After years of maps and visionary drawings, a key Destination Medical Center project is gearing up to start moving dirt in downtown Rochester this year.

In September, Minneapolis developer and construction firm Mortenson Co. was chosen by Mayo Clinic to spearhead development of an estimated 2 million square feet of research and development space in the DMC Discovery Square subdistrict. Construction on the first building, 60,000-100,000 square feet in size, is expected to start later this year, with completion in 2019.

"This is a really exciting project," said Mayo Clinic Dr. Clark Otley, who is also vice president of the DMC Economic Development Agency Board. "There's a lot of interest from groups across the country who are excited to have closer partnership with Mayo and to be physically close to Mayo Clinic."

The plan is for Mortenson to build a series of commercial science buildings on six blocks of the 16-block subdistrict. Mortenson, which is partnering with Mayo Clinic, will own the facilities and lease them to Mayo Clinic, and to a number of other research and technology firms.

Otley characterizes the Mortenson project as a key "economic engine" within the $6.5 billion DMC juggernaut of an initiative to create jobs and bring more prosperity to Rochester.

"This is a virtuous cycle of investing … and the advancement of technology," said Otley. "It's very much about patients."

Potential tenants

Mortenson officials are talking with a variety of companies nationwide about leasing space in the first core building alongside the anchor tenant of Mayo Clinic. Jeremy Jacobs, who is leading the project for Mortenson, says it is too early to discuss tenants.

However, the electronic medical records behemoth, Epic Systems of Verona, Wis., has been mentioned as a potential tenant. Epic, which is changing over all of Mayo Clinic's records as part of a $1 billion contract, in early 2016 bought a northwest Rochester computer data center from Mayo Clinic for $46 million.

Mayo Clinic Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Bolton has previously discussed Epic in connection to Discovery Square in 2015.

"They've indicated a strong interest in the Discovery Square concept, and we're exploring ways they may participate in that," he said at the time.

Mortenson's Jacobs says there is a lot of interest from potential tenants, and his firm is talking to some of them "on a daily basis."

Though the leases and tenant's needs have not been locked down yet, the "aggressive" timeline has Mortenson hard at work designing the general concepts of the building. The hope is to have images of floor plans ready to be presented by July.

"We're trying to make it generally flexible for future tenants," said Jacobs. "We have to make some decisions and chose some directions, so we can get in the ground this year and start moving dirt. … It's more art than science."

Random 'collisions'

One thing Mortenson does know is that no one tenant will occupy an entire floor by itself. The idea is to create an environment where tenants have to cross paths with others. That means some larger tenants, like Mayo Clinic, might have offices on two or more floors. Jacobs estimates that this first building will have at least four stories.

The idea is to spur the random "collisions" that many of today's entrepreneurs and venture capitalists claim drive innovation and result in the creation of important products and ideas.

"The goal is that we will provide a canvas for economic development," said Jacobs. "We truly believe we are going to be bringing a different type of building to market."

While the bulk of the complex will be occupied by health and science firms, the first floor is expected to house a mix of retail and possibly a restaurant to "activate" the street-level of the building.

While this part of the DMC initiative is being driven by Mayo Clinic, it is Mortenson that is taking blind leap as the developer and owner.

"Mortenson, as a company, is taking a big risk on the future of Discovery Square and the city of Rochester. We're investing in a lot of square footage that I can't tell you for sure will definitely be leased. We're on the hook for that risk," said Jacobs. "We're going to sign on the dotted line and take the gamble."

When trying to create something new and technologically advanced, how does a designer make it fit within the existing cityscape?

"It's just going to be a cool building to look and a cool building to be in," Jacobs said. "One of our guiding principles is to be 'authentically' Rochester, but also represent 'America's City of Health and Wellness."

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."