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DMC will be a draw for millennials

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Sunny Prabhakar

Amid the conservative suits and business outfits of civic and Mayo leaders at a recent citizens advisory committee meeting of Heart of the City, Sunny Prabhakar stood out.

He's younger (28) and was dressed in red-maroon skinny jeans and a plaid shirt. No tie.

The attire is part of who he is; he's a millennial and wants to bring the perspective and needs of young professionals to Heart of the City, one of the subdistricts of the Destination Medical Center program. "We need a voice," he said. "We really want to build and create. We want to have our opinion heard."

They aren't rich in capital, but they have time and talent to want to use it, he said.

He sees DMC as vital to helping his generation. He sees a greater need for Rochester to attract more young professionals, ones who will help build not just Mayo but also startups and existing businesses. "I want to be making a lasting effect on Rochester," he said.

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DMC will be a draw

Prabhakar was born and went to high school here and has worked at Mac's Restaurant; managed a band; helped start The Commission, which is a network of millennials that puts on the Salute to the 4th ; does mentorships and helps teach high schoolers skills such as how to interview for a job; and now is working to get an MBA. He's also involved with local music boards and other civic groups.

He sees DMC as a huge part of getting more millennials to the city. "Rochester is just a blank canvas now," he said. "It is what we make of it."

To fill in the blank canvas, the city needs to get more local people who can work with computers and do the work. "We have really really exciting startups," he said. But there's a problem with getting enough talent to make them work. "Can't find them," he said. "Can't find them at all."

They are more drawn to New York or Los Angeles, he said. Heart of the City and other parts of DMC, however, could be the magnet needed to attract talent -- "it's creating that place," he said.

The city is short on those with technical expertise as developers and designers; in fact, "it's deeper than that; there's a workforce shortage, huge," he said.

In an opinion piece for the Post Bulletin, Prabhakar said the Heart of the City area also would help people here now. "We should be focused on how we can engage the market that lives, works and plays here. When visitors see a vibrant, proud and connected community, they will have a stronger desire to come to that community."

Mary Welder sees the same need. She's the Economic Development Agency's communications and community relations director. "Part of the whole DMC vision is we want to keep and attract young talent, millennials, to Rochester and their opportunity to this region," she said.

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DMC is trying to transform not just Mayo or Rochester but the region with more people and opportunities, she said. The millennials want to be part of the community, she said. One thing the downtown already has is the Collider Coworking Space in the Discovery Square subdistrict.

According to DMC, it "is designed to provide both fledgling and established entrepreneurs with a unique environment where they can work, connect and learn."

That's key, she said. They like to have other millennials and entrepreneurs around them; they build off the energy of others even if they aren't directly involved in a business, she said. They like to collaborate. "Things just happen," but they need the space, he said.

But don't make that space one big shopping mall. "We don't like to be sold to all the time," Prabhakar said.

"We are looking for a sense of community, for a sense of connectedness," he said. Right now, much of the space where HOC would do much of its changes is open space, but it could be activated with the right designs, he said. "We see a great opportunity" there, he said. "It's just there."

Rochester should embrace its weather, even its winter, not run away from it. "It's something to be proud of" -- we have four incredible seasons, he said.

After seeing some of the ideas of RSP Architects, chosen to lead the Heart of the City design, Prabhakar said he was impressed. He especially liked the insistence that nature be a key part of the new design.

"I think the connection to nature is going to be really impactful," he said. It would be great to have lunch downtown and see the green space.

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"It's going to change Rochester in a meaningful way," he said. "We've changed a lot, but now we have to grow. … We just grew without planning it out."

Changes the past several years have been good, such as Thursdays on First, he said. "It's only going to get better."

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Gail Eadie, Sunny Prabhakar and Jenna Bowman attend a Heart of the City Community Advisory Committee meeting where programming and economic findings were unveiled in February.

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