Bloom failure seen as potential opportunity

February 7, 2019

City officials are hoping to find some silver lining in the failed proposal to build two towers along the Zumbro River.

“I don’t think this has to be necessarily a loss,” Rochester City Council Member Nick Campion said Monday. “I think we can turn this into something that’s big and beneficial to us in a whole new way.”

The proposal from developer Bloom International Realty, calling for two 20-plus story towers on the riverfront opposite the city-county Government Center, turned sour quickly.

In December, Bloom informed the city that it was ready to start the first phase of the project, but needed more time to study the second phase. As a result, it backed out of a purchase agreement for the city-owned land along the river, between Second and Fourth streets.

Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer said the city sought an updated proposal, but the developer did not respond.

“Right now, we’re interpreting that the project is not moving forward from this point,” he said.

The city had further agreements with Bloom in the works, Assistant City Administrator Terry Spaeth said. But none had been fully implemented, aside from the now-withdrawn purchase agreement.

With no legal ties to the Bloom deal remaining, Rymer said it’s time to consider a new direction.

“We really think it’s a time to step back for a second and think about what the vision is for that site,” he told the council. “As you know, four years later from when we started the conversation, Rochester is a much different place.”

He said city staff plans to return with a proposed process for evaluating the potential for the site and considering potential proposals.

The potential for development for the site has solidly in Bloom’s hands since the city council approved an initial six-month exclusive negotiating rights period with the Abu Dhabi-based developer in 2015. The period was later extended, and the developer eventually produced plans for a development that would include two towers, as well as plaza space along the river.

The proposal called for senior housing in a 20-story tower on the south side of the property, and a mix of a hotel, retail spaces and condos in the north tower, 28 stories. Both towers would have included parking.

The council approved the final development plan in September, a month after giving the nod to a purchase agreement that would have provided 173 public parking spaces in lieu of the $8 million price for the land. The agreement also called for $18 million in tax-increment financing.

As plans are considered for future opportunities at the site, Council Member Michael Wojcik also requested the city consider ways to ensure the city doesn’t spend extensive staff time on future deals without a way to recoup costs.

“Staff has devoted so much time to this effort, and essentially received nothing in return,” he said, noting any further discussion with Bloom should require council approval.

Rymer said he doesn’t intend for additional work to be done without council support and said he plans to bring a proposal for ways to guard against similar costs in future projects.

“This is an opportunity again,” he said of re-examining the vision for property. “We want to make sure we do it right.”

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