The Promenade at Erie Harbor Park

A conceptual rendering of the promenade,  looking north towards Court Street. The title “Promenade at Erie Harbor” alludes to the public promenade that the City hopes to construct along the east side of the Johnson-Seymour Mill Race, within the area referred to as Erie Harbor Park. The Erie Harbor Park site is a compact urban park located on a riverfront site adjacent to South Avenue on the east side of the Genesee River, opposite Woodbury Boulevard in the City of Rochester. The park area is flanked by private land, businesses, and New York State owned property. The City has a variety of permits and easements to access the site, including a permanent easement through the site to provide for public access to the river front. It is these areas that the City is aggressively tackling – the end result being drastically improved public access to the astounding views of the Genesee River, Court Street Dam, the historic Court Street Bridge, and the historic Lehigh Valley Railroad Passenger Station (occupied by the Dinosaur BBQ).

The multi-use promenade and pedestrian bridge connection to Court Street will serve as a connector in many fashions: a community connector, a trail connector for the Genesee Riverway Trail, and a connection to the Rochester region’s history. The promenade and bridge will fill a missing link in the Genesee Riverway Trail, a designated National Recreation Trail, with connections to downtown, neighborhoods, and regional and state-wide trails.

About the project

In 2009, the City received a matching grant from the New York State Department of State (with funds provided under Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund) to conduct planning and preliminary design for this important site. The resulting study created a vision for the currently underutilized Erie Harbor Park site and showcased its potential to be a tremendously valuable community asset. Subsequently, the report resulted in the formation of a phased implementation plan for public improvements. In 2011, the City received a second matching grant from the State to advance the planning and preliminary design report into final design and creation of final bid documents for the Promenade at Erie Harbor (and related features). This design will progress into the summer of 2013. During this time, the City will continue to pursue funding for construction.

Building upon a site with a significant local history

Site map (click on the photo for a larger version).The area that we refer to as Erie Harbor Park flanks the Johnson-Seymour Raceway, a mill race located on the east bank of the Genesee River in the heart of downtown Rochester. The raceway dates back to the early 1800's and continues to function today as the primary source of flow for coolant for the Central Library's air conditioning units. This mill race was one of the first private capital works undertaken in Monroe County, and dates back to 1817 when it was opened by Elisha Johnson to serve his milling operations. A dam that predates the current Court Street Dam allowed water to flow into the Johnson and Seymour Raceway from the Genesee River. By 1820, an oil mill, saw mill, paper mill, and flower mill could be found along the race, and by 1855, there were at least six flour mills using water power from the race. The Rochester, Fitzhugh, and Carroll Raceway mirrored the Johnson and Seymour, on the western bank of the Genesee River, and have since been filled in, making the Johnson and Seymour the only remaining raceway from Rochester’s early industrial days that still flows in downtown.

Several manmade structures can be found on the site, all of which are relics of Rochester’s transportation past. Stone piers located in the raceway once held an elevated train track that served the Lehigh Valley Railroad passenger station. The tracks are long gone, but the passenger station is still in existence. A portion of an elevated street, once called Harbor Boulevard, is also a prominent site feature, however, it is in poor condition and in various stages of deterioration. Remnants of the old Court Street Station subway platform is also still visible, though the Rochester Subway has been defunct since 1956. The Genesee River defines the western boundary of the site, Court Street is to the north, South Avenue is to the East, and a prominent feature to the south of the site is the circular on-ramp to I-490 east.

Project goals

The goals set forth for the Erie Harbor Park Planning and Preliminary Design project were established by the City of Rochester, and confirmed and/or enhanced during the public process, which included two public meetings. The goals were used throughout the project when creating initial concepts, evaluating them, and ultimately getting to a preferred alternative. They are:Today, looking south at Erie Harbor Park from the Court Street bridge.

  1. Enhance the Erie Harbor Park public open space and waterfront.     
  2. Improve access from South Avenue and Woodbury Boulevard to accommodate safer pedestrian and potential vehicular access to the site.  
  3. Extend the Genesee Riverway Trail along the site’s waterfront to promote increased utilization of the public waterfront and the larger regional trail network.  
  4. Provide park signage, trail way-finding, and explore interpretive opportunities to educate the public of the site’s industrial history.   
  5. Explore the potential for a portion of the site to yield a mixed-use development that incorporates commercial and retail uses.     
  6. Consider the goals outlined in the master plan for Rochester’s Historic Canal District which include the potential to re-water the original course of the Erie Canal which ran through downtown, including the Erie Harbor Park site.  

The plan

Phase I will be implemented in Summer 2012. It will focus on cleaning up the site to prepare it for future phases and generally increase the visibility of the historic raceway, and extend the trail system, all at a relatively low cost.

Phase I work will include:

  • Replacement of chain link fence- a new fence will be constructed around the abandoned elevated road structure and tunnel entrance which will ensure public safety by preventing public access to the tunnel and keeping a safe distance from the elevated roadway. 
  • Lawn seeding and tree planting 
  • Park lighting
  • Asphalt trail construction- the existing Genesee Riverway Trail will be extended and expanded
  • Utility access drives will be clearly defined and controlled to protect the remainder of the site.

Subsequent phases after this summer will look to construct the promenade, interpretive signage and educational overlook area, and other public amenities.

For all the details, download the full Master Plan.

Project funding



Funding for this project is provided though a matching grant from the New York State Department of State with funds provided under Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund


Want more information?

Contact City project manager, Ms. Holly Barrett, a structural engineer in the Department of Environmental Services, at (585) 428-6384, or email her.