Patrick Seeb, left, and Tim Griffin, right, discuss the connection of streets and public spaces and how the two can function together during a DMC working group tour of downtown Saint Paul on Friday.

A team of Destination Medical Center contributors toured sites in Saint Paul and Minneapolis on Friday, from the cities' best uses of public space and investments to examples of design and execution that fell short.

Tim Griffin, director of urban design at the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, and Tom Fisher, a DMC Economic Development Agency board member and University of Minnesota Metropolitan Design Center professor, led the tour.

In several examples, the key principle at work was multiple uses — multiple modes of travel and mixed uses of spaces and buildings working together. To develop for multiple uses requires planning, Fisher said.

"All of this comes down to planning and having good planning. I think what's really important for Rochester is you have DMC, you have urban design guidelines that are being considered, you have a lot of excellent planning going on. And that is how you spur this kind of excellent development," Fisher said.

Multiple levels

The tour studied connections between street-level pedestrian places, subways and skyways, a multilevel system Saint Paul and Rochester share in some cases. Hotels in the St. Marys Place district of DMC development have expressed interest in climate-controlled connections to Mayo Clinic Hospital St. Marys Campus.

In Saint Paul, several large visible accesses to the subway system allow pedestrians to utilize the indoor system without losing their sense of place in the city.

"The street-level connection kind of gives you your sense of place and where you are in the city, and when you're above in the skyway over the streets you still kind of get that. When you're internal, you kind of lose that, and likewise when you're down in the concourses, you never experience that," Griffin said.

The three-leveled accesses the tour viewed cost from $1 million to $1.5 million each, Griffin said. It is a substantial cost, but one that potentially becomes a 100-year investment or more, he said.

Public spaces

Public spaces can offer a sense of arrival in a neighborhood or district, Griffin said. A prime example was Saint Paul's Rice Park, where private investments helped to create a public space. The space also is flexible to multiple uses; a part of the park becomes a skating rink in the winter, and surrounding roads can be closed to traffic or have different parking regulations depending on uses in the park.

Part of Rochester's challenge will be to accommodate private development while also creating public spaces, said Patrick Seeb, DMC EDA director of placemaking and economic development. A prime opportunity would be in Discovery Square, where large developments potentially could contribute to public spaces, Seeb said.

Fisher also emphasized the flexibility of public spaces, including the streets that serve them. Using street materials different from standard asphalt can slow traffic and also lend to a pedestrian experience.

Development and parking

Fisher was careful to point out examples of parking garages along street fronts that discouraged pedestrian activity. But not all parking solutions distract from street-level vitality, he said. Two examples showed other alternatives. In one, a parking garage offered mixed-use commercial space on the ground level to allow a restaurant at the sidewalk but standard parking access in the higher levels.

Another example, demonstrated near the newly constructed U.S. Bank Stadium and surrounding neighborhood, was to allow space for a "liner building." As Seeb described, parking infrastructure can be built with a large buffer on the street-facing property line. A smaller, narrow "liner building" is then constructed in the space between the infrastructure and the street, allowing for active use.

What's your reaction?