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Six cities within the city

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The Destination Medical Center's development plan divvies up Rochester's downtown area into six districts: Central Station, St. Mary's Place, Discovery Square, Heart of the City, UMR/Recreation and Waterfront.

The districts each have an individual purpose and feel but are meant to work in concert with one another to create a downtown environment unique to Rochester.

"We weren't really focusing so much on districts as much as we were focusing on places," said Peter Cavaluzzi, the DMC's master plan architect and principal partner at Perkins Eastman, New York City. "Our goal was to create six or seven high-quality, urban places that really created the address, really reflected the unique characteristics of the particular area that those places are located in and they would be really a reflection of the culture, the architectural character, just the whole heart and soul of Rochester."

Lisa Clarke, interim executive director for the DMC EDA, said the planners collected input from local businesses, residents and organizations in an effort to maintain Rochester's authenticity. They also included elements learned from other cities around the world.

"One of the challenges, I think, that we're trying to overcome here is that a fairly imbalanced amount of your downtown development has been institutional development," said Tom Brennan, principal at Nelson/Nygaard and transportation planner.

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He said other cities exhibit a more balanced set of land uses in their downtown environments, a mix of residential, retail, entertainment, offices and, occasionally, medical.

Focus on the waterfront

One of the plan's biggest changes to the city is an emphasis on waterfront spaces, which was based on feedback from residents who lamented the fact that, from most parts of downtown, the river is invisible.

"Incorporating the naturalistic aspects of the Zumbro River and the natural features at the perimeter of the city and bringing those right into the heart of the city is one of the ways to really create a wonderful downtown area that's uniquely Rochester," explained Cavaluzzi.

Cavaluzzi said the compactness of the downtown makes the area conveniently walkable, a trait that the planners built off of. The plan emphasizes optimization of Rochester's three walkable levels: the subway, street level and skyway. New skyway connections are included in the plan, but Brennan said the plan also includes elements to encourage people onto the sidewalks, which will create a more active street life.

The plan is unified by a streetcar circulator that begins on the Saint Mary's campus and threads its way through the downtown, as well as a bicycle trail that wraps around the perimeter of the DMC area, inspired by Indianapolis' "Cultural Trail."

"We call it the city loop within the context of this plan," explained Brennan. "It's probably the one transportation feature within this plan that connects all the districts, along with the rail circulator."

"I do like that there's a plan; I do like that there are districts," said Tessa Leung, chief manager of Grand Round Brewing Company. She said, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, she was surprised by the seemingly random developments that had sprung up in the city since her last visit, four years prior.

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"People there didn't have a plan; now, it's a mess," she said. "It's smart to plan. I think the growth is going to happen no matter what. Rochester is a great, dynamic city; I think DMC is going to accelerate that."

Local/national balance

Planners hope the development of these areas will maintain a balance between local businesses and national corporations.

"DMC is a proponent of both (chains and local businesses), and it's really important that we preserve the smaller businesses and support small businesses in the community," said Clarke. "At the same time, some of our visitors, some of our patients and some of our residents are interested in maybe larger chain organizations. What we believe is a blend of that really will meet the needs of most visitors and patients and those of us who live here."

"All of these pieces need to work together to create an ecosystem for new businesses and investors to want to come to Rochester, Minnesota," said Clarke.

For example, Discovery Square, an area slated to house innovative medical businesses and research facilities, is located near the future University of Minnesota Rochester campus, whose graduates hopefully will go on to find employment in a Discovery Square business.

Because the plan encompasses such a large area, its implementation will require partnerships with the other entities in the downtown area.

"The whole thing really will be based on partnership," said Clarke, "Every single community we've talked to said partnerships are critical. Partnerships with the city, partnerships with the county, partnerships with businesses, partnerships with community members. We've worked very hard to build those relationships so that we can go forward together."

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"Mayo's approach to working closely with the community; we've proven that that's a formula for success," said Hal Henderson, architect, principal and office director for HGA's Rochester office.

DMC, city work together

A technical committee consisting of the DMC planners and the city's comprehensive plan planners has been meeting since last May to make sure the two visions for the city are complementary.

Moving forward, the DMC's EDA will work with and seek approval from two boards: the DMCC board and the Rochester City Council. Clarke said, once the plan is approved, which likely will happen in April, all the involved groups will come together to discuss how to bring the plan to fruition.

Of the six districts, Clarke said the DMCC board members have decided three should be focused on first: Heart of the City, Discovery Square and Central Station.

She stresses the plans are concepts and part of an aspirational plan, not one set in stone, and that, as the process of development moves forward, there will be continued opportunity for public input.

"Big plans like this certainly will change, depending on what kind of projects come forward first, and then that will sort of drive the rest of the projects," explains Clarke.

"There's a lot of work ahead. It won't be easy, and it's going to take a lot of commitment and political will and people working together, but I think it's immanently achievable," said Cavaluzzi.

"People are competing for the best and brightest all over the world. The city of Rochester is really poised to take advantage of that. At the same time, I think if there's a delay, there may be a missed opportunity here," he warns.

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