Questions have been raised regarding whether all partners involved in creating a pair of planned Rochester transit hubs are using the same playbook.
“We need to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Rochester City Council Member Mark Bilderback said during a recent council meeting. “We need to make sure we are all in step with this.”
While some believe the city, Olmsted County, Mayo Clinic and other Destination Medical Center entities are on the same page, questions remain about when and how to get to the next page.
As the Destination Medical Center Corp. board prepares to identify it’s preferred route for a downtown circulator, Olmsted County commissioners voiced concern this week about the process.
Work aimed at developing a downtown circulator is moving ahead.
Council Member Nick Campion recently asked representatives from all parties to commit to including affordable housing as part of the future hubs, also known as transit villages. His fellow DMC Corp. board members unanimously agreed housing is a priority.
However, discussion on when the housing would be addressed has raised some concerns.
“Even though it may or may not be able to be incorporated at the time of construction (of parking facilities), if it’s above it you need to have supports in it and if it’s not above it, you need to have land reserved for it,” DMCC Board Chairman R.T. Rybak said, noting plans for building a transit village at or near Graham Park revolve around county commitment.
Last week, Olmsted County Board Chairman Jim Bier, who also sits on the DMCC board, sent a memo to Rochester officials, DMCC board members and the DMC Economic Development Authority.
“More board discussion is needed as the village site development plan is created, but I anticipate full support for affordable housing and other commercial-related development as part of the village plan,” he wrote.
Olmsted County Administrator Hiedi Welsch said the county commissioners’ dedication to creating affordable housing is well established, noting they serve as the majority of board members for the local Housing and Development Authority.
At the same time, she noted it’s premature to say how the housing will be developed. Since the county owns the land, it could work on developing supportive housing as it has in the past or it could work with a private developer who could create housing for mixed incomes.
“We’re not anywhere close to figuring out anything specific on that,” she said.
At the same time, Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said she’d like to see some of that planning move forward, rather than merely focusing on parking needs in the initial stages.
“When we started this discussion, it was about creating hubs,” she said, noting that meant housing and commercial space alongside parking.
She said she’s not convinced a parking structure will drive that sort of innovative effort.
“Parking ramps are all over town, and there are not villages around them,” she said.
Because of that, she said she’s not ready to move forward and voiced concern as her fellow DMCC board members and the Rochester City Council decided to move forward with plans to seek federal funding for a downtown circulator with two dedicated lanes in each direction on Second Street Southwest and a portion of South Broadway.
“I have not been ready to turn the page for several reasons,” she said, noting more collaboration is needed.
Others have agreed. County Commissioner Gregg Wright recently called for getting all parties with a stake in the transit villages at the same table, noting the county commissioners often feel left out of conversations and may not share some of the city’s priorities.
“We have to have more meetings between the county, the city and DMC,” he said.
Bilderback made a similar call, adding Mayo Clinic to the mix, since it is developing its own interim parking plan and owns the property eyed for the Second Street Southwest transit hub.
He cited concern regarding the potential sale of land at what is known as Mayo Clinic’s West Lot. and said some Mayo officials have indicated the clinic plans to build a ramp with 2,500 spaces for employees and sell the remaining land for public parking and other transit village uses.
“If you sell it at market rate, there is no way to build affordable housing,” he said.
Asked whether Mayo Clinic would consider selling the land at a reduced price, spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said she spoke to relevant clinic leaders, who stated the organization is committed to supporting the development and retention of affordable housing, citing a $4 million contribution in its work with the Coalition for Rochester Area Housing.
She also said it's too soon to say how any land would be transferred at the site.
“It is too early to comment on the overall status of negotiations with the city, but we can say we share a commitment to more workforce affordable housing in our community and as part of the transit village,” she wrote in a statement.
While it’s early, Bilderback, who is a Mayo Clinic employee, said he wants to make sure future decisions are clear as efforts move forward, citing concerns about the sudden revelation that Mayo Clinic is planning to use the former Kmart parking lot for employee parking, which see as potentially conflicting with city plans.
“We need to get the partners together,” he said. “We need them to commit and make sure their commitments are solid.”
Norton said she’s hoping the city’s involvement in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative will help implement a collaborative process that can get all the groups on the same page and ready to move toward the next chapter at the same pace.
She said business leaders with the initiative will be visiting Rochester in two weeks to meet with a group of individuals working on the transit hub concepts. She expects it will include city, county, DMC EDA and possibly Mayo Clinic representatives, as well as other community members.
From the group, eight people will be selected for more intense training on collaborative efforts to help maneuver future efforts.
“When we are done, we should all have had our input, and we can all agree with what the outcome is because we’ve all been at the table and we have a good honest process,” she said.