ROCHESTER – A first look at a proposed $200 million riverfront project cheered the Destination Medical Center Corp. board at its monthly meeting on Thursday, even as some members expressed frustration with the pace of transportation planning in Rochester.
The proposed project, a hotel/condo/retail complex, would sit on the banks of the Zumbro River, which, despite passing near the heart of the city, is largely inaccessible thanks to a 1990s-era flood-control project. The concept calls for tying downtown into the riverfront with a shallow splash pool, fountain, water wall, outdoor restaurant with seating overlooking the river and a possible kayak launch.
“This is a home run,” said DMC board member and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, adding that the project from Bloom Holding, an Abu Dhabi-based developer, would accomplish a lot.
Many people in Rochester have known about the project for weeks, if not longer, but Thursday was the first board meeting offering a detailed description of what’s planned for the site.
It comes as the latest piece of good news for development in Rochester. Earlier this month, Minneapolis-based Alatus unveiled plans for a $100 million, 13-story apartment tower with 359 units, five levels of parking, 13,000 square feet of leasable commercial space and 7,500 square feet of co-working space. A third project — the long-delayed, $100 million Broadway at Center project, which calls for a Hilton hotel, condos and retail space — has come to life recently, and groundbreaking could begin soon, board members learned Thursday.
The projects are some of the first major private investments likely to come to fruition under the Destination Medical Center plan, the state’s largest-ever economic development project, which pledges $585 million of taxpayer funds to help redo the city as a global hub for medicine, research and health care. The plan calls for the Mayo Clinic to extend its campus with $3.5 billion in investments over the plan’s 20-year lifetime, while private investors are expected to kick in another $2.1 billion in residential, retail and commercial investments. The public dollars would help pay for the infrastructure necessary to help the city grow.
Vision for the riverside
Oxford Management CEO Mark Dickson, the local representative for Bloom Holding, said the project Oxford is proposing would open up the riverfront in ways the city has long wanted. A final agreement would be inked before the end of the year, he said.
The developer still has to purchase the city-owned land. Rochester city officials say that they’re appraising the land’s value and that they should be done in weeks.
The project would include a 120-room, four- or five-star hotel, 100 condos, 40 leased apartments, a parking ramp, 100,000 square feet of office space, and street-level restaurants and retail. It would sit on a narrow plot along the Zumbro River, said architect Jonathan Golli of AE7, who presented the concept plan to the board on Thursday.
A city-owned parking ramp is the only structure on the site. A Canadian Pacific rail line bisects the property.
A portion of the project would have large glass doors that swing open along the riverfront. It includes a water wall with steps where Golli envisioned a fountain and a shallow wading pool using treated water that kids could splash in. The project is still in the concept stage.
Golli lamented that the Zumbro’s passage through Rochester is mostly encased in concrete, the result of a flood-control project from the 1990s based on a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was done in a “brutalist concrete” style, he joked to the board.
DMC board member Susan Rani, an engineer and president of Rani Engineering, said she was part of the team that built that riverfront in the 1990s, adding that she supports the new concept.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Rybak blasted the pace of transportation planning for the DMC plan after listening to a presentation from Richard Freese, Rochester’s director of public works.
“I don’t believe that what I’ve just heard is adequate,” said Rybak, who lamented after the meeting that the city still doesn’t have a sound transportation plan. People need to know where the new parking will be located, what vehicles will move them around the city and how businesses will interact with transportation, he said.
“It’s critical right now to give the development community and employers here a signal about how we want to move people throughout the city,” Rybak said.
Freese, the city’s point person on the transportation projects, said the process goes slowly because the city wants to apply for state and federal funding.
Rybak insisted that the city could apply for those funds and still move more quickly to develop a transportation plan. Freese was not available for further comment.