Friday, January 15, 2016

Rochester Agonistes: the 2nd Street Corridor

"Well, I guess, this is where the rubber meets the road." - James Campbell, DMCC Board

The road in this case is 2nd Street SW between 11th Avenue SW and Highway 52. Mr. Campbell, a former Wells Fargo Minnesota CEO, was teeing up his remarks in response to a request from the City of Rochester on behalf of Brutger Equities Property Management and Development.*

The city's request sought the approval for using DMC TIF provisions and securing DMC infrastructure project approval related to the construction of a Holiday Inn on 2nd Street SW across from St. Mary's Hospital or as we now are asked to call it: Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Mary’s Campus. Of course this development project would add another Holiday Inn and Suites on 2nd Street SW a few blocks to the east of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites already operating right off Highway 52.

During public comments a couple of hours earlier, the DMCC board heard two views of the project from Jesse Welsh of Imagine Kutzky and Leslie McGillivray-Rivas of WSB Associates and also representing Brutger Equities Property Management and Development. They offered decidedly different views on the city’s request.

McGillivray-Rivas’ view was that the TIF finance request was “appropriate in its request and scope” as well as her regrets that the DMCC board was troubled with letters from those like Ms Welsh who thought otherwise.

Welsh’s view was that saying “OK” to the request would be tantamount to say “OK”  to poor urban design  and haphazard planning. She did allow that it was a “very nice Holiday Inn,” I took her to mean “as Holiday Inns go this is a nice one”.  Of course, given there is another Holiday Inn so nearby, we can easily begin to test Welsh’s observation. She also observed that: “Allowing developers to bring forward incomplete projects and ask to meet their timelines will not allow for thoughtful planning our city desperately needs now.”

When the DMCC Board took up the issue later in the meeting, it did not get around to affirming or denying McGillivray-Rivas’ view, but with only a single notable exception the board did embrace Welsh’s.

The board’s reservation’s were not just on the substance of the design. Though the differences there were notable. For example, the city took the view that the project had “merit” because it provided amenities such as “higher toilets and grab bars,“ in other words it would be ADA compliant; and “enhanced streetscape design”. On the latter bit of “merit,“ one board member commented that even though the copy said there was “generous landscaping …I think frankly that was a generous comment.”

The board’s reservation were not just based on some city and DMC EDA staff shortfalls given the decision they were being asked to make. Though one  board member said he had heard more about this request reading the local paper and another member said this was the first she was hearing of it.

No, I think the problem the DMCC board had with the request - again with a single, notable exception - is found in two fundamental differences.

First, the city and the DMCC seem to differ on what each regards as good governance and responsible use of the public dollar. Welsh’s comment above bears repeating for what she cautions against as an obstacle to thoughtful planning describes very well how the city proceeded in this - and, well, many other cases: allowing developers to bring forward incomplete projects and ask to meet their timelines.

The city made no bones about doing just that in making this request. The DMCC board was having none of it.

Second, and even more fundamental, the city and the DMCC don't seem to see the same "vision" when they look at what the "vision" in the urban swatches of the DMC plan. Here a visual aid might help:

The image on the left depicts the DMC vision for "St. Mary's Place" along 2nd Street SW. At the meeting this district was described by DMC EDA staff as a "a warm, welcoming gateway into the downtown".

The image on the right depicts the city council president's recent statement (see video 02:20) regarding his reaction to the DMC plan saying, "Some of the renderings I sometimes jokingly refer to as 'George Jetson' renderings...."**

No wonder where the city sees "generous landscaping" board members see something less than that. It cannot be reassuring to have one's very expensive plan reduced to a cartoon.

Mr Campbell is correct in saying this is where the rubber meets the road. Given the condition of some Rochester streets in other recently developed parts of our city that does not bode well for a smooth ride.

The wheels of government being out of alignment won't help much either.

Finally, if I may: The concern I would raise regarding this project is that approval would condemn us and our descendants to endless decades of having this conversation:

“Meet me at the Holiday Inn on 2nd.” “Which one?”



*  The video of the 12.17.16 DMCC board meeting is available here. The public comments referenced above begin at 07:15. The DMC TIF request discussion begins at around the two hour mark: 02.00.00. (by the way, it's interesting to watch this with the sound off especially at about 02.07.25. 

** For readers needing a George Jetson reference see.

If you are interested in learning more about this issue and sharing your views, you might attend this public forum that will provide a history of the corridor, some lessons on the challenges of urban design, the opportunity for input on critical elements, and a chance to interact with local leaders:

Midtown Conversations: The Future of 2nd Street SW
Thursday, January 21 at 7 PM
Forager Brewing Company 1005 6th St NW, Rochester, Minnesota 55901

No comments:

Post a Comment