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Knowledge of Mayo Clinic's request for state funding kept to small group throughout planning

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Mayo Clinic expansion
This undated photo, shows the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic, Minnesota's largest private employer, pressed state lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 to commit more than $500 million toward an ambitious development project tied to the renowned medical center in Rochester, Minn.
AP Photo/Rochester Post-Bulletin, Elizabeth Nida Obert

Two bills that would help the Mayo Clinic develop its planned $5 billion expansions are making their way through the Minnesota Legislature this session.

But as the process has unfolded, some lawmakers and Rochester residents have complained they were caught by surprise when clinic officials announced the project known as Destination Medical Center in January.

Officials with the hospital and clinic system kept details of the expansion plan to a small circle after it came to life in 2007 at a power lunch in Washington D.C. That first meeting was between Glenn Forbes, then-CEO of Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus; Bruce Fairchild, then-general manager of the city's historic Kahler Hotel; and John Wade, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

At the time, Mayo Clinic leaders were discussing how the campus should continue to grow. Rochester business leaders were trying to figure out how to create a better experience for visitors and patients by improving the city's hospitality industry, Wade said.

"I think the first time I heard about it was probably the first time the majority of people in the community heard about it -- when it was going to be voted on as part of the half-cent sales tax extension."

"We talked about the experiences that patients have here, and we talked about hope and we talked about health and we talked about hospitality," Wade said. "And ultimately, many of those same themes would be included broadly in the Destination Medical Center initiative."

Two years after that lunch, Mayo Clinic created a working group of about 30 community leaders to help create a framework for its destination medical community proposal.

Mayo Clinic's planning meetings were open to certain organizations and community leaders but not to the general public.

That has some people in Rochester complaining that it took Mayo Clinic leaders too long to engage all of the city's residents in the conversation about the project. Among them is Olmsted County District Court Judge Kevin Lund.

"I think the first time I heard about it was probably the first time the majority of people in the community heard about it -- when it was going to be voted on as part of the half-cent sales tax extension," Lund said.

Last year, Rochester voters approved an extension of the local sales tax that included a $20 million city contribution to pay for improvements that would support Mayo Clinic's growth. But at the time, voters didn't know the contribution would be part of the much larger investment plan that was rolled out at the state Capitol in January.

Lisa Clarke, administrator for the Destination Medical Center, said Mayo Clinic officials did seek input from the public.

Besides members of the health care community, the Mayo Clinic working group of community leaders included chamber members, representatives of the hospitality industry and non-profit organizations. The list also included Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede and Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann, Rochester Post-Bulletin Publisher Randy Chapman, KTTC-TV General Sales Manager Liz Dahlen and downtown business owners.

"We had focus groups, we had opportunities for the community to weigh in, we've had brownbag sessions," Clarke said. "This is before and after we publicly announced it... So if there was any question about whether or not the community is involved, we've from the start the goal was to involve the community."

By the time voters were asked to approve the sales tax extension, Lund said, it was too late.

Skyline of downtown Rochester, Minn.
The skyline of downtown Rochester, Minn., is seen Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The Mayo Clinic, Minnesota's largest private employer, pressed state lawmakers last month to commit more than $500 million toward an ambitious development project tied to the renowned medical center in Rochester. Mayo says the expansion will add between 35,000 to 40,000 jobs over the next two decades.
Alex Kolyer for MPR News

"I think the troubling aspect for me and for many in the community was, why wasn't the community told about this larger initiative that was obviously part of this $20 million?" Lund said. "Why weren't we told that from the beginning?"

Others like Interim Council President Randy Staver, who support the expansion plan, concede they didn't know details about Mayo Clinic's request to the state until just before it was introduced.

"We were introduced to the legislation literally a few days ahead of its introduction, and so we had some opportunity to at least preview it, and just be prepared that it's coming and that was it," Staver said.

Clarke, the Mayo Clinic administrator for the project, said the financing plan for the proposed expansion only started to take shape about a year ago when the hospital system's officials began talking to state legislators about the plan.

Wade, the chamber president, downplays the concerns from some residents who say details about the project's financing should have been made public sooner. 

"I think it's important to always recall this was a private-sector led, private-sector driven initiative," he said. "It is not a private enterprise's primarily responsibility to share everything they do from a business perspective."

Wade said the right people knew at the right time to present the project in its best light. Since announcing the request at the Capitol in January, he said, Mayo Clinic officials have tried to inform as many people as possible at town hall meetings and forums throughout the region.

Destination Medical Community Session 1 --  Workgroup Meeting 1 --  April 26, 2010

Workgroup Participants
Jeff Korsmo--DMC Chair; executive director, Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center
Glenn Forbes--M.D.; DMC vice chair, Mayo Clinic
John Wade--DMC vice chair; president, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce
Jessica Aguilar--Mayo Clinic
Susan Ahlquist--community relations administrator, Mayo Clinic
Ron Amodeo--director of business development, Mayo Clinic Health Solutions
Jeff Bell--section dead of illustration and design, Mayo Clinic
Audrey Betcher--Rochester Public Library
John Black--M.D.; chair, Mayo Clinic Facilities Committee
Ardell Brede--mayor, City of Rochester
Michael Brennan--M.D.; Center for Innovation
Melissa Brinkman--chair-elect, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce
Randy Chapman--administrator, Post-Bulletin Company, LLC
Lisa Clarke--division chair, Institutional Communications, State Government Affairs and Community Relations, Mayo Clinic
Liz Dahlen--KTTC
Don DeCramer--chair, Division of Architectural/Engineering Design Services, Mayo Clinic
Norm Doty--Express Employment Personnel Services
Jon Eckhoff--executive director, Rochester Downtown Alliance
Bruce Fairchild--Hospitality 1st!; Regional Director of Operations, Sunstone Properties (then -- owner of Kahler hotel)
Julie Hansen--division chair, Mayo Clinic Finance
Mark Hayward--vice chair, Department of Facilities & Systems Support, Mayo Clinic
Brad Jones--executive Director, Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tessa Leung--owner, Sontes Restaurant
John Murphy--communications consultant, Mayo Clinic
Gary Neumann--assistant city administrator, City of Rochester
Maureen O'Brien--marketing consultant, Mayo Clinic
Lorna Ross--Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation
John Schaffner--M.D.; Gastroenterology and Hematology
Gary Smith--president, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.
Chris Tatting--planning services, Mayo Clinic

Guest Participants
Bob Dunn--Hammes Company
Amy Supple - Hammes Company
Sarah Carpenter--Hammes Company

(Source: Destination Medical Community, Session 1, Workgroup Meeting 1, discussion summary handout)