Questions appear to outnumber decisions related to a proposed transit hub in the Graham Park area.
Olmsted County Commissioners met Thursday with two Rochester City Council members — Randy Staver and Mark Bilderback — in an effort to discuss options and find a path toward answers.
County Board Chairman Jim Bier indicated the most urgent question revolves around the specific location of the hub, which would include parking facilities, affordable housing and retail space connected to downtown by a planned transit circulator.
He said county commissioners are united in preferring the majority of construction be focused on the site of the former Seneca canning facility at 1217 Third Ave. SE.
The county purchased the 11-acre site earlier this year for $5.6 million with the transit hub in mind, but the City Council has yet to discuss whether it is preferred to earlier plans, which would have put a parking facility at the northern end of the county-owned Graham Park.
"We need to get past that hurdle," Bier said, indicating if city officials don’t prefer the county’s option the two bodies could be at an impasse.
While development of the hubs will likely take years as the city works on efforts to seek federal funding for the downtown circulator and planning efforts continue, Bier said commissioners would like to know if they need to change plans for the Seneca site as they also look to make upgrades to Graham Park.
Regardless of the city’s decision, he said the county is preparing to demolish the former canning facility.
Staver said the council definitely wants to create transit and other facilities in the area but has not voted on specific site details.
Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said the lack of clarity is compounded by a host of unanswered questions.
She pointed to a lack of understanding about how many parking spaces are needed, conflicting goals related to affordable housing and undefined terminology.
"We’re trying to make this an asset for the whole community," she said, encouraging the council members to push for answers.
Bilderback said the answers will require unified efforts.
"It’s been five years — believe it or not — that this has been in the works and we’re now finally starting to talk about building something," he said, noting that will require all parties to improve communication.
Bier and Staver said they recently met with Mayo Clinic CEO Gianrico Farrugia and Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Bolton, who also expressed frustration with the lack of forward movement and decisions.
Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch suggested momentum could be found by creating a committee of two or three council members and an equal number of commissioners, along with staff from each entity.
"It would help a lot if we had more face-to-face conversations between our elected officials," she said, noting meetings between the full council and county board are often unwieldy.
Commissioner Matt Flynn agreed, noting county commissioners and council members had more direct communication in the past and it’s fallen off in recent years. He said returning to past practices is important as big projects move forward, especially those related to Destination Medical Center.
"This is probably the biggest thing yet that the public wants to see," he said of the transit hub.
Bilderback agreed discussions need to start moving forward but noted Mayo Clinic, DMC Economic Development Agency representatives and DMC Corp. board members need to be involved.
Bier, who sits on the DMCC board, said the broader discussion can wait until after the city and county start start to define goals, which could also include adding Mayo Clinic representatives to the mix, since clinic property is being considered for a second transit hub on Second Street Southwest.
The details, he said, need to be discussed before taking the results to the state DMCC board.
"They want us to work it out," he said of the board members who are not local residents.
Staver said he’s already spoken with Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer, who agreed to work with Welsch to schedule discussions between the various groups to improve communication and address lingering questions.
"We agree we need this to become a cohesive group," he said.