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col New downtown plan becomes more urgent

In continuing trend, more Galleria stores closing

Revitalization of downtown Rochester is becoming more urgent as more downtown stores close and as it becomes apparent that there are no easy solutions.

The Gap Kids store on the second level of the Galleria Mall has announced plans to close and the main Gap store might follow suit when its lease expires. The company operates both Gap and Gap Kids stores at Apache Mall. The Christian Inspirations store, which sells religious articles at the Galleria, also plans to close June 28.

At the same time, the city's Downtown Planning Task Force has reported the results of focus group discussions on what changes participants would like to see downtown. The consensus was that downtown is "boring" and that something is needed to make people want to linger there. It was suggested that a focal point is needed and that people come downtown for business transactions but find few opportunities for entertainment or social interaction. The movie theaters at the Galleria provided one incentive for visiting downtown -- or lingering there -- but they have followed the retail trend and moved to the edge of town.

The focus group's analysis is useful but provided no specific suggestions on what kind of strategy the planning group should recommend.

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Rochester's dilemma is not unique. In some respects, it repeats the situation that arose in the 1970s when department stores began moving out of downtown to Apache Mall and elsewhere. They included Dayton's, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward and other retail outlets. Similar redeployments have occurred and are occurring today in cities throughout the country.

The trend follows the growth of suburban residential areas, which attract adjacent retail centers that are more conveniently located for those living outside the city or on its fringes.

It is ironic that some suburban cities in Minnesota -- whose residents originally sought to escape life in the central city of Minneapolis -- now are seeking to create city centers for themselves. They include Maple Grove, Burnsville and Apple Valley. So while Rochester is seeking to hang onto its well-developed downtown, these cities are attempting to create downtown areas they never had. That would seem to verify the importance of having a truly functional downtown.

It might be useful to seek out consultants who have dealt with this problem elsewhere in cities about the size of Rochester. It would be especially useful if at least some examples could be found that suggest a solution to the problem Rochester is addressing in the downtown area.

If it works somewhere else, it might work here. If no such examples can be found, and no other city has solved our specific problem, it might be necessary to recognize that we have a daytime downtown and the search for a vibrant center of nightlife is not likely to be productive.

We hope that is not the case. We would like to have a downtown center that has a lively and entertaining night life, one that will appeal to young and old.

At least it would be worth a preliminary search to see if any other city has adopted a successful strategy that Rochester could follow.

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