [The Salon] did to activate kind of a dead part of downtown, I am really excited about having spaces in the downtown that serve the people of Rochester," Wojcik said during a recent council meeting.

Their proposal includes support from 103 arts and cultural organizations, groups and individuals; among them, the Rochester Art Center, Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, Rochester Civic Music and the Cambodian Association of Rochester, Minnesota. According to the proposal, "operations will be supported by long term tenant rentals for display, gallery, studio, and office space, and from facility rental fees for events, meetings and activities."

Further, both the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust and the consultants used for the re-use of another historic downtown building, the Chateau Theatre, have recommended using the Armory as a multi-use facility for arts and culture. Here's the precise language used by the Chateau consultants:

In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s [ACI} Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC.

Nearly 600 people have signed a petition asking the council to reconsider ACI's proposal for the Armory. "We must send a clear message to the City Council that this proposal will serve our community on a variety of levels and that this location is ideal for cultivating a downtown rich in myriad cultures, arts, ideas, humanity and simple human connections," the petition reads.

I am not naive enough to advocate the council quickly accept either proposal. Even in talking with advocates of the ACI proposal, there are acknowledgements that flaws exist and financial specifics need to be better defined.

But the solution should not be to quickly sell of the building and move on. The council should listen to feedback from the community and consider what kind of message rejecting their efforts so carelessly would send to these groups. 

"What’s unique about our Art and Cultural Center proposal is that Rochester is different from other cities and other states," said Kim Sin, a volunteer for Cambodian Association of Rochester. "Having the Arts and Cultural group in the same location will diversify people to engage with each other because art has its own language that people around the world are able to relate."

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