Residents share concerns about DMC impact on neighborhoods
Area residents got to hear about the benefits of the Destination Medical Center and about the growth of the University of Minnesota Rochester and also got to bring some personal concerns to light.
On Thursday night, dozens of concerned residents went to Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester and chatted with DMC spokesman Jerry Williams and University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle about what downtown Rochester and especially the neighborhood around Zumbro Lutheran Church will look like in the near future.
The discussion was set up after Zumbro Lutheran Church pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner spoke with people in the church's neighborhood.
"People wanted to know what was happening," Bryan-Wegner said. "People want to know what is being proposed, so we decided to engage people in a discussion, get our neighbors together for a conversation."
For the first hour of the 90-minute program, Williams and Lehmkuhle discussed the ins and outs of DMC and the proposed expansion of UMR to land near both Soldiers Field and Zumbro Lutheran. Afterward, they responded to concerns.
Olmsted County District Judge Kevin Lund came to the meeting to publicly state his confusion about how the former Destination Medical Community became a Destination Medical Center. Destination Medical Community was the name when, in 2012, Rochester voters approved an extension of the local sales tax that included a $20 million city contribution to pay for improvements that would support Mayo Clinic's growth. Within two months, the $20 million became part of a $585 million Destination Medical Center public funding proposal.
"The DMC is intended to be a partnership between the community and the Mayo Clinic. Implicit in any partnership is a great level of trust. We have to trust the other partner, and it's still unclear how Destination Medical Community became Destination Medical Center," Lund said. "How does that process engender a measure of trust? You (Williams) have told us tonight (Thursday) that the Mayo Clinic is seeking input and will make decisions based on that input versus them just making decisions that they believe are in the best interests of the Mayo Clinic, which are not always in the best interests of this community."
Williams was chairman of the local sales tax committee, which played a role in passing the 2012 $139.5 million sales tax extension, including $20 million for Destination Medical Center. Williams said there were never any discussions at any of the meetings and he knew nothing about the plan from Mayo to seek more than the $20 million. Mayo received state approval for $585 million in state, city and county funding for infrastructure to support the clinic's expansion.
Williams added that although he has done numerous DMC presentations, he is not employed or paid by Mayo before saying that he has faith in Rochester's biggest employer.
"I do have a lot of trust. Not only in what the clinic has done for this community, but also what the clinic is going to do for the community going forward," Williams told the crowd. "The kind of investments that the clinic has made in this community, not only in jobs and capital, but also their investments in the health of this community. This is a healthy community because of the good work at Olmsted Medical Center and at the Mayo Clinic. We are fortunate. Any discussions had, out of my sight, where $20 million grew to $585 million project, I trust that the people there in those positions made the right decisions, the best decisions for this community going forward."
Lund, a lifelong resident of Olmsted County, said local residents need to be mindful of negative impacts of the DMC.
"We have already been damaged by the specter of DMC — the water tower, the massive tank and the Fifth on Fifth project," Lund said. "We have already had that waved in our faces that this is for DMC. As far as I know, we don't even have a business plan yet for DMC, so my caution to people is that (DMC) is going to be used as a sledgehammer to neighborhoods, and I feel people need to be very mindful of that and concerned about that."
Several people made the case that Rochester does not need an overhaul. John Kruesel, of Rochester, who has been critical of the DMC plan, hopes citizens will have a say on what Rochester will look like in coming years. Four generations of Kruesel's family have called Olmsted County home.
"I wonder what attracted us initially and why we are here?" Kruesel asked. "I wonder if we need the colorful experience of a theme park or design something like Disneyland. Is that what people want for health care when they come here? So I'm very concerned about the fabric of what all of us have already tasted. We have embraced this community. We didn't come for the money, for the bells and whistles. We came here for the wholesome fabric that we already have."
Others wanted to make sure certain improvements were included in the DMC expansion. Frank Hawthorne, a librarian at Rochester Public Library and a member of the Historic Southwest Neighborhood Board, said he would like the expansion of the Rochester Public Library to be a part of the DMC. Hawthorne reminded the crowd that a proposed expansion of the library up to four floors was in the original sales tax extension proposal that voters approved. State lawmakers, led by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, took the library expansion out, along with other projects, including the new Boys and Girls Head Start building.
Williams said decisions on DMC projects will be made by a Rochester-based Economic Development Agency and the Destination Medical Center Corporation board.
"People need to make sure that it gets in front of the EDA group, so it becomes part of the plan moving forward," Williams said. "It will ultimately go to the city council and on to the DMCC board. It's going to be a matter of does that get to become part of the plan or not."
Williams said there will be many more public forums in early 2014.