Rochester Downtown Alliance director Holly Masek is leaving for a new job
Holly Masek took over the job during a time of hope and optimism. The pandemic changed things.
ROCHESTER — Holly Masek, whose job as Rochester Downtown Alliance’s executive director was to bring energy and vitality to the downtown but whose efforts were thwarted by a global plague, is moving on.
Masek has accepted a job as the City of Bloomington’s Port Authority Administrator. Her last day as RDA director is Feb. 11.
Masek started her job at the nonprofit corporation in June 2019 , when the world was a different place. Charged with enlivening and creating a fun and enjoyable downtown through city-wide events such as Thursdays Downtown street festival , Masek arrived at time of optimism and hope.
Within her first year, the parameters of Masek’s job changed drastically as the result of a pandemic that hobbled downtowns and devastated outlets and shops. During the next couple years, scores of businesses and restaurants in downtown Rochester either relocated or closed their doors as consumer habits changed.
“We had to really change everything that we did,” Masek said in an interview. “This organization was very much based around large events. And we adapted to the needs of the moment.”
No longer able to do the big events, the RDA focused its grant-making capabilities on more narrow initiatives that helped local businesses survive and adapt to a new environment. Local restaurants used the support to hire other businesses to build websites that allowed consumers to order online.
With indoor dining a concern, the RDA worked with the city to help businesses expand their outdoor patios. The nonprofit also held Roller Disco events.
Masek said she remains bullish about the downtown’s prospects, but said it would require “more adaptation.”
“We are just now starting to be able to catch our breaths and realize life as we know it has changed,” she said. “There is going to be a change to employment patterns downtown, probably forever. It’s not going to be how it was.”
The state of the downtown remains a top concern among downtown business leaders and city officials. With hundreds of Mayo Clinic employees now working from home, the downturn in street traffic hurt many retail businesses. Business leaders have been meeting informally, brainstorming on ways to revitalize it.
Masek said her optimism rested on the fact that the downtown has several strong assets. It has a growing student population from the University of Minnesota Rochester, Winona State University and Luther College. Rochester downtown, moreover, has a fast-growing residential population. She also predicted a return of the entrepreneurial community to the downtown.
“I think in the spring, as you keep an eye on the openings in Rochester, a lot of those people have had downtown businesses before, they’ve taken a break and they’re coming back,” she said.
The RDA works with a $1.6 million budget funded through contributions from Mayo Clinic and the city of Rochester, as well as partnership funds that support specific events and programs.
Masek said she wasn’t actively looking for another job, but she was made aware of the Bloomington job through a contact. As the next Port Authority Administrator, she will be focused on fostering commercial and industrial real estate development, retaining and growing businesses and providing housing options.
An attraction of the job, Masek said, is that Bloomington is bidding to host the 2027 World’s Fair, a global event that happens only once every five years.
“I came here at a time when everyone was full of hope,” she said. “And we all just went through something really difficult together. But from what I’ve seen of this downtown, I think there is amazing potential."