A potential vision for 61 acres that includes the former Kmart and AMPI sites was met with support Wednesday.

“Long term, I think this is a phenomenal project, and a vision for another one of our gateways into the downtown area,” Rochester Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ben Kall said of the long-term plan.

The commission voted 7-1 to recommend that the Rochester City Council add the proposed Downtown Waterfront SE Small Area Plan to the city’s comprehensive plan.

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The small-area plan creates a strategy for preserving and improving the portion of Southeast Rochester between Broadway and Third avenues and Fourth and 9½ streets by defining possible development within the area.

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Potential development in what’s been called a mixed-use warehouse district includes the creation of 1,500 housing units with half defined as affordable and half at market rate, 140 hotel rooms, 70,000 to 100,000 square feet of retail space, and 50,000 to 70,000 square feet of office space.

Additionally, the 20-year vision would include a riverfront promenade, a bridge over the Zumbro River at Sixth Street, and traffic controlled by roundabouts through the area, as well as added green space throughout the area.

“We see the potential for this area to be a destination, but also serve the nearby neighborhoods,” said Jay Demma, senior planner for Perkins and Will, which served as a consultant for the plan.

The vision came with some concerns about the eventual price tag for related infrastructure and other support on the city level.

“I have a big problem with the overreach Rochester has put into a lot of projects,” commissioner Tom Hill said before casting the sole vote opposing the plan’s recommendation.

Hill cited concerns about increasing tax bills for property owners and the potential for costly problems during implementation.

Rochester Community Development Director Cindy Steinhauser acknowledged the concerns, but said the plan is simply a vision of what could happen at this point, with future decisions required for implementation.

“It’s not obligating the city or taxpayers of Rochester to any future dollars,” she said.

Commission members noted key elements of the plan, such as the proposed Sixth Street bridge, will likely require public funding, but Kall pointed to the potential for future Destination Medical Center funds for support since the project is part of the district.

Other proposed elements, such as the promenade that would replace the current railroad tracks, might not even become a reality within 20 years, since some of the vision requires participation by property owners and businesses that haven’t committed to each element.

“The city would like to explore the idea of (using) the rail line if it ever becomes an option, but until the rail operation halts, we believe we have designed this plan in a way that allows the early phases, and frankly the late phases, to continue moving forward with or without the promenade feature,” said Ryan Yetzer, the city’s interim deputy director of development and construction services.

The former Kmart site has been repaved and striped to provide parking for Mayo Clinic employees in Rochester. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
The former Kmart site has been repaved and striped to provide parking for Mayo Clinic employees in Rochester. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

While some property owners might have other plans, the property owner that helped spur the plan was on board Wednesday.

Pat Regan, president of Camegaran LLC, which purchased the former Kmart property in 2019, said the company was excited by the plan that began to emerge amid neighborhood concerns about a Mayo Clinic parking lease at the site.

“We enthusiastically endorse this plan,” he said, adding that the process inspired Camegaran to purchase the former AMPI lot.

“It’s good work, and it’s going to take a lot of time,” he added, calling it a "generation project" that will likely involve his grandchildren in the future.

The plan’s next step is a public hearing and review by the Rochester City Council on April 19.