City, neighbors: Parking lot OK, but not for long
The land owner of a five-property site across the street from Saint Marys Hospital has heard from neighbors and the city of Rochester that its redevelopment plan for a surface parking lot is OK but in the short-term only.
City planning and public works staff and the Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission all recommend the city council approve the next step toward preparing the site — vacating the alley there — as long as the land owner acquires approval within two years for a more vibrant development.
The city council likely will address the issue during its March 4 meeting, said Senior Planner Brent Svenby.
The ownership entity, identified only as 2nd Street Parking LLC, has told the city and the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association that its immediate plan is to redevelop the site into a parking lot, with the ultimate goal being a hotel. The site is home to four small hotels/motels, including the Bell Tower Inn, the A&A Motel and Guest House and the condemned Alpine Inn.
Jevon Bea, who is a former Saint Marys Hospital administrator and now president and CEO of Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wis., is a consultant working with the land owner. He did not return phone calls for this story. Bea also is rumored to be part of the investment group that recently purchased the Kahler Grand, Rochester Marriott Mayo Clinic, Residence Inn Rochester Mayo Clinic Area and Kahler Inn & Suites and commercial laundry for $230 million.
Bea met with Dave Edmonson, Kutzky's board president, to explain the development plan and show him preliminary concept drawings of his hotel proposal.
"But there really isn't an agreement to build this hotel yet, so we just have to trust that these developers are going to do what they say they're going to do, which experience has taught us that usually doesn't happen," Edmonson said.
He said surface parking lots make for lousy neighbors.
"They're only used eight hours a day, typically, and they collect dirt and trash, and they produce heat," he said.
Just how long the land owner will delay its hotel proposal and keep the parking lot there is unknown. The site is a valuable piece of real estate in a growing community that's perceived as economically strong, said John Wade, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.
"The owner has made a sizable investment, I'm assuming, in that property and is looking, as owners of property have for generations, at ways that they can get a good return on that investment long-term," Wade said.
In addition, might the owner and other developers in town be trying to time their projects with what might come down the pipe from Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center proposal?
"I would think that if they've done the research and feel there's demand for a hotel, that they would proceed with developing a hotel," said Gary Smith, president of Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. What effect or impact DMC might have on that, I think it would just make them feel better about that decision."