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First civic center expansion was 30 years ago

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The Mayo Civic Center is in the midst of a second expansion.

Jere Lantz, the city's music director at the time, looked around the cavernous new arena and declared, "I really like it. I think it's a gas."

That was nearly 30 years ago, on Sept. 11, 1986, when Mayo Civic Center was expanded for the first time. The 5,500-seat Taylor Arena and semi-circular lobby were the main features of the addition.

The arena, dwarfing the existing facilities at Mayo Civic Auditorium, brought Rochester into a new era of big-name entertainment.

"Every new building has a honeymoon period," said Donna Drews, executive director of Mayo Civic Center.

Taylor Arena, named for Curtis Taylor, the former director of parks and recreation for Rochester, was no different. In its first six months of operation, the arena hosted the Andy Williams Christmas show, Canadian singer Anne Murray, the Statler Brothers, Mel Tillis and Roy Clark, the Ice Capades, the Oak Ridge Boys the Lipizzaner Stallions, and, most famously, Bon Jovi. It was a who's who of mid-'80s Middle America entertainment.


"When you think back on some of those, it was pretty special for this community to get some of this stuff," said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who was on the original task force for the building. "It brought us into a market we hadn't been in before."

The expansion was funded by an additional 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 1982. The tax proceeds would pay off $32 million in bonds, split between the city's long-awaited flood control project and the new arena. A portion ($2.3 million) of the arena funding also went to expansion of the Rochester-Olmsted Recreation Center and new seating at Graham Arena.

Of the $18.5 million price tag for the facilities, $16 million came from the sales tax, with $2.6 million, including a $1 million donation from Mayo Clinic, in private funds.

Did the community get its money's worth?

"I've always said that building is one of the best-kept secrets," said Roy Sutherland, who was director of the civic center when the arena opened. "If you look at the economic impact, and how it adds to the vitality of downtown."

But now, with another, even bigger and more expensive addition to the civic center underway, the question is whether Taylor Arena is still "a gas." Entertainment bookings have been down severely in recent years, and some in the community are advocating replacing the arena with a more modern, larger building to host a hockey team and draw bigger concerts.

Drews and Sutherland, though, said that ignores the realities of the marketplace. Casinos are now the go-to stops for many touring entertainers. "We simply can't compete with them," Drews said. Plus, even with Rochester's growing population, the city's location so close to the Twin Cities makes a stop here unnecessary for entertainers and shows.

"It is what it is," Sutherland said of attracting major acts to the city. "It's very competitive. I don't think a $65-million hockey rink will solve any problems. And I love hockey.


1939 . Mayo Civic Auditorium, a gift to the city from Drs. William and Charles Mayo, opens in Mayo Park. The complex hosts conventions, concerts, hockey games, figure skating shows and basketball games.

Nov. 2, 1982 . Rochester voters approve a 1 percent sales tax to retire $32 million in bonds. Half of that total is for the city's flood control project. The other half will fund the construction of a new arena at Mayo Civic Center, the enlargement of the Rochester-Olmsted Recreation Center and new seating at Graham Arena.

March 15, 1985 . A ribbon-cutting for the expanded recreation center is held. 

Sept. 9, 1986 . The city finally takes ownership of the new Mayo Civic Center. The original completion date for the new arena and lobby at the civic center was January 1986. That was moved to March and then to Aug. 1. The project ran behind schedule because of delayed arrival of the steel beams needed for construction of the arena.

Sept. 11, 1986 . The new Mayo Civic Center is dedicated. One thousand people are in attendance for a sit-down dinner and music by the John Marshall, Mayo and Lourdes high school bands.

Sept. 13, 1986 . The first major event in the new arena, a concert by country music stars Mel Tillis and Roy Clark, is held.

Sept. 14, 1986 . A community open house is held Sept. 14, giving the public a chance to tour and look over the new showplace.


Opening months of Taylor Arena were 'good days'

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