‘It’s going to be a hub of activity’

April 2, 2019

Changes aren’t proposed for Soldiers Memorial Field in the current Destination Medical Center development plan, but that doesn’t mean big plans aren’t in the works.

The DMC plan states, “Soldiers Field represents an opportunity to rethink sports and recreation in an urban context.”

While emerging DMC plans aren’t focused on changes in the city park, some key public elements are aimed at getting more people to Soldiers Field.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with that and take advantage of that incredible green space that close to the downtown,” said Patrick Seeb, the DMC Economic Development Agency’s director of economic development and placemaking.

The key way people will be taken to the park from the heart of the DMC district is through Discovery Walk, which will be a reimagined version of four blocks of Second Avenue Southwest.

Discovery Walk, with a mix of park-like spaces and potential activities, will connect the main Mayo Clinic campus with the city park.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said the welcoming route will likely boost park activity.

“It’s really close proximity,” he said. “People have this misconception that it’s a long way away, but it’s really close.”

The misconception likely stems from the unwelcoming route options that have existed in the past.

“It’s only four blocks, but it doesn’t feel like it’s only four blocks away,” Seeb said.

Another DMC amenity planned to bring more people to the park is the proposed City Loop, which is expected to pass near the park’s northern edge.

Nigbur said both elements will help attract people to the already active city park, but it will be up to the city to make sure the park is ready for the added traffic.

The city’s Park Board adopted a master plan for Soldiers Field in 2014, but until recently some of the proposed work appeared to be out of reach, after an initial three-year work plan ran out of funding.

“Basically, the first two years we did OK,” Nigbur said. “After that, financing fell off and we were not able to proceed any further.”

However, last month the Rochester City Council approved an $850,000 infusion into efforts that will restore the park’s 175-stall parking lot and pave the cinder track, which has been used for Rochesterfest and other activities in recent years.

The provided funds are less than earlier estimates for the individual projects, but Nigbur said the parks department hopes to find flexibility in the combined projects to get them done for the amount provided, noting the improvements will be key to the park’s ability to host future activities.

“We’re talking about other events going down there on a more periodic basis,” he said, noting community events have found mixed levels of success in the park in recent years.

He said the next project needed to make the park more welcoming to a variety of activities will be the lighting improvements outlined in the master plan.

After that, he said, work can likely start on planning for the next stages as changes continue in the spaces north and east of the park, from development of DMC public amenities to the potential creation of a University of Minnesota Rochester campus.

Nigbur said UMR’s presence will likely increase park activity, but he anticipates it will happen whether or not the campus is fully developed.

“It’s going to be a hub of activity … It really will be a centerpiece of activity,” he said.