Forum on 2nd Street redevelopment was 'nothing short of awesome'
Dozens of neighborhood activists, civic leaders and engaged residents turned out to Forager Brewery Thursday night for a community forum on Rochester’s Second Street Corridor.
The event, organized by Imagine Kutzky, a neighborhood advocacy group, gave attendees the opportunity to learn more about the design challenges facing the corridor, which extends from Highway 52 to downtown Rochester and encompasses Mayo Clinic Hospital, St. Marys Campus.
“In the past couple weeks, there has been a lot of attention given to the redevelopment of this corridor,” said organizer Jesse Welsh, of Imagine Kutzky. “We are at an interesting point as a community.”
The forum, which was broken up into multiple work stations across two rooms, was organized in response to a proposed $63 million Holiday Inn across the street from the St. Marys campus.
The developer, Larry Brutger, is asking the city for $5.6 million in tax increment financing (TIF) assistance to help with the project. Under the proposal, some of the funds would be used to build a tunnel under Second Street connecting the hotel with the hospital.
“With the proposed Holiday Inn project, we are really being challenged for the first time to realize all of the work this community has put into planning,” said Welsh. “Yet the challenge is clearly the struggle between reacting to individual projects versus proactively setting standards that [we] expect projects to meet.”
While the forum addressed a wide range of issues affecting the corridor, the one topic that came up time after time was whether public funds should be used to connect the proposed hotel development with St. Marys.
The issue has attracted strong viewpoints in recent months, with many criticizing the idea that a private developer could potentially get an unfair competitive advantage. The controversy was thrown into the local spotlight earlier this month when Tom Torgerson, the owner of three hotels near St. Marys, spoke out against the proposal.
However, Council Member Mark Hickey, one of four council members who attended Thursday night's event, said public funds would only be used if the tunnel was part of a larger system.
“If that were to ever go forward as a public infrastructure project — a subway connection like that — it would have to be part of a bigger connection,” said Hickey, who was recently appointed the council’s representative to the DMC Corporation Board. “If it goes forward, it certainly won’t just serve one business.”
Many of those who participated in the workshops echoed similar statements, according to volunteer Chris Flood. He said there was a fair amount of support for a connection across Second Street that would serve the public good.
“The sense is the connection should serve more than just a single user,” said Flood. “It should be more of a system that connects multiple users.”
The Holiday Inn project is one of the first large-scale proposals to come forward since DMC entered its implementation phase last year.
With so much excitement about Rochester's future, Lindsey Meek, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said Rochester is in a position to challenge developers to meet high design standards.
“If Rochester is able to demonstrate that we are a great place to be — great jobs, great schools — we don’t need to just accept the ‘good enough’ and ‘anything goes’ type of mentality," said Meek. "We need to raise the bar. And almost every time we do, the development community has responded by stepping up their game.”
Concerns about transportation
The DMC Development Plan offers plenty of ambitious ideas to connect the St. Marys campus with downtown. Among them, streetcars running down the center median of Second Street.
“The greatest planners in the country are proposing to do that,” said Andy Masterpole, a member of Imagine Kutzky who ran a workshop Thursday night focused on transportation. “We’re just struggling with implementation.”
Masterpole said he received a lot of feedback from people who would like to see a higher priority given to pedestrian and transit access, with a lower priority on automobiles.
“Most major cities have superior transit systems, where you go to a bus stop on the corner and in 10 minutes one will be there,” he said. “We don’t have it here.”
Second Street is one of Rochester’s primary arterial roadways connecting Highway 52 with downtown Rochester, with more than 20,000 vehicles passing through each day.
Patrick Seeb, the DMC EDA’s director of economic development and placemaking, said some of the solutions to bridging the gap between downtown and St. Marys will include making the street safer for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as adding additional street-level retail along the corridor.
Seeb noted that the two campuses are less than a mile apart from each other.
“Those are the kind of things that change the feel of it being disconnected. After all, it really isn’t that far. The way it’s been built makes it feel like it’s far.”
More discussion needed
The setting — a brewpub versus a board room — made for a much more relaxed environment, encouraging people to share thoughts usually reserved for private conversations.
Additionally, the high turnout for the event showed a real thirst (no pun intended) for more community engagement as DMC starts to take shape.
“What’s happening tonight — I would describe it as nothing short of awesome," said Seeb. "This is elected officials, city leaders [and] neighborhood leaders coming out together and rolling up their sleeves, and looking at the future of their community.”
Members of Imagine Kutzky plan to present the results from Thursday night’s event to the city council, as well as the DMCC Board.
From there, the discussion on Rochester’s future continues.
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover graphic: DMC Development Plan)