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Where to begin transformation in Rochester?

ROCHESTER – With a nearly 700-page development plan complete and on its way to the city, members of the Destination Medical Center Corporation board are eager to start transforming downtown Rochester and expanding the Mayo Clinic.

Now, they just need to decide where the massive redevelopment will start.

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who sits on the DMC board, thinks a good bet would be in an area called Discovery Square. The proposed biomedical research and technology incubator surrounding a public park has the capacity to create jobs, and the corporation’s goal is to create between 35,000 and 45,000 jobs tied to the DMC project.

“I am sick to death of the incredible brainpower of this community being tapped … in some venture office in Palo Alto. Do it here. And that’s what I think we are saying with Discovery Square,” he said Thursday at a meeting.

The Destination Medical Center Corporation board on Thursday approved submitting the development plan to the city of Rochester to kick-start the development process for a project whose backers say is expected to generate $5.56 billion in private investment from the Mayo Clinic and others between now and 2034. The city will have 60 days to respond to the development plan, which was first made public in December. Once the city signs off, the plan will go back to the DMC Corp. for final approval.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who chairs the board, said the Destination Medical Center project is the largest economic development initiative in the state’s history.

“With Mayo Clinic at its heart, it will significantly expand the economic base in Rochester and really all of Minnesota with new businesses, new jobs, new opportunities,” she said.

While the plan is moving into the city’s approval process, Smith pointed out that it’s not a block-by-block master plan and doesn’t identify or commit to any specific capital investments. Individual projects will be evaluated and approved by the city and the board, she said.

Since the development plan doesn’t include a step-by-step process for pursuing development in the district, Smith called on members of the board to suggest where they’d like to see investment first.

“This is a big, big plan. The biggest thing we can do probably is to pick a starting point,” she said.

The plan divides the city core into six districts: Heart of the City, Discovery Square, Downtown Waterfront, Central Station, St. Mary’s Place, and the UMR/Recreational Area, which includes the University of Minnesota Rochester. Each neighborhood is designed for a slightly different purpose, but each is also expected to attract many of the same uses.

While Discovery Square is primarily a jobs-driven district, Rybak said it’s also a good starting point because of the public amenities so residents and taxpayers will be able to see their investment paying off.

Many board members also suggested the Heart of the City district — a re-envisioned city center focused on the redesign of Peace Plaza adjacent to the Mayo Clinic. Discovery Square is a more expensive project and it could take time to draw innovators to the district and get it up and running, said former Medtronic CEO Bill George, a board member for DMC as well as the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees. The city center concept would have more of an immediate impact on residents and visitors.

“The residents and the visitors need to see something happen and you need to build momentum,” George said.

The board did not make a decision Thursday about which district would kick-start the development.

The development plan includes newly revised criteria that the board will use to evaluate development proposals from the private sector. Developers will need to prove how their project is consistent with the DMC’s vision as well as how it would create jobs, promote sustainability, include women and minority-owned businesses and catalyze development in one of the plan’s six sub-districts.

Thursday’s meeting followed a 10-day effort to fix an error in state legislation that unintentionally required twice the amount of private investment for the project to get the full $327 million in matching funds from the state. Lawmakers passed legislation last week fixing the technical error.

A total of $585 million in state, county and city money is available to remake Rochester with improvements to infrastructure, transportation and public space. The state funds will be released as private investments are made in the DMC district — and only after the first $200 million in private money is raised.

Before city consideration of the development plan, the Rochester Planning Commission and the City Council will hold public hearings on Feb. 23 and March 23, respectively. The DMC Corp. will also hold a public hearing, but the date isn’t set yet.

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