Our View: Central Park needs more than a ban on alcohol

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Central Park, located just a block off Broadway in downtown, is Rochester's oldest city park. The construction crane in the background is just a hint of development to come in this area as Destination Medical Center moves forward.

There's a good chance that many longtime residents of Rochester have never set foot in the city's oldest park. Sure, they've driven past it hundreds of times, perhaps even daily, but Central Park isn't exactly a major destination.

Kids can't frolic on slides and swingsets because horseshoe pits and a shuffleboard court are the park's only recreational facilities. It would be a terrible place to let a dog go off-leash, as the one-block park is surrounded by busy streets and construction for Mayo Clinic's new proton beam therapy center.

Basically, it's a nice place to sit on a bench and enjoy lunch on a gorgeous fall day, listening to the gurgle of the fountain (if you can hear it over the traffic) and gazing at the massive oaks that are perhaps the park's greatest assets.

Today, we pose the question: As Destination Medical Center transforms downtown Rochester, what should the future hold for Central Park? Should it remain as-is, and thus become an island of green space nestled between medical facilities and high-rise condos? Should it be overhauled into a play place for families who want to raise children within walking distance of downtown?

Or should the city consider (gasp) eliminating Central Park entirely?


Rod Toomey is president of the Rochester Park Board, and he told us DMC is definitely on the minds of the commissioners and will be discussed next year during meetings to create a new plan for the city's parks.

"Because of the Soldiers Field issue, with the veterans museum proposal, that's why we're looking at kind of a master plan for that area, but long-term, we're going to be trying to set some strategic goals for the entire park system," he said Friday. "With the DMC just coming together in the past year or so, we've had no discussions of its possible impact on our parks, but I would think that anything within the downtown corridor that would possibly be affected by DMC — yes we'll probably be having conversations about that. ... Due to the DMC developments, we're going to need to have some board level talks about where some of the parks are going."

We'd suggest, in Central Park, the status quo would be the least desirable outcome as DMC transforms downtown Rochester.

Right now, the park's benches, fountain and public restrooms have made it a hangout for the homeless, with coffee cans as unsightly receptacles for cigarette butts. Responding to complaints, the city is contemplating a ban on alcohol in the park, a move we would strongly support.

But merely cleaning up the park wouldn't be enough. For a city that aspires to be among the world's foremost medical destinations, a downtown park of this size could and should be a well-manicured showplace. Perhaps a permanent bandstand or small amphitheatre could be added, or the city could create a smaller version of St. Cloud's famous Munsinger Gardens, which attract visitors from across the Midwest.

We offered some of those suggestions to Toomey, who said, "Anything will be on the table, but of course, that all boils down to budget dollars."

We hope the city will dare to think big, to be willing to invest significantly in a park that has the potential to become a small-yet-sparkling jewel in downtown Rochester.

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