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Rochester development hits its stride

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The Berkman is a development across from Saint Marys Hospital.
The Berkman is a 13-story, 350-unit development across from Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minn., pictured here on July 14, 2018.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Construction activity in Rochester is at its highest level since the great recession. And the value of the buildings going up is rising as they get bigger and more complex. 

On the busy corner next to Mayo Clinic's Saint Marys Hospital, construction is well underway on a high-profile piece of the Destination Medical Center economic development project. The 13-story, $115 million building is named after Daisy Berkman, wife of legendary Mayo Clinic doctor Henry Plummer. Inside will be 350 condos and 21,000 square-feet of commercial space. 

"The quality of what this will end up being supersedes most if not all of what's been going on here in Rochester," said Dennis Davey, former head of a nearby neighborhood association. 

Dennis Davey, a long-time southwest Rochester neighborhood resident.
Dennis Davey is a long-time southwest Rochester resident and former neighborhood association president.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

The Berkman is one of several massive developments that have broken ground in downtown Rochester since the start of 2017. And there are four more high-profile projects in the pipeline, including a $230 million mixed-use space on the riverfront backed by a developer based in Abu Dhabi.

This is exactly the type of construction the development project aims to attract — shiny, modern buildings that house more people and Mayo Clinic patients, draw new restaurants and retail and make the city of just over 100,000 more than just a place people come to for health care. 

DMC executive director Lisa Clarke said, increasingly, developers see others investing in the city, and they want in on the action.

Cranes dominate the skyline in Rochester.
Cranes dominate the Rochester skyline.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

"Once we walk them through the plan and people see what kind of progress is here — we of course show them the cranes in the air — it's not very hard to get developers interested in Rochester now," Clarke said. "Certainly it's different than it was a few years ago."

"I think the exciting part now is that we are starting to see some of those plans come to fruition," said City Council President Randy Staver. He said for several years after DMC was announced, there was a lot of grumbling from residents that things weren't moving fast enough. A recent survey commissioned by the city shows this changing with more than 80 percent of respondents saying Rochester is moving in the right direction. 

But Staver says the survey shows the biggest concern now is that there's too much growth. 

"Now that we're seeing activity, now that we have a different voice in our community, there's essentially a little concern that we're growing too fast, there's too many things going on — 'I kind of liked it the way it was,'" Staver said. 

Downtown Rochester is experiencing a construction boom.
At left is the Mayo Building while the Plummer Building is on the right in downtown Rochester.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Rochester officials should handle the city's rapid development carefully said Davey, the former neighborhood association leader. Though the DMC blueprint has been in place for a while, the city only recently adopted a development plan for the entire city. Davey worries there are few systems in place to ensure the new growth adheres to a vision for the city.  

"It seems like it's always one-off projects. We hear from the City Council members 'Oh I like this one,' or 'This one looks good,'" he said. "Businesses come and go, but buildings stay."