Officials mapping out downtown Rochester’s multibillion-dollar overhaul are crafting a smooth application and approval process for the onslaught of developers and investors expected to surface with proposals tied to the 20-year revamp.
The city and an economic development agency linked to the Destination Medical Center are close to finalizing a formal application process designed to provide prospective projects a clear path through required reviews by Rochester agencies and the board overseeing the expansive project.
“We’re making sure we create a process and a system for developers and other interested parties to enter the city of Rochester in a deliberate and thoughtful way,” Lisa Clarke, who heads the project’s economic development agency, said at a Thursday meeting.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who chairs the board, called for a “seamless” process for developers around the state — and the world — looking for a piece of downtown Rochester’s facelift. The Destination Medical Center, expected to add up to 45,000 workers to the local economy, creates a big opening for housing and infrastructure projects, among others.
Organizers have predicted $5.56 billion in private investment related to the project, including from the Mayo Clinic, through 2034. That will augment $327 million in matching funds from the state, to be doled out after private investors sink their first $200 million into the effort. All told, $585 million in state, county and city funding is available for project-related upgrades.
A firmed-up application and approval process for developers will square with widespread calls from the board to ensure transparency and alignment with the overall vision for the project, including shaping Rochester into one of the healthiest cities in the U.S.
That’ll be a balancing act, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who sits on the board, told Finance & Commerce.
“There will be times where someone trying to build something will be frustrated, and my experience tells me that some of that is inevitable,” he said. “But our job is to break down as many barriers as possible so developers spend as little time getting through the process as they can, so they can spend more resources on adding investment.”
Two projects tied to the effort already have required approvals, and that number is expected to rise in the coming months after the board in April adopted a 700-page development framework.
Philanthropy in focus
With wide-reaching guidelines for the project nailed down, an offer from the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation surfaced at Thursday’s meeting, spotlighting a role for philanthropic organizations in the sprawling project.
The board revealed the foundation offered to hire consultants to help devise a sustainable energy strategy for the Destination Medical Center and surrounding community. Project plans point to district energy, where a central plant heats and cools water then pipes it to buildings.
With the foundation’s support, the board could more quickly dig into options that fall in line with sustainability goals and, potentially, mold Rochester into a model of energy efficiency. The board agreed to work with McKnight, a supporter of energy innovation, to iron out details of the arrangement.
It’s still unclear how much the foundation could pump into the effort.
Without the help, the board would have had to dip into its own coffers to hire consultants to help it vet energy options.
But with the McKnight boost, quicker action on an energy plan could translate to a bigger selling point for the Destination Medical Center as developers and other prospective investors circle, Rybak said.
“If limits on work and time and money prevent us from getting to do this for even six months, we would have lost some key opportunities,” he said. “This could help us have a strategy on the ground from the beginning, which is huge.”
In addition, board members said support from a high-profile name like McKnight could draw other donors.
“We don’t anticipate the philanthropic sector to come anywhere close to the public or private investment,” Rybak said. “But a key strategic investment like this one from McKnight clearly moves the dial dramatically further than we might have had capacity to do on our own.”