Decades after northeast Rochester residents first talked about having a Caribbean-style plaza in their neighborhood, shovels finally dug into dirt.
The city held a groundbreaking Nov. 7 for La Marketa, the International Plaza, which will transform the vacant lot on North Clinton Avenue across from St. Michael’s Church.
“I am excited because this time next year, I can stand in front of my house and I can look over and I can see this beautiful plaza,” said Ida Perez, one of the Clinton Avenue neighbors who for years worked to turn the vision into reality.
“I am thankful for everyone who kept this dream alive,” said Miguel Melendez, chief community engagement officer for the Ibero American Action League.
“It’s a triumph,” said Rudy Rivera, executive director of the Father Tracy Health and Wellness Center, directly across the street from what will be La Marketa. “It’s a beautiful day for the Latino community. It’s a beautiful day for the entire community.”
Many of the champions of La Marketa participated in the speeches and took part in jamming ceremonial shovels into a pile of dirt to symbolize the start – finally – of a project that dates to the 1970s.
While Mayor Lovely Warren praised the persistence of neighborhood activists and business people, she had special words for Gladys Santiago, former vice president of City Council.
“To my great friend and colleague who I promised when I became mayor I would get it done, for her legacy – Gladys Santiago, I am so happy you are here to see your dream come to fruition. It is getting done because you believed, you believed in the vision and kept on going.”
Warren then presented Santiago with a key to the city.
La Marketa had been starting and stopping at various times and for various reasons. The project seemed to be back on track in the early 2000s, only to be derailed by the recession. Changes in the administration at City Hall also affected plans.
“Along the way for 40 years, many people fought to do something with this location,” Rivera said. “We not only are rejoicing in what has been achieved, but we’re rejoicing in the persistence of the Latino community to make sure that the conditions of our community change in a way that glorifies who we are. So this plaza is going to be the fulfillment of the work of all those people, past especially, and now present and future for revitalizing Clinton Avenue and bringing it back to the way it used to be in the old days.”
Daisy Algarin, director of the Neighborhood Service Centers, came to Rochester from New York City in the 1970s. She said she remembered her father asking neighbors where they could get Spanish food and being told to go to Clinton Avenue. Besides shops, there was a bowling alley and a theater all within a few blocks.
“Will it go back to that?” she said. “I don’t think so because we all know that retail has changed. At the same time, Latinos, when they become loyal to a product or a particular business, they’re loyal.”
La Marketa will have colorful walkways, a bandstand, green space and shipping containers repurposed as retail kiosks. The city’s Department of Recreation and Youth Services will program the space and oversee operations. The site is intended to draw people from throughout Rochester.
La Marketa is being funded in part with $1.3 million from the Rochester Economic Development Corporation. Other money is coming from the Rochester Urban Renewal Agency, a Community Development Block Grant and New York State Empire State Development. The project is expected to be completed before next winter.