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Civic Center helps make Rochester a medical destination

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Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, left, and Mayor Ardell Brede unveil a plaque Feb. 26 recognizing the Mayo Civic Center’s $84 million expansion.

Mayo Civic Center could be considered the first completed project within the Destination Medical Center footprint.

Renovations on the center’s upgrade started less than four months after the DMC development plan was approved at the end of 2014.

Efforts to secure the $84 million for the 180,000-square-foot expansion began well before DMC came together, though, so it’s not an official DMC project. Regardless, it’s already playing a key role in making Rochester a destination for medical experts.

According to Mary Gastner, Experience Rochester’s director of marketing and communications, the civic center is planning 47 medical-related events, with sizes ranging from 10 attendees to 2,000. It’s expected to bring a total of 20,000 participants.

Among those expected visitors will be an estimated 400 attendees for the American Spinal Injury Association’s Annual Scientific Meeting.

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Clinic connections

Matt Carpenter, manager of meetings and conventions for Ruggles Service Corp., is organizing the weeklong event, which begins on April 30. Carpenter said Rochester wasn’t on his radar until Mayo Clinic employees asked about holding the annual gathering here.

He said past events have typically been confined to a single hotel, using meeting space and guest rooms in a larger hotel, but he’s looking forward to the change.

"The space we are using is on par with what our normal space would be," he said.

Jacob Malwitz, event producer for Mayo Clinic and a member of the Experience Rochester board, said connections within the clinic help attract medical-related events to the civic center. He said he encourages Mayo physicians to help recruit medical-related conferences and meetings.

The expansion also helps Rochester complete with similar-sized venues in the state. "This addition puts us on an equal playing field," he said.

He added that the proximity to Mayo Clinic provides an additional benefit when it comes to attracting medical-related events. "With all things being equal, we’ve got this great facility now and we’ve got these Mayo folks who are willing to provide a speaker for free and things like that, so why wouldn’t they choose Rochester," he said of the clinic’s efforts to work with the convention sales staff.

Growing local business

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In the DMC development plan, planners noted the potential for new outside events, but also cited a need for increased meetings conducted by local entities.

"To grow the meetings market in Rochester, the number of meetings generated by local entities needs to increase, the number of entities holding meetings needs to grow, or both," the 2014 report says. "In Rochester, the only ‘local entity’ of sufficient size to exhibit significant growth would be the Mayo Clinic and related constituencies. Interviews thus far with Mayo Clinic officials did not indicate any plans to increase the annual number of meetings.

"However, once the new and improved Mayo Civic Center is available, members of the Mayo Clinic community may find it conducive to the development of new meetings, training, and other functions."

Malwitz said he expects Mayo’s use of the civic center will at least remain steady, even as other venues such as the Chateau Theatre and the new Hilton hotel are added.

"From what I know, there’s no intent of creating additional meeting space at Mayo," he said, noting anticipated Mayo Clinic growth will push a need for more available meeting space outside the clinic campus.

"We’re going to be at the civic center just as much as we’ve always been," he said.

Word of mouth adds up

Brad Jones, Experience Rochester’s executive director, has noted marketing efforts continue to seek out local and regional meetings to keep the facility active, and positive experiences will help boost future numbers.

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One recent event, the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association’s annual convention, has provided positive reviews.

"We enjoyed having our convention at the Mayo Civic Center this year and the feedback from our attendees is very positive," said the organization’s executive director, Dan Tjornehoj, of the February event.

"This is the first time in my 10 years with the MVMA that we have ventured out of the Twin Cities, and I believe Rochester is a good alternative for our annual event," he added, noting speakers who flew into Rochester reported positive experiences, as well.

However, Tjornehoj did note some glitches.

"I know that parking was at times a little bit of a challenge for some of our attendees who were not staying at a hotel but just attending sessions for the day," he said.

The concern isn’t new for civic center staff or the Experience Rochester sales team. Jones said parking limits are a key concern as they try to book larger groups at the center. He said it’s frequently listed as a reason conventions and conferences opt out of coming to Rochester.

A second concern is the challenge related to securing blocks of hotel rooms for out-of-town guests.

Carpenter said that could be an issue for the upcoming annual meeting he has planned. He has several blocks of rooms at various hotels in the city, but noted some appear to be snatched before others.

Complementary to DMC

The downtown Marriott and DoubleTree hotels were easily outpacing other options, he said, noting guests were looking for high-end options for the week.

He said the Kahler Grand Hotel appeared to be the most overlooked option, but noted that’s likely due to the lack of name recognition for out-of-town guests who are more familiar with expectations from brand-name hotels.

While having name recognition may benefit hotels, Carpenter said he expects lesser-known local names will offer benefits when convention-goers are looking for meals or shopping experiences between scheduled events.

"I kind of like the local flavor," he said, and he thinks others will as well when they come here for the first time.

He said out-of-town visitors typically seek out restaurants and stores that aren’t found elsewhere. "I think the local people benefit from that," he said of the local retailers and restaurants.

For Jones and his staff, they are hoping the benefit continue to be seen.

"While the expansion at Mayo Civic Center was not an official DMC project, it is certainly complementary to the DMC economic development efforts," Gastner said.

1939.Mayo Civic Auditorium, a gift to the city from Drs. William and Charles Mayo, opens in Mayo Park. The complex hosts conventions, concerts, hockey games, figure skating shows and basketball games.

1972.Significant modifications are made, including air conditioning systems for the arena and theatre and a new room to the south of the arena to accommodate mechanical equipment.

1986. The facility’s first expansion, a $18.5 million effort, is is dedicated as the Mayo Civic Center. The expansion includes Taylor Arena and a semi-circular lobby.

1995.The civic center is connected to Rochester’s skyway system.

1997.The center expands to the west, adding a concourse to the theatre, four Civic Center suites and a grand ballroom. Significant remodeling of the theatre is also included.

1998.Rochester voters extend the city’s half-cent sales tax to help fund renovation of the auditorium.

2001.The new 25,200-square-foot Exhibit Hall addition is completed.

2014.Minnesota Legislature approves $35 million for a renovation project, and the city of Rochester commits $49 million, including funds from local lodging taxes.

March 30, 2015.Construction officially begins.

July 14, 2016. City officials celebrate the last major support beam being put into place for the expansion effort.

October 2016.The banquet production kitchen is complete and open for business.

April 6, 2017.The first post-expansion convention is held, hosting 300 pharmacists attending the Minnesota Society of Health-System Pharmacists Annual Conference..

May 4, 2017.A grand opening celebration is held.

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