Rochester, Minn. Shows NLC’s Community and Economic Development Committee a New Vision for the City

September 30, 2013

By Mike Wallace

Rochester, Minn., home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, is eager to talk about Destination Medical Center, an initiative that includes billions in Mayo-financed and other private capital investments to ensure the city remains competitive in attracting patients and medical talent.

But it was People’s Food Coop, a recently opened urban grocery store that captured the interest of local officials at NLC’s Community and Economic Development Steering Committee (CED) meeting last week.  

“Before the food coop, downtown Rochester was an urban food desert,” Rochester Councilmember Michael Wojcik told the Committee, “and developers didn’t see great potential in the neighborhood.”  

But now, according to staff from the city’s development office, interest in the neighborhood is exploding, which is what Council Member Wojcik and his colleagues on council were aiming for.  

The grocery store occupies the first floor of a new four story mixed-use building adjacent to several underutilized parking lots. Affordable and market rate housing are on the upper floors.  

The grocery is at the end of a long stretch of transportation-oriented redevelopment that envisions the transformation of a neglected commuter corridor connecting the Mayo Clinic downtown to the surrounding suburbs into livable communities.

Rochester, like many mid-sized cities, had previously prioritized the commuter experience for workers flowing into and out of the city.  This new approach favors the “complete streets” model of development, evidenced by four lane streets narrowed down to two in order to widen sidewalks and patios, new multi-purpose travel lanes for walkers and bikers and a growing number of mixed-use developments merging residential and commercial space and reviving historic neighborhoods that, until recently, were not considered appealing for many downtown workers.    
    
According to council members, the shift has not come without detractors. But as Committee Members learned on their tours of the city, results are trumping political risk, and enthusiasm about downtown revitalization among residents and small business is evident.

Committee Resolutions

Following presentations and discussions on economic development, affordable housing supported by community land trusts, and a new model for community college campuses, the committee furthered work on two resolutions under consideration for NLC’s Congress of Cities Conference in Seattle, Washington. 

The first resolution, being considered jointly between CED and the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, is titled “Promoting Local Job Creation and Economic Diversification by Supporting and Incenting Film, Television and Digital Media Production.”

The Committee approved several amendments to the resolution offered during an earlier CED Meeting in Washington, D.C. Subsequently, the policy committee of NBC-LEO also reviewed and approved those amendments. 

The second resolution, “Supporting Ports Maintenance and Modernization for Economic Development in Cities in Towns,”  was also amended and approved for consideration at the Congress of Cities Conference. 

Any NLC member is welcome to view the resolutions and amendments at the next CED Policy and Advocacy Committee meeting on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at the Congress of Cities Conference in Seattle, Washington from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.