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Former RG&E plant could become falls overlook


A decrepit former RG&E hydro station could serve as a new High Falls scenic overlook, if it can be made safe enough for people to use.

Rochester City Council is set to vote on a $150,000 feasibility study for the potential High Falls overlook when it meets on Tuesday, January 21. The study will look at repurposing the long-empty RG&E Station Four at 275 St. Paul Street, just south of the Genesee Brewery.

The former RG&E station Four was purchased by Greentopia in 2013 could be converted to an overlook. This photo was modified to highlight the building's location. - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH
  • The former RG&E station Four was purchased by Greentopia in 2013 could be converted to an overlook. This photo was modified to highlight the building's location.
The city is hiring Hunt Engineers, Architects, Land Surveyors, & Landscape Architect to do the study. The costs will be reimbursed by Empire State Development through the ROC the Riverway initiative.

As it stands, the building is not safe for public use. But it has potential to play a vital role in making High Falls and the area around it into a tourist destination.

“High Falls is one of the largest urban waterfalls in America,” said Rachel Laber, director of market communications and public relations at Visit Rochester, Monroe County’s tourism agency. “When I bring people here they’re just amazed that we have this resource right in the center of the city.”

Greentopia purchased the former RG&E stationr in 2013 and, according to a request for proposals issued by the city in August, the building is in pretty bad shape. The structure was built in the late 1800’s and it is missing floor joists, has compromised bedrock anchors, and has structural beams that are rotted, rusted, or outright broken.

If City Council approves the overlook feasibility study, Hunt will perform a full-fledged analysis of the building, including a topographic survey and an examination of erosion and drainage problems, as well as other constraints of the property. It’ll use the findings to advise the city on whether it should demolish the station and not rebuild, demolish and rebuild a new structure, rehabilitate the station into a scenic overlook, or simply do nothing.

Just what the overlook will look like is up in the air. City Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Norman Jones leans towards an “interpretive center” design.

“I leave how it will look up to the artistic discretion of our landscape architects,” Jones said. “How it will function is the more important piece.”

There are currently several places that offer a view of the falls—the Pont De Rennes foot bridge, the Genesee Brew House upper deck, or High Falls Terrace Park, to name a few. But there’s no direct overlook of the falls and there hasn’t been one for some time. In 2002, the City closed the former overlook at Granite Mills Park on Browns Race, citing concerns about its structural integrity.

The overlook would serve as the southern tip of the “Brewery Line Trail,” a collection of improvements along the east side of the falls capped at the north by the Pont De Rennes. The city made improvements to High Falls Terrace Park in 2018 and 2019. In total, ROC the Riverway has committed $1 million to the trail and park.

Having good access to the falls is invaluable for the Genesee Brewery, said Mary Beth Popp, director of corporate relations for its parent company, FIFCO USA. Popp serves on the ROC the Riverway advisory board.

“The falls are the second most popular tourist spot in Rochester, and we’re trying to capitalize on that and create a destination here,” Popp said.

Since autumn 2018, the brewery has held its ROC the Falls concert series at High Falls Terrace Park. Attendance fluctuates between 2,000 and 6,000, depending on the weather, Popp said.

“From the turnout we get, people obviously love coming to this area and enjoying the falls,” Popp said.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected].