A split Rochester City Council acknowledged plans to reduce the length of a lease for the former Kmart parking lot.

"This was a move to gain more support on a very controversial decision," Mayor Kim Norton said during Monday’s council meeting.

The effort, however, caused tensions within the council to resurface.

In question was an agreement signed by Patrick Regan, president of property owner Camegaran. The document cites plans to limit potential extensions for a five-year lease to a single 30-month period, effectively cutting a 10-year plan to 7.5 years.

The council accepted the document on a 4-3 vote with Council President Randy Staver and members Mark Bilderback and Shaun Palmer opposed.

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The move comes two weeks after another 4-3 vote confirmed a lease with two potential 30-month extensions. Staver and Palmer supported the earlier terms, along with council members Patrick Keane and Michael Wojcik.

Bilderback indicated his objection was based on his original vote opposing the lease, but Staver and Palmer voiced criticism of the process.

Staver said he believes the action sets a "horrible precedent" by supporting a change negotiated after a council vote.

Norton argued that the council decision was made without her input after she made it clear she wanted to see a shorter lease period.

City officials reported Tuesday that they have signed the lease, but a Mayo Clinic spokesman indicated details remain to be addressed before parking starts at the site.

RECONSTRUCTING SUPPORT

The Heart of the City reconstruction skipped a beat Monday, but city staff is hoping to keep it on pace.

The Rochester City Council rejected a series of bids for the first phase of reconstruction surrounding Peace Plaza, but approved utility work to start as soon as possible.

City project manager Josh Johnsen said several of the bids for eight related construction projects came in higher than expected, but staff plans to modify plans and seek new bids.

However, he suggested the council approve a $3.4 million bid for utility work to ensure the project remains on track.

"We want to capitalize on this construction season," he said, pointing to a potential April start.

Restarting bidding on all eight projects would likely delay work by at least a month, he added.

While the majority of the work around Peace Plaza is being funded through state Destination Medical Center funds, the utility work is also being supported by other city funds since it will include a realignment of utilities needed under Shops at University Square and along Second Street.

The utility bid was nearly $673,000 over the initial estimated budget for the proposed work.

Johnsen said approximately 9 percent of the bid — roughly $308,000 — is related to efforts aimed at ensuring the surrounding businesses can remain open and stay accessible to their customers.

BUILDING OPTION

The Rochester City Council paved the way for demolition of the former Post Bulletin building by deeming it substandard Monday.

The designation allows the owner, PB Rochester Investments LLC, to take down the building at 18 First Ave. SE while reserving a three-year option to seek tax-increment financing on future development.

"While firm plans have not been completed, the property is intended to be cleared for redevelopment in the future," states a memo submitted by architect Chris Colby on behalf of the property owner, who hasn’t been identified beyond the corporate entity.

The property was purchased after Forum Communications bought the Post Bulletin but opted to move the operation to 1700 Greenview Drive SW.

The council’s action Monday does not obligate the city to approve TIF for future development, but it keeps the option in play. Demolition without an agreement could limit the financing option.

The council has approved three similar agreements in recent years, related to the former Rosie Bell, Days Inn and Michaels Restaurant sites.

The Rosie Belle on the southwest corner of the intersection of South Broadway Avenue and Fourth Street street was demolished in May of 2017. Assistant City Administrator Terry Spaeth said that makes it unlikely to qualify for TIF before the three-year deadline is reached.

The former Days Inn at the intersection of West Center Street and First Avenue was demolished in December 2018, giving it nearly two years of TIF eligibility.

The countdown hasn’t started for the former Michaels site at 15. S Broadway Ave., since the building is still standing.

The three-year countdown for the former Post Bulletin building will begin once the building is demolished.

The city’s website doesn’t show an approved demolition permit for the site.

VOTING FOR FLEXIBILITY

The Rochester City Council voted to support legislation to give local municipalities flexibility in voting practices.

"I don’t want this to be a referendum on whether this council supports ranked-choice voting," council member Partick Keane said after suggesting a vote on the support.

The comment came after several residents used Monday’s public-comment period to voice support for ranked-choice voting, which creates an alternate ballot style to allow voters to rank candidates in a local election.

City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead said the state bill offers flexibility in holding local elections, which could pave the way for ranked-choice voting.

"The legislation is valuable for all cities," she said, adding that she doesn't have a stance on a local voting change.  

Council Member Randy Staver said he believes the measure sends a message.

"I think it is more of a referendum that you might think," he said, noting the measure would allow all cities in the state adopt ranked-choice voting.

As a city with more than 100,000 residents, Rochester already has the option to adopt ranked-choice voting, but it would not be able to easily implement it during regular election years, due to state mandates regarding ballots during those years.

Council member Mark Bilderback said the combination of ideas created conflict for him, but he preferred to support giving cities more options for its elections, even though he’d not sold on ranked-choice voting.

"We’re not looking at ranked-choice," he said. "We’re looking at total options."

Support for the legislation passed 5-1 with Staver opposed. Council member Shaun Palmer abstained.

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