With prices rising for just about everything, shoppers want bargains – but in the end, quality often trumps cost. For example, savvy consumers know that the most expensive food products you'll ever buy are the ones that gather dust on the shelf for months, then go into the garbage because no one likes them.
We'd argue that the same thing goes for development plans, including the one that the city of Rochester is buying from a Massachusetts-based urban design and planning firm.
On Monday, the city council awarded a $195,000 contract to Gamble Associates to do the initial planning for development of 2.5 acres of city-owned land west of the Zumbro River, between Second and Fourth streets southeast.
The vote was 5-2, and one of the “nay” votes was Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, who suggested that a local firm might have been the wiser choice. While we are tempted to agree with that view (and we aren't thrilled about $195,000 going out-of-state), we will leave the big-picture debate about “shopping local” with taxpayer dollars until another day.
But make no mistake – Rochester should demand a big payoff from this investment.
The current plan calls for a lot of public input in the “visioning” process. Citizens will have multiple opportunities to share their wishes and dreams for the site, as will prospective developers who could build what might be a mix of residential, retail, dining and green space – or publicly owned facilities, such as a new library and/or a bigger, better parking structure than the aging ramp and surface lot that currently occupy the site. The possibilities are endless, and we expect the wish list to be long.
In the end, however, Rochester doesn't need another pie-in-the-sky vision that looks great on picture boards but never comes to fruition – such as the $230 million Bloom Waterfront Development project that was slated to occupy the riverfront site but went belly-up in February 2019. This time around, Rochester needs a viable, practical plan that is attractive to both the citizenry and potential developers.
To that end, Rochester might need to adjust its vision for downtown development. While we like the idea of increasing downtown vitality through mixed-use buildings that feature retail stores on the first floor, a quick walk through downtown Rochester provides ample evidence that the city's attempt to mandate such occupancy isn't working.
Visions and goals that butt heads with developers' concerns, market demands and consumer trends will not succeed, so we hope that city leaders, stakeholders and the consulting firm from Massachusetts can work together to come up with a new vision for downtown Rochester, one that will not only bring new life to 2.5 acres but will also be a model for future projects in Minnesota's fastest-growing city.
If that happens, then the city will have made great use of $195,000.
If not – well, perhaps it's appropriate that the city council chose Gamble Associates. Rochester is making a big bet, and if the gamble doesn't pay off, our leaders should be held accountable.