DMC staff aims to wake up 'sleepy' Rochester
Cody Pogalz has been manning the front desk at Destination Medical Center's new EDA office since it opened in September.
He's been regularly gawked at through the huge, street-level windows, and the new space has been mistaken for a U.S. Post Office and an IRS office, among other things.
Rochester's first official building dedicated to the massive $6 billion DMC project was without signage for its first month at 195 S. Broadway, but the 2008 Kasson grad says the public is slowly becoming more cognizant of DMC's downtown presence at the old Red Lobster space.
"Now, the most common group of people who stop here tends to be (Mayo Clinic) patients from the Twin Cities who have heard the news, read the paper and know something is happening here," said Pogalz, executive assistant for DMC's Economic Development Agency.
The increasing trickle of curious visitors are greeted to an open-concept office space where six staffers, led by Executive Director Lisa Clarke, are charged with coordinating the unprecedented public-private development that's expected to reshape Rochester over the next 20 years, doubling the city's population on the back of Mayo Clinic's expansion plans.
Clarke says the 1,100-square-foot space was uniquely designed to accommodate the needs of the EDA. Desks are open and moveable, many of the walls are dry-erase boards for impromptu brainstorming sessions, and multiple meeting venues are available for sessions both formal and casual, from couches to conference rooms to a high-top table.
Being at "the heart of the city" was also important, Clarke said, in order to be visible and accessible to the public. That access will be taken to new heights in the weeks ahead when a 3-D model of DMC's footprint will be placed in the lobby, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the vision while following its incremental process on a more consumable scale.
"A lot of people are asking us what it looks like," Clarke said. "There's nothing more important than being able to actually see the models and touch them. The fabric of this community will be changing, and we want to reflect that."
Those changes will be facilitated by a six-person staff that was carefully constructed in late 2015. Clarke is the veteran leader, but she says the team has "united" quickly while working to "divide and conquer" the many hurdles associated with such a complex development.
The grand plans consist of many smaller aspects, but one of the most striking things about the staff's new digs is three orange bikes lined up in the lobby. Finance Director Mitch Abeln and Director of Economic Development and Placemaking Patrick Seeb both live within walking distance of work and are big proponents of bike-friendly communities.
Abeln and Seeb both have high hopes for "Nice Ride" in Rochester, along with many other projects, but both asked for patience in seeing those plans come to fruition.
"The plan and the pictures you see are the vision of 2035," Abeln said. "I want to have it all happen in the next month, but obviously, that's not the pace of development. …We have to understand that we're still in the first phase."
Added Seeb: "Many people have a point of view of what DMC is, and that's good. It means people own this. The big thing for communities who do these big, bold things and have success is community ownership. For every big city plan and initiative like DMC that are successful and you hear about, there are 10 that you don't because they didn't go anywhere."
Despite those concerns — and some public criticism about the slow pace of DMC development — Pogalz counts himself among those millennials who feel the city has already started to come alive.
"Moving back here in 2012, it's easier to find things to do now," the Kasson native said. "That's a big difference because Rochester felt so sleepy a decade ago. It doesn't feel like that now."