At least three firms with Rochester offices pitched proposals for creating a vision for the city-owned section of the downtown riverfront.
Representatives of each expressed disappointment in the city’s decision to hire a consultant from Cambridge, Mass., but they cited understanding related to the selection process.
“We thought we had a very solid team put together, but in the same breath, I understand the process and have been there myself and can appreciate the process they went through to make the selections,” said Chris Petree, director of operations for WSB’s local office and a former Rochester Public Works director.
Hal Henderson, a principal with HGA’s Rochester office, said the company’s proposal was the most costly among those reviewed by the city, so he understands why city officials went in a different direction, but he also said he believes there’s a tendency to overlook local talent.
“With the amazing amount of talent in Rochester, I don’t think it’s fully appreciated,” he said.
John Eckerman of RSP Architects said not getting the recent project is balanced by being tapped for work in the Heart of the City and Discovery Walk projects in other Destination Medical Center subdistricts.
“We’ve had a lot of great projects with the city,” he said.
Rochester City Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said the city should show greater commitment to hiring local consultants. That, she said, explains why she didn’t support the $195,000 contract with Gamble Associates when local consultants could do the work.
“I ran on a platform that we should try to keep money locally,” said the Ward 4 representative, in her first year as a council member. “We should be hiring folks that have the skill sets we need that are here, to keep the money in the community.”
Kirkpatrick was joined by council member Molly Dennis in voting against the contract, but two other council members who voted in favor of the Gamble contract cited concerns with selecting an out-of-state firm.
“I, too, had some concerns … based on the fact that we are going with some national consultants versus local consultants, and I worked through that with staff, trying to make sure we’re giving our local consultants a good chance,” council member Patrick Keane said.
Council President Brooke Carlson also said staff members were able to address her concerns.
Jaymi Wilson, the city’s project manager for riverfront effort, said the city received seven proposals for creating the small-area plan, and selected five of them for full review and interviews.
She was joined in the staff-level review by Deputy City Administrator Cindy Steinhauser, Interim Community Development Director Josh Johnsen, Heritage Preservation and Urban Design Coordinator Molly Patterson-Lungren and Catherine Malmberg, the Destination Medical Center Economic Agency’s interim director of economic development and placemaking.
“As a group, we really felt this was the strongest group to help us with this first out-of-the-gate planning process,” Wilson said of the Gamble selection, citing a strong emphasis on past riverfront development projects.
“Across the board, we had some really strong proposals,” she added.
When it came to price, she said the $195,000 bid was in the middle of the pack, with most proposals fluctuating by $30,000 to $40,000.
The two outliers appear to be local proposals, with HGA at the top and WSB’s bid at slightly more than $100,000.
Petree said the lower WSB proposal likely hurt the firm’s chances due to its limitations, but he was working with the expectation that the cost should be in line with a similar planning process conducted by Perkins and Will for the riverfront area that includes the former Kmart and AMPI sites.
That process, led by the national firm with a Minneapolis office, was completed for $90,000, which was split by the city, property owners, Mayo Clinic and DMC EDA.
The $195,000 cost for the Gamble contract is being paid through state DMC funds.
The plan presented by Gamble includes a variety of community engagement, including a co-design process with local residents, meetings with people connected to the site, and broader public events.
The plan calls for work to start in October and wrap up next summer when the vision for the area will be submitted to the city council for final approval.
Wilson said approval of a plan will likely lead to additional work to develop the area based on whatever vision is defined during the nine-month effort.
“This is the first in a number of steps in this process before we would actually start developing on this site,” she said.
Representatives from the local firms involved in the recent bidding process said they’ll likely consider making proposals for future work.
“We’re going to follow it close and see what the next steps are, because obviously the river has a lot of potential,” RSP’s Eckerman said.