AP NEWS

Going from concept to reality

March 26, 2019

Nearly four years after the Destination Medical Center development plan was approved, Lisa Clarke said she sees near-daily surprises as efforts unfold.

However, the DMC Economic Development Agency executive director said the biggest surprise in the past four years has been the pace.

“The pace has been above and beyond my expectations,” she said of watching things unfold. “I didn’t know all six subdistricts would be active.”

And the plans have undergone some evolution. As concepts in the plan meet the realities of a changing market, some of the proposed outcomes are appearing differently on the city map.

The latest example of that is the emerging plan to create a pair of “transit villages” as transportation hubs, rather than building a single transit hub in the Central Station Subdistrict, which sits at the north end of the DMC footprint.

In the 2015 DMC development plan, a proposed central transit station is called the “cornerstone of the plan for future growth in Rochester.”

Envisioned as a regional transit hub, it was expected to connect Rochester with the surrounding region, including the Twin Cities, with the potential for a future high-speed rail connection as well as commuter rail.

“The location is ideal as a transit hub to support the future growth of Mayo Clinic and commercial uses in the downtown,” the plan states.

Changing lanes

The concept met with other realities after transit studies were launched in 2016. Designed to help obtain future federal funding for transit services, the four integrated studies involved a variety of community input and Rochester City Council and DMC Corp. board discussion, as well as expertise from city and consulting engineers and planners.

The result was a proposal to build two “mobility hubs,” which would later be called “transit villages.” The hubs will provide locations outside the existing DMC district where commuters from outside the city can park for the day and catch a ride downtown on a circulating bus dedicated to going between the hub locations. They are also expected to include a variety of other amenities and development opportunities.

City staff is negotiating for two potential hub sites: one in or near Olmsted County’s Graham Park and another at a current Mayo Clinic parking lot at 2804 Second St. SW.

Clarke said research shows the change from a centralized station makes sense.

“Right now, it feels stronger with this hub concept,” she said, noting the new approach will help address concerns about increased traffic congestion heading into the downtown during daily commutes.

While the new approach is different than the original concept, Clarke said it shouldn’t be surprising that plans unfold differently as more is learned about the local market and the city’s needs shift.

“I believe plans like this are meant to do exactly that,” she said. “We use them as a backdrop and then as we do more studies, more planning and more implementation, we realize they will evolve to meet the needs of today or tomorrow.”

Second Street switch

The same approach has been used in the Saint Marys subdistrict. When early plans for a hotel across the street from the hospital raised questions, DMC EDA officials, city staff, business owners and neighbors started discussing concerns and working for a solution that could find common ground.

“We used our original plan to start the discussion,” Clarke said.

The original plan sought to establish the subdistrict, which centers on the Second Street corridor, as a potential civic square and gateway for Rochester.

Many of the proposed aspects are likely to remain, but how they are implemented could change. Clarke said the latest plans are likely to unfold throughout the year.

Emily Lynch, president of the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association, said neighbors will likely welcome the added insight.

While Kutzky Park neighbors have been active in ongoing discussions, many have said they want to see a plan in place to make sure it addresses concerns and provides for growth in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

“The unknown is concerning to some people,” Lynch said.

Keeping current

At the same time, some changes and decisions in the past four years couldn’t be predicted by the authors of the development plan.

The city council approved plans to purchase the Chateau Theatre on April 6, 2015, which was 13 days after approving the development plan. As a result, the theater is identified as an opportunity in the plan but was never pitched as a city-owned centerpiece for the Heart of the City subdistrict as it is portrayed today.

Clarke said such changes, as well as ongoing development and market changes, are likely to continue unfolding throughout the 20-year life of the DMC initiative.

“Every five years, we need to make sure we adjust the plan, review the plan, so we are staying current with market trends,” she said. “Rochester’s growth is responsive to the market. A plan like this is so complex that unless we make sure we are maintaining adjustments and revisions to the plan, a plan like that can get very old.”

Part of the five-year revision, which is due next year, will likely consider the future of the Central Station subdistrict, along with other unforeseen changes in the past four years and the upcoming year.

“That will be part of our study, to see what the best use of that land is, or that area,” Clarke said, noting development already has started with construction of the Hyatt House hotel on the lot that once housed American Legion Post No. 92.

Other development is likely to follow.

“That still remains a corridor for transportation, and any time you have a corridor like that, development happens,” Clarke added.

Patrick Seeb, DMC EDA director of economic development and placemaking, said it was always known that the concepts from 2014 would eventually give way to emerging realities.

“When DMC presented this dramatic vision of a city that would evolve over 20 years, you can’t possibly paint a picture of what a city would look like 20 years from now and expect it to be exactly what the picture looked like to begin with,” he said. “So many new ideas emerge, so many different market conditions occur.

“What we hope to do is create enough of an aspiration that there’s room for everyone to fit in or even more to come out of it.”