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Heard on the Street: Proposed skyway could link UMR spaces

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A proposed downtown skyway could prove educational for local developers and the University of Minnesota Rochester.

Rochester developers would like to add a new downtown skyway over an alley from the back of a 129-year-old Broadway building into a First Avenue complex.

If it works out, this project would connect the former Paine Furniturestore at 313 S. Broadway to the 318 Commonsbuilding at 318 First Ave. SW.

Rochester developers Hal Henderson and Grant Michaletzown both of the buildings. They acquired the long-empty Paine building in November 2014 for $1.7 million. The duo also built the nine-story 318 Commons complex in 2011.

A building permit application submitted by Michaletz to the City of Rochester on Monday described building a "Partial phase whitebox for skyway connection to 318 First Ave. SW Building and interior stairways only, no tenant finishes."

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Henderson confirmed this week that they hope to soon approach the Rochester City Council about linking the two buildings with a skyway. Any such project would need council approval to move ahead.

If given the green light, Henderson said the skyway could be constructed in early 2016.

This possible skyway was first mentioned way back in January, when talks began about the possibility of the University of Minnesota Rochester leasing renovated space in the Paine building. University officials confirmed then that they were looking for additional space and they had looked at the Paine building as an option.

"We've certainly explored all of the different opportunities that are available, and that was certainly one of them on the list," said UMR Chief of Staff Jay Hesleyin January.

The university already has experience leasing from Henderson and Michaletz. UMR leases most of the 318 Commons building for student housing, office space and classrooms. A connecting skyway would make the second floor of Paine building very convenient for UMR staff and students.

"As the campus continues to prepare for the implementation of our master plan, we remain interested in the availability of large, open flexible spaces in the downtown area. The Paine Building, if developed, may be a temporary fit for us to continue our evaluations as to the best configuration of space for the work that we do," stated Hesley by email this week.

UMR's master plan calls for eventually creating a full campus at the end of First Avenue Southwest by Soldier Field Park. However, there is no timeline for that yet. The university has purchased some properties in that area in preparation, but many remain to be acquired.

That makes leasing space now attractive to UMR.

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"Access to an open flexible space now will help us to prepare for the future creation of space that provides our students, faculty and staff with the right combination of structure and flexibility to promote collaboration and effective learning," wrote Hesley on Tuesday. — Jeff Kiger

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