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Construction begins on medical innovation hub in Rochester

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Officials break ground for Discovery Square in Rochester.
From left to right, Mortenson Co. development executive Jeremy Jacobs, Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic; Lisa Clark, executive director of the DMC EDA; Rochester City Council president Randy Staver, and others participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for Discovery Square.
Ken Klotzbach | The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP

Construction has officially begun on the first phase of a major Rochester development. 

Discovery Square is a cornerstone of the Destination Medical Center economic development project, a 20-year plan to transform Rochester and the surrounding economy.  

The cluster of buildings, which will eventually take up 2 million square feet of property downtown, is meant to be a hub of medical innovation that brings together Mayo staff with health care pioneers, entrepreneurs and investors. 

Minnesota Lt. Gov Tina Smith said Discovery Square fits with the state's history of innovation.

"With this groundbreaking we are continuing this legacy of invention in phase one of Discovery Square," she said. "And we take a big step forward with the Destination Medical Center project, which is the largest public-private partnership in Minnesota's history."

Rendering of Discovery Square in Rochester.
Rendering of the entrance to the new Discovery Square in Rochester. Groundbreaking was Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.
Courtesy Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic will occupy most of the first building going up downtown as part of a 2 million square foot cluster of facilities. Roughly 35 percent of the building is still available to additional tenants.

In a presentation earlier in the day, DMC executive director Lisa Clarke said that she and her staff have already had conversations with 39 potential Discovery Square tenants.  

While the first building is being constructed on an old Mayo Clinic parking lot, a separate condo development in the Discovery Square footprint is displacing low-income residents who live in an affordable housing apartment building.

"Most of the people who got eviction notices have left," said Candace Rasmussen, a retired public defender who now volunteers to help locals find affordable housing. "Others got eviction notices and are homeless now."

Rasmussen said she expects to see more situations like this one arise as development downtown continues. She'd like to see the DMC exercise its authority to use its own money to help displaced residents with relocation costs.

With Rochester's affordable housing stock so limited, Smith, who also chairs the DMC board, said tackling the city's affordable housing problem in 2018 should be a priority.