News Release - City Accepts Outstanding Achievement Award for Vacuum Oil Brownfield Planning Project

City of Rochester

News Release

(Monday, June 9, 2014) – Deputy Mayor Leonard Redon today accepted the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award for the Vacuum Oil Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) on behalf of Mayor Lovely A. Warren. There are currently 126 communities across N.Y. State participating in the BOA program. This southwestern Rochester BOA received top honors from the leading state brownfields organization, New Partners for Community Revitalization (NPCR), at a press conference today at the former Standard Oil refinery site. It was honored along with projects in South Buffalo, the Town of Riverhead on Long Island, and two in New York City, in Sunset Park Brooklyn, and the South Bronx.

“Recognizing the excellent work that has been done here at the former Standard Oil Company of New York’s Vacuum Oil refinery facility is important confirmation of the progress Rochester is making to bring back and revitalize the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood in southwest Rochester,” said the Deputy Mayor. “Vacant and underutilized brownfield properties, once part of the Vacuum Oil operation, have prevented meaningful development and separated an entire neighborhood from the Genesee River for three generations. With help from New York State through the BOA program, we are finally able to create a pathway to redevelopment.”

“We are very pleased to recognize the great work that has been done here in Rochester at the Vacuum Oil BOA,” said NPCR Executive Director Jody Kass as she delivered the group’s 2014 Outstanding BOA Award. “What you are accomplishing here is a model for communities across the New York State and across the country that are faced with what had previously seemed to be intractable challenges. We are excited to be here with you today, and to help tell your story.”

Noting the lack of new BOA funding in the state’s 2014-2015 budget, Kass called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to identify money to keep BOA projects like this moving forward. “When you see the extraordinary work that is going on here in Rochester and what that investment is leveraging, it is easy to understand how important it is for the state to fund BOA so that these plans can be fully implemented,” she said. Noting that the Legislative session will soon come to a close, Kass also called on the Governor and legislative leaders to negotiate legislation that will ensure that key programs, such as BOA, the brownfield tax credits, the Environmental Restoration Program (ERP) and Superfund are not significantly disrupted.

“One of things we learned from Rochester is how inter-related these programs are,” Kass continued. “If BOA, ERP or the tax credit program are left to languish, it will put more strain on the state’s Superfund program while at the same time severely slowing down cleanup and redevelopment activities across Rochester and other communities across New York.”

“What was special and unique about the Vacuum Oil BOA was the many public community meetings that were held where ideas were expressed, and having full support from the City of Rochester made our planning easier,” said Dorothy Hall, PLEX President. “But it would be a disaster if the Governor now cuts this program. Many of us have put our personal reputations on the line – cajoling our neighbors, friends and family to participate in this state-funded revitalization initiative. It is hard to believe that Gov. Cuomo will pull the plug on this now – and leave us all hanging, before we finish implementation,” she added. “It doesn’t make sense – since our bottom-up work has seemed to align with his Economic Development Council initiative and vision.”

John E. Curran, Co-chair, Plymouth-Exchange Southwest Rochester Riverfront Planning added, “What sets the Vacuum Oil BOA process apart is the integral collaborative role that Rochester's Environmental Quality office played with the Plymouth-Exchange Neighborhood Association. The City took the bold step of blending the simultaneous neighborhood-driven charette process with its own separate, yet coordinated BOA process. The cooperative, dual efforts provided many areas of agreement benefitting from diverse civic engagement opportunities."

Mark Gregor, Manager of Environmental Quality for the City of Rochester said, “The BOA program has provided the resources and visibility needed for the City of Rochester and the Plymouth-Exchange community to begin transforming the former refinery site and improving the surrounding neighborhood.”

Throughout the Step 2 BOA process, the City Rochester, the BOA Project Advisory Committee and PLEX Neighborhood Association balanced the need for community-based visioning and master planning with the hard realities of brownfield cleanup and redevelopment, including the critical role of property access, control and ownership as well as the need for securing both private and public funding for environmental investigation, site preparation and cleanup. “These key considerations led to a 3-phase BOA master plan that both addresses community concerns and objectives and retains the necessary flexibility required for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment on properties that are not yet fully characterized,” Gregor said.

Progress is now being made on 20 acres of the former Vacuum Oil site with both the City and a private property owner entering the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s brownfield cleanup program (BCP). The efforts of both the City and the private property owner can be attributed in large measure to the focus and flexibility of the BOA process and the consistent involvement of the neighborhood and its leaders in the master planning effort. The BOA master plan is now being used to work out the future uses for the City and privately owned parcels that will be addressed under the BCP.

The City of Rochester has been a model for other municipalities across NY, showing them how to maximize use of these programs so that sites get cleaned up faster and for community-supported end uses. “Unfortunately, progress is in jeopardy as the brownfield tax credits are expiring, the ERP and BOA have run out of funds and bonding authority for the state Superfund program has expired. Underscoring the point made by NPCR about the importance of Albany leaders to act now on brownfields, Gregor added, “we need all of these programs to be funded and re-instated so that we can continue the progress we have made here at Vacuum Oil and other parts of Rochester to address the toxic legacy of New York’s industrial past.”

The Vacuum Oil Rochester BOA team includes Mayor Warren; Plymouth Exchange Neighborhood Association (PLEX), Dorothy Hall, President and John Curran, Co-Chair; Southwest Rochester Riverfront Planning Steering Committee; Sector 4 Community Development Corporation, Joan Roby Davison, Executive Director; and City of Rochester Departments of Environmental Services and Neighborhood and Business Development, BOA Project Director, Mark Gregor, Environmental Quality Manager.

New Partners for Community Revitalization (NPCR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the renewal of low- and moderate-income urban and downtown neighborhoods and communities of color, through brownfield redevelopment policy and program initiatives.


City Media Contact: Communications Director Christine Christopher, 428-7135.
NPCR Contact: Executive Director Jody Kass, 917-923-3785.