COL Creative minds are working on what downtown needs
"Rochester needs to draw people downtown," said restaurateur Natalie Victoria, "with a variety of shops, restaurants, musical settings and a piano bar."
People "need things to do," Victoria asserted, "and we need to make downtown Rochester a destination."
Victoria's Italian Cuisine manager Jason Windsor believes Rochester needs "classy music and unique bars." Bookkeeper/hostess Patricia Koukides favors an arts center and building restoration.
Ken Nuss, a co-owner of Victoria's, said the development task force should visit Appleton, Wis., "which has a vibrant downtown area, a mall on the periphery, Lawrence University, cleanliness and safety." Nuss identified a Rochester problem: "This city is comparable to the Twin Cities in high rental and leasing costs per square foot."
Dale Seltun (Total Image) kept track of opinions heard in his barbershop: visitors and residents need a grocery store, movie theater, gambling casino, lower rental rates and service industries. Dale thinks Mayo patient numbers are down because of 9/11, and "patients and conventioneers may be going elsewhere," he concluded, "because of no place to go downtown."
Barbershop owner Paul Dallman believes "we need more downtown entertainment, parking and amenities." Dallman hopes the Royal Management project is productive, but favored Rochester developer Gus Chafoulias' rejected Time Square project.
The president and co-owner of Hanny's Men's and Women's Wear credits Mayo Clinic as the primary downtown business and visitor anchor. Tim Berg disagrees with the parking critics: "Parking is sufficient, free at certain times, and some businesses, like Hanny's, validate parking tickets."
Berg contends the city needs "tax increment financing to attract major developers" because "downtown stagnation will occur without ambitious revitalization and generous funding."
Buildings should be rebuilt, Berg suggested, "to accommodate an anchor retailer and food and entertainment facilities. Downtown businesses should coordinate, expand and publish their hours." Berg described Chamber of Commerce president John Wade as "a tireless cheerleader for Rochester."
Former Rochester Mayor Chuck Canfield offered detailed suggestions about which properties should be developed with city, proprietor and Mayo Clinic cooperation. He lamented the city council's rejection of the Time Square project, calling it "the major disappointment of my term."
Mayor Ardell Brede is monitoring task forces and focus groups. Brede enunciated the multiplier effects of "a vibrant downtown." He sees a need for "affordable and diverse housing for seniors and employees" and restaurant and entertainment activities "which will draw young people and their parents downtown." Other mayoral suggestions: "a world class Mayo medical museum" and more "effective promotion of the Civic Center, Civic Theatre and Art Center to offset the erosion in the Galleria."
Michael's Restaurant's bar manager Dave LeClair has hopes for the Broadway Plaza luxury apartment complex, a "white elephant" to another observer. LeClair said the auditorium should be more fully booked, "Mankato and La Crosse have lessons to offer," and "a gambling casino should be considered."
Extraordinary Bookseller proprietor Stephen Plunkett advocates more conventions, a movie theater, offering "our art center artistic control over a multiplex," visitor brochures and expanded subway-skyway connections. But, Plunkett observed, "parking always chafes."
Brochures of Rochester's street, subway, hotel and Galleria businesses should be available, listing Red Lobster, City Market and City Cafe, Wong's Chinese Restaurant, O'Neal's Pizza, Eagle Drug store and other specialty enterprises.
One proprietor declared that Mayo Clinic office spaces, employee parking, patient restaurants and other sales outlets compete with private business, while conceding that Mayo is an essential economic and medical asset.
Bill Keehn (Keehn Construction) doubted more downtown apartments are the answer. Keehn thinks the city needs easier parking, competing developers, a Nicollet Mall type thoroughfare, nightclubs and formal dining. Nick Carter, Keehn's compatriot, suggested a more progressive civic leadership. They both enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a gentlemen's club and cigar bar. My wife Mary suggested an ice cream parlor.
Pat Carroll (Carroll's Corn and Coffee) insisted more creative business enterprises, shops and restaurants are necessary to bring people downtown in the evenings and on weekends. Downtown apartments and a magnet mall, Carroll contends, would increase the consumer base. "Have something to do," he said, and "people would walk from outlying parking lots."
Development task force committee member Cynthia Daube suggested creative ideas could be drawn from demographic studies to attract visitors and residents to the city center. "Affordable retail outlets not just targeted just to the affluent ... movie theaters ... night clubs ... and action on the streets" are Cynthia's cure for the "nothing to do" malaise.
The proprietor of Daube's Bakery, Pastry Pavilion and Konditorei-German Restaurant predicted, "After we decide on the vision, it would be appropriate to hire a consultant to help us carry that vision forward."
Knowledgeable and motivated people are contributing to the "vision" mission. Rochester's economic future rests upon their decisions.
Tom Ostrom is a former Rochester Community and Technical College instructor who writes a regular column for the Post-Bulletin.