Final approval of a five-year update to the Destination Medical Center development plan came with predictions that Rochester could fare better than other cities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really important that Rochester remains nimble,” said Erin Lonoff of HR&A Advisors, which was hired to analyze the pandemic’s potential impact on DMC efforts.
She said the previous five-year focus on economic development has helped put the city in a better position than others throughout the country, and the next phase of the 20-year initiative can be modified to keep efforts on track.
She told the state DMC Corp. board Thursday morning that it will be important to balance support for existing businesses with support for new development, while also focusing on prioritizing public infrastructure and working on options for diversifying the economy.
Later, Jeff Bolton, Mayo Clinic’s chief administrative officer, told the board that Rochester’s dominant employer is in a “very strong position” as the region continues to struggle with the pandemic.
“It’s far beyond anything imaginable in March of this year,” he said, pointing to furloughs and service cuts that occurred as the pandemic started to spread throughout the U.S.
While outpatient surgeries dropped to 10% and 20% of norms in March and April, he said they are now within 2% to 3% of 2019 volumes, just as some efforts are pulling back with local increases in COVID-19 cases.
“We are confident those volumes will return after the pandemic,” he said, noting Mayo Clinic is using virtual visits to stay connected to international patients and others who cannot travel to Rochester due to the pandemic.
Bolton also predicted Mayo Clinic will continue to grow in the next five years, even as it makes plans for more downtown employees to work long-term from their homes.
“I think it is fair to assure you we will continue to grow as an organization,” he told the board., pointing to anticipated expansion of the cancer center.
DMCC Board Chairman R.T. Rybak said that is crucial information as the board considers the next five years of the DMC effort.
“It’s hard to think long-term when we have this big thing named COVID in our face,” he said, pointing to the fact that the required five-year update was taking the impact of the pandemic into consideration.
With 7,000 new jobs created in the first five years of the initiative, the updated plan seeks to build on the past efforts while balancing the pandemic impacts, said Patrick Seeb, the DMC Economic Development Agency director of economic development and placemaking.
Seeb, who is slated to take over the executive director role when Lisa Clarke retires in January, said efforts in the next five years are expected to tap $200 million in designated state funds, twice the amount seen in the first five years of the effort.
The majority of state funding is expected to support transit and mobility efforts, followed by fueling public space projects and sewer and street work within the DMC district.
Other priorities defined in the updated plan include continuing to encourage private investment in the district and creating an enhanced community experience.
The board was unanimous in its support of the five-year update, pointing to priorities like public spaces and transit as key to recovery efforts as uncertainty lingers.
“The new normal will not look like where we were in January 2020,” board member Paul Williams said.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who serves as the board’s vice chairwoman, said efforts of DMC EDA staff to continue to seek solutions to current business challenges while looking to the future will remain critical.
“None of us want any businesses to shut down,” she said, acknowledging pressures that have been seen amid the mix of downtown infrastructure projects and pandemic restrictions.
Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, who was attending his final meeting as a board member, said he sees DMC efforts as being crucial to overcoming such challenges and ensuring the city emerges from the pandemic as strong as possible.
“We are looking forward, with great anticipation, to the next chapter,” he said.