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Dozens discuss future of downtown Rochester

By Jeff Kiger

The Post-Bulletin

It seems everybody has a vision for Rochester’s downtown. More than 100 people turned out Saturday to discuss the future of downtown.

With millions of dollars in projects like the University of Minnesota Rochester campus, the new Biobusiness Center, expansion of the Mayo Civic Center, the First Street Plaza and an "urban village" of mixed-use building in the works, downtown is undergoing a lot of change.

Doug Knott, development director of Rochester, said most people describe downtown as clean, safe, boring and sterile. The median age of the people living downtown is 77.

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So how does that turn into what he called a "unique urban experience" that is "fun and inviting?"

Ideas suggested at Saturday’s "Coffee & Conversation," sponsored by RNeighbors and the Rochester League of Women Voters, will likely be considered by government and organizations like the Rochester Downtown Alliance, a group of downtown businesses that have agreed to tax themselves to help fund promotions and development.

The alliance’s current focus, a plaza from the Peace Plaza west on First Street Southwest to the Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building, has been delayed while the group looks for a less expensive plan.

During the meeting, members of the audience broke into small discussion groups.

"I’ve seen many iterations of downtown development," said Amy Caucutt, a lobbyist for Olmsted County. "A Mayo Clinic campus, that really is what downtown is. And you don’t want to do anything to kill the golden goose."

Graduate student Dan Litwiller, who believes cities should be designed for people instead of cars, said,"What’s good for Rochester is good for Mayo, not the other way around. I’d like to see Mayo relinquish some of its street-level office space to make way for small stores and restaurants."

Christina Tatting of Mayo Clinic and a member of the Rochester Downtown Alliance said Mayo is willing to do that once a replacement tenant is lined up.

More business is good, said Adam Ferrari, but "you need to have the density, you need to have people." Ferrari, who works at the downtown firm of Oliver Architects, said there is "a disconnect" over the fact that more people need to live downtown to support some of the projects that are proposed.

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Daniel Blakely, a lifelong Rochester resident who works at the Hampton Inn, would like to see affordable housing downtown. That could help support a symphony hall, grocery store or a drug store like Walgreens.

The constant in downtown Rochester is Mayo Clinic, and Oliver Architects employee Dave Howd sees that as key.

"If you took Mayo Clinic out of downtown, you’d get St. Cloud," he said.

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