Rochester’s story is told in a new downtown park

At first glance, the recently redone and reopened north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library simply appears to be an inviting place to sit and read, have lunch or simply relax.

Take a closer look, however, and what emerges is a history lesson, telling the story of Rochester and its connection to the Genesee River.

Intricate carvings on the circular “Gateway” art installation at the corner of Broad Street and South Avenue depict a waterwheel, reminiscent of when Rochester was a city of mills. There is also a microscope and the first camera, reflecting the city’s golden age of innovation and invention.

Head to the new viewpoint over the river and pass benches carved like millstones and an interactive water table, printed with an old map of the city.

Each room has a purpose.

The north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library along Broad Street and the Genesee River has been opened after repairs to the framework supporting the terrace and work adding art, seating, planting and more to the space at street level.

“We’ve watched people walk through space figuring out how to engage with this water table,” said library director Patricia Uttaro, “and then be like, ‘Oh my God, look at this. This is so cool.'”

The project is generating excitement — one of the first shoreline improvement projects to be completed and open to the public. There’s also relief, as the fences and barricades that surrounded the main downtown library for the better part of a decade are gone.

The North Terrace in particular was deemed structurally unsafe and closed to the public in 2017.

The library and its surroundings are built on steel and concrete pylons above the old bed of the Erie Canal and the Johnson and Seymour Circuit that powered flour mills centuries ago. They are some of the oldest foundations in the county, said Rich Perrin, the city’s environmental services commissioner whose department oversaw construction.

The terrace project and related work represents $9.8 million of a total of $13.7 million invested in structural repairs and upgrades to the library since 2008.

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The north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library along Broad Street and the Genesee River has been opened after repairs to the framework supporting the terrace and work adding art, seating, planting and more to the space at street level.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s been dedicated to not just rebuilding something,” Perrin said, “but looking at what’s the history, what’s the cultural context of what we’re going to build.”

A call for artists drew dozens of responses from around the world, with the project ultimately awarded to Denver artist Andy Dufford and Chevo Studios. Dufford then immersed himself in space and worked with people like Assistant City Historian Michelle Finn to distill what shaped Rochester into sculpture.

The iconic artwork – what people have taken to call the oculus – showcases two sides of the city’s past. Look towards the river, Finn says, and the carvings reflect Rochester’s earliest history. Look towards the city, the sculptures speak of the innovations and inventions that have shaped it.

“There are all kinds of Easter eggs hidden in the sculpture,” she said.

And at night, the sculpture and part of the terrace sidewalk light up.

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The north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library along Broad Street and the Genesee River has been opened after repairs to the framework supporting the terrace and work adding art, seating, planting and more to the space at street level. The library and terraces were built in the 1930s above the Johnson & Seymour Racecourse and the former bed of the Erie Canal and the Rochester Metro and are supported by a steel and concrete framing system.

“Which is, I think, a good nod to the optical industry in Rochester right now,” Uttaro said.

“And now it’s more of a gateway,” Finn added, “that you can walk through and kind of travel metaphorically into the past.”

There are already plans to use the terrace as a classroom space and to use smartphone technology to provide a kind of historical tourist guide for visitors. The riverside amphitheater is considered a venue for live music and other performances. There is even early interest in using the venue for weddings.

Elsewhere along the river, work continues.

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The north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library along Broad Street and the Genesee River has been opened after repairs to the framework supporting the terrace and work adding art, seating, planting and more to the space at street level.

The Blue Cross Arena will be expanded, including adding a riverside dining area.

A cantilever walkway and river walk near Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was completed, as was a redone deck at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The West Bank near Ford and Exchange has recently been redone. Street works on East Main and State Street are included.

And work between Main and Andrews streets, also on the west bank of the river, is redoing Charles Carroll Plaza.

As for what will be done when?

“Project schedules are really adjusted daily,” Perrin said. “That’s one of the things we face in a very volatile and volatile environment in terms of both labor and materials.”

The centerpiece of all this river work is a still-developing plan to wrest the Broad Street Bridge from the old Erie Canal aqueduct and transform that space into a place of destination above the river. This would affect the terrace, but Uttaro said the design of the terrace allows it to be easily adapted, to also overlook the reimagined aqueduct.

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The north terrace of the Rundel Memorial Library along Broad Street and the Genesee River has been opened after repairs to the framework supporting the terrace and work adding art, seating, planting and more to the space at street level.

David H. Henry