Work aimed at developing a downtown circulator is moving ahead.
The Rochester City Council voted 6-1 Monday night to designate a preferred route and mode for a rapid-transit option to connect a planned pair of transit hubs with several stops between them.
Council Member Shaun Palmer said he likes the idea of a bus-centered transit option, but couldn’t support the proposal on the table, which would dedicate a route along Second Street Southwest and heading south on Broadway Avenue, narrowing traffic by one lane in each direction.
“We are trying to rush this,” he said, echoing some concerns voiced by Mayor Kim Norton during a Destination Medical Center Corp. board meeting last week.
Monday night, Norton said she hadn’t determined whether she would seek to veto the council’s decision on the circulator route and mode.
Council Member Nick Campion, who sits on the DMCC board with Norton, said he believes the issue needs to move forward, noting numerous options have been discussed and studied in recent years.
“I have watched this process evolve and to call it fast or rushed is somewhat comical to me,” he said.
Council Member Patrick Keane said he views Monday’s decision as a milestone in addressing future transit needs as the city grows but also noted options exist for changing course.
“I do think we have some safeguards in the process going forward,” he said.
Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said the designation of a preferred route and mode is needed to move forward with plans to seek federal funding to cover approximately 50 percent of the cost of developing the planned downtown circulator.
An application would be due in early September, but Parrish said several steps would need to take place before moving forward, many of which would require future council approval. They include reaching development agreements with Olmsted County and Mayo Clinic, conducting environmental and traffic studies and approving preliminary designs.
Monday’s approval provides the opportunity to move forward with the work, he said.
Council President Randy Staver said the work ahead will provide needed information for moving forward and could include opportunities to find creative solutions.
“There’s much work to be done yet,” he said.
HOTEL FEASIBILITY QUESTIONED
As the Rochester City Council neared approval of a preliminary plan for a new six-story hotel within blocks of Methodist Hospital, Mayor Kim Norton raised the question of need.
“We’ve had a large number of hotels that have gone up in the last year or two,” she said. “Are feasibility studies required or does that just hang on the developer?”
Council President Randy Staver said the question of feasibility isn’t a council issue at this point.
“In most cases, we are counting on that the developer has done their homework,” he said.
The proposed 138-room Hampton Inn and Suites on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue Northwest and Second Street is being planned by North Rock Real Estate, which has also submitted plans for a 109-room hotel at the intersection of Second Street Southwest and Sixth Avenue.
A market study conducted for the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency predicted the DMC district has enough hotel rooms to meet anticipated needs through 2023, but it also indicated more rooms could be viable by filling specialized needs or specific niche markets.
Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said that as the project moves forward, the developer will likely need to prove the proposed hotel can make money.
“The financial due diligence will be done with the lender,” he said of efforts to finance the project.
While North Rock has not officially sought city help in meeting any financing goals, it has sent city staff a letter stating it has not ruled out a request for tax increment financing support.
The council voted 5-2 Monday to send a letter to inform North Rock that TIF will not be available for the proposed hotel project. Staver and Council Member Shaun Palmer objected to the notice, stating it was premature without an official request for public support.
PARKING CONCERNS OVERCOME
A planned 15-unit rental complex with five parking spaces received Rochester City Council approval Monday night.
Christine Lindsey, a Rochester native living in Texas, said she and her husband purchased three homes at 413, 417 and 421 14th Ave. SW, across the street from the Saint Marys Hospital campus, as investment properties and decided to create something new in the area.
Their proposal seeks to cater to renters who would not need vehicles, since all the parking spaces being created are for visitors, rather than complex occupants.
“They are in an area with wonderful amenities and access to transit,” Lindsey said. “It’s very walkable.”
The City Council unanimously voted to approve the final plan.
Council Member Michael Wojcik noted the complex is on a permit-parking only street and suggested tenants in the 15 units be banned from obtaining permits.
Public Works Director Chris Petree confirmed the city could remove the future residents from the list of people eligible to purchase permits.
Council Member Patrick Keane said that would appear to reduce the chance that future tenants would increase parking pressures in the area.
“The permit parking makes me feel the neighborhood is protected from us making a mistake and putting 30 cars in the neighborhood and not thinking it through,” he said. “I don’t think that will happen here.”
Council Member Annalissa Johnson said parking options exist elsewhere in the city, if a tenant decides to own a vehicle, but the developers should be allowed to test the concept.
“They are the one’s taking the risk in terms of not having parking,” she said of the developers.