Plans for a pair of transit villages connected by a dedicated route are being scaled back.
The Rochester City Council unanimously opted to reduce the plan amid differing opinions related to a proposed Olmsted County site.
“I don’t want the county folks to think we are abandoning them,” council member Michael Wojcik said, voicing support for considering the project as a two-phase effort.
Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish presented a plan Monday that would have built parking facilities where the former Seneca Foods canning facility sits at the intersection of Third Avenue and 12th Street Southeast, but the related transit stop was in nearby Graham Park to better align with the South Broadway Avenue route.
The county purchased the former Seneca site for $5.6 million last year with plans to offer it for use as a transit hub, which was expected to include housing and retail businesses.
County Administrator Heidi Welsch said county commissioners were unanimous for moving forward during a closed-door discussion on April 21.
“They haven’t taken any action in open session, but they are 7-0 in agreement,” she said of the proposed site plan and agreement with the city.
Wojcik and Parrish indicated during Monday’s council meeting that council members disagreed on the potential site plans during an April 20 closed council session.
Due to mixed council opinions and a desire to move forward with an application for federal funds in September, Parrish presented alternatives to start work without committing to the county site.
The council opted to move forward with a modified plan for a single village at Mayo Clinic’s west parking lot along Second Street Southwest and a transit system traveling east and west with a loop around the city-county Government Center.
The proposed bus-rapid transit system would get passengers from one end to the other in 15 minutes, with a potential for nine stations along the route. It’s operation would be similar to a light-rail system.
The modified plan drops the anticipated cost from $203.7 million to $107.4 million. Most of the funding is expected to come from a mix of federal transit funds and state Destination Medical Center funding.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who has raised concerns about the Broadway leg of the original proposal, said she could support the alternative as a way to introduce the rapid transit option to the city.
“It doesn’t shut down further conversation,” she said.
Parrish said future discussions will be needed, since the original plan didn’t address the anticipated parking and transit needs for Rochester’s future.
While the response fo COVID-19 points to potential changes in commuting activity, he said the modified plan is not likely enough to address future needs.
“This is a solution, not the solution,’ he said.
Drive-ins get nod
Bars, restaurants and similar businesses could host drive-in movies under an action taken by the Rochester City Council Monday.
The council voted unanimously to waive the need for permits to allow sound amplification for special events as long as the governor’s executive order keeps the businesses closed.
“We’ve received quite a few inquiries from businesses potentially interested in this,” City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead said.
The special permits can take months to approve, which would be too late for businesses to develop plans under current conditions, Hollingshead said.
Events would be required to be on the businesses’ properties and adhere to established physical distancing requirements.
Discovery Square II moving forward
The Rochester City Council paved the way for Discovery Square II to be built on what is a parking lot.
The council unanimously approved a Mayo Clinic request to establish two developable lots on 1.38 acres south of Discovery Square One.
The approval is another step toward the five-story project planned by Twin Cities-based M.A. Mortenson Co., which the council recently approved as eligible for up to $7.3 million in tax increment financing.
Plans call for the new building to attract biomedical research companies. Discovery Square One occupants include WuXi Diagnostics, Royal Philips of Amsterdam, Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota Rochester, among others.
Under a development agreement with the city, construction of the new building must start by October and be completed by November 2022.