SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Mayo Clinic's dream of turning Rochester into the Silicon Valley of Medicine just took a major step toward becoming a reality.
In front of a high-level crowd of international bioscience companies Tuesday night at the 2016 BIO International Convention in San Francisco, Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy and other leaders from Mayo, Rochester and Destination Medical Center announced plans to build a 2 million-square-foot bioresearch campus in downtown Rochester.
It's being touted as a first-of-its-kind economic development that marks an important milestone in the 20-year timeline of the $6.5 billion DMC public-private partnership, which is projected to add 30,000 jobs and double Rochester's population by 2034.
The bioresearch campus will be the centerpiece of Discovery Square, one of six sub-districts in the DMC development district. Lt. Governor Tina Smith called Discovery Square the "cornerstone of DMC."
"Mayo Clinic is making a firm commitment to really expand dramatically into the area of bioscience," said Smith, who is also DMC Corp. board chair in an interview Tuesday with the Post-Bulletin. "The step that Mayo has taken is … the cornerstone of DMC.
"We're well on our way toward making Rochester, Minnesota, America's capital of health."
The new development will more than double Mayo's research capability in Rochester, where the clinic currently has 1.3 million square feet of dedicated research space. It will feature a combination of research, commercial and product development space within a six-block area located near the Guggenheim Building, between South Broadway and Sixth Avenue Southwest.
Discovery Square has routinely been called the catalyst for DMC's job growth, though specific dollars and job projections were not included with Tuesday's announcement.
"It's a very important milestone for DMC because Discovery Square has unparalleled opportunity to really create this dense, mixed-use neighborhood all anchored by this signature space," Lisa Clarke, executive director of DMC's Economic Development Authority, told the Post-Bulletin Monday.
'Perking a lot of ears'
Rochester City Council member Nick Campion didn't learn about Mayo's big announcement until after his flight arrived in San Francisco on Monday.
He attended Tuesday's festivities as the city's representative in the unique public-private partnership, feeling empowered by Mayo's massive financial commitment after years of discussion and planning.
"It really looks like a good commitment to the city, and broadening and diversifying the way Mayo operates in Rochester," Campion said. "They're working to diversify our workforce and enrich the presence of bioscience in the city by leveraging some of their expertise to harness and build up our credentials."
If the prestigious conference is any indication, Campion says the message is already out.
Mayo's announcement came halfway through the four-day bioscience event. About 50 international companies are represented at the event, which was also streamed in real time on Facebook Live.
Campion's task was touting Rochester as a bioscience destination thanks to its well-educated workforce, its partnership with Mayo and its ambitious goals moving forward with DMC. He said it's a message that "plays well" and "is perking a lot of ears" among the industries heavy hitters.
Mayo's big announcement only adds fuels to the future possibilities.
"I'm here to show that Rochester has a commitment to this process," Campion said. "We're not just going to talk the talk. We're here to walk the walk.
"A lot of communities here are jealous about that commitment (from Mayo). They think we're well positioned to be successful."
Mayo spent more than $662 million on research in 2015 while completing 2,723 new human studies and having 7,305 peer-reviewed papers published in medical journals. Those figures may all double once Discovery Square become fully operational.
The development in the Discovery Square area will "bring together renowned physicians, researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs to address unmet patient needs in an ultramodern setting for science innovation," according to Mayo.
Rob Miller, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, says he's "somewhat in awe" of the ambitious plans.
"I hear so often 'When are we going to start seeing something?'" said Miller, who was also in attendance in San Francisco. "Well, now we have a date here in 2017. I think everyone has something to look forward to. What a feather in our cap."
Tina Smith, a Stanford grad, says Rochester has the potential to become a world-class health care hub in a similar way that the Bay Area, which is home to Facebook, Pinterest, Google and many other industry leaders, has become synonymous with technology.
"World-leading research drives everything we do for patients at Mayo Clinic," said Dr. Gregory Gores, Mayo's executive dean for research. "From providing the best individualized care to addressing the world's most challenging health problems, Mayo researchers relentlessly pursue discoveries that benefit people today and for generations to come. The addition of Discovery Square will extend that commitment by creating a new discovery science platform for innovators to collaborate with Mayo Clinic."
Mayo Clinic hired Hammes Co. for $1.5 million to analyze the Discovery Square piece of the DMC vision and offer a market plan of how the medical and technology research area might be developed. That process wrapped up in late 2015, and the recommendations are now being phased into the plans.
A major change following Hammes' work, according to Mayo spokesman Karl Oestreich, is that plans now call for "a six-block campus of integrated buildings that will be a combination of Mayo Clinic programs and non-Mayo bioscience space — designed for communication, collaboration and collisions between tenants, ultimately bringing solutions to patients sooner."
Mayo already owns about 35 percent of Discovery Square, according to Oestreich.
Noseworthy said the announcement was made at the international convention, rather than in Minnesota, because it sets the stage "at the international level." About 150 countries and all 50 states were represented at the convention.
Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Ventures and DMC have all "met with multiple organizations that could be potentially a good fit as future tenants," but it remains a fluid process with no firm commitments to date, according to Oestreich.
"There will be a lot of interest," Noseworthy said in an interview with the Post-Bulletin last week, prior to the announcement being made public. "A lot of people know about this economic development project that is DMC, which is huge. The fact that Mayo Clinic is developing this research ecosystem with the private sector on the Rochester campus is a big deal.
"It sends a really strong message that Rochester is a great place to live and work."
Mayo is currently soliciting bids from strategic development firms to plan Discovery Square, with a decision expected sometime this fall. Construction is slated to begin sometime in 2017 and be completed within two years.
That's music to the ears of Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who counts himself among those eager to see something visible emerge from the extensive DMC planning process.
"To have more of that (bioresearch) here and have it connected with the World Famous, bringing talent and businesses here is great," Brede said. "To use the word of one of those guys running for president, it will be 'yuuuuuuge.' This is something we've all been waiting for."