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Looking back: Rochester's 20 biggest stories of 2015

Looking back: Rochester's 20 biggest stories of 2015

1. DMC enters implementation phase

Two years after the DMC bill passed the state legislature, both oversight bodies — Rochester City Council and DMC Corporation Board — gave the OK to the first phase of a comprehensive development plan.

Our special report on DMC provides an overview of the plan's objectives.

DMC: A plan to make Rochester the world's premier medical dest...

What does DMC mean for Rochester?We spent the last few months working with a group of University of Minnesota Rochester students to find out.Here's our five-part special report:

Posted by The Med City Beat on Friday, December 18, 2015

2. Private investor emerges for rail project

The emergence of a potential private investor means the proposed high-speed rail connecting Rochester to the Twin Cities could be completed quicker than expected — without using any taxpayer money. Meantime, state funding to study the proposal known as "Zip Rail" will run dry once the first stage of an environmental review wraps up this winter. 

3. Rochester ranked No. 1

Rochester topped Livability's 2016 rankings of the 100 best places to live in the U.S. The report was released in September, giving a giant boost to the people responsible for marketing Rochester to the rest of the world. 

Here's a look at some of the other notable accolades from this year:

4. Mayo launches proton beam therapy

Mayo Clinic began welcoming patients to its new proton beam cancer therapy center in downtown Rochester. The $188 million facility expands the clinic's cancer treatment capabilities, especially for children and young adults.

The building is named after Richard O. Jacobson, in recognition of his $100 million gift to the program. A similar facility is expected to open next spring on Mayo's campus is Arizona.

5. City purchases Chateau Theatre

With its future in limbo, city leaders decided to step in and purchase one of Rochester's most iconic buildings, the Chateau Theatre. The $6 million deal, which included a $500K gift from Mayo Clinic, means the 88-year-old building will be "part of the community forever."

The building remains vacant while a community task force, led by Mayor Ardell Brede, discusses possible options for the building's future use.


6. RCTC president resigns amid criticism

Leslie McClellon, the first African-American president of Rochester Community and Technical College, announced her resignation following a year of intense criticism over her handling of the position.

From questionable expenditures to controversial firings and program closings, McClellon eventually lost the support of her staff and student leadership. She will begin a new position with the state college system early next year.

7. School referendum passes — barely

With 50.58 percent support, local voters narrowly voted in favor of a school referendum that will allow Rochester Public Schools to maintain current spending levels. If voters had rejected the referendum, the district would have been forced to make across-the-board cuts to staff and programming.


8. Craft beer scene emerges

To much fanfare, three new microbreweries opened this year in Rochester: Forager, Grand Rounds and Life's Too Short (LTS). Rochester previously only had one establishment, Kinney Creek Brewery, serving up its own brews.  

Pressure by some of the brewery owners (and the public) persuaded the city council to change its outdated ordinance, allowing beer and liquor to be sold until 10 p.m. citywide Monday through Saturday.

9. Reporter spots robber during live shot

Adam Sallet, reporter for KIMT, became a nationwide sensation — albeit for just a few days — after a robber came back to the same bank two days in a row. Sallet was delivering a live report of the previous day's robbery when the suspect walked behind him.

"This is live TV, folks," he said. "I got to go here and call 911." The clip was featured on BBC World News, Jimmy Kimmel Live and just about every local and national news broadcast for 48 hours straight.

Suspect near robbery scene in Rochester during MidDay

Suspected Sterling State Bank robber runs by KIMT News 3 reporter Adam Sallet on live TV. Here's the initial video.

Posted by KIMT News 3 on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

10. Police department increases transparency

In a year marked by nationwide protests over relations between law enforcement and African-Americans, the Rochester Police Department sought to increase accountability. The city created a police oversight commission and purchased body cameras for officers.

11. Construction begins on civic center expansion

Work began on the renovation and expansion of the Mayo Civic Center. The $85 million project, which has been in the works for about eight years, will include a new 40,000 square-foot ballroom, 18 new meeting rooms and technology upgrades throughout the building. 

Exterior work is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, while renovations to the interior are expected to continue through the summer of 2017.


12. Man fatally shot in broad daylight 

Courtney Ocegueda, 19, was charged with murder for fatally shooting a 22-year-old man at a mobile home park in southeast Rochester. The shooting, which injured two others, happened in the middle of the afternoon and forced a nearby elementary school to temporarily go into lockdown.

Investigators said the shooting was retaliation for a robbery earlier in the day. Two of the surviving shooting victims were later arrested and charged with 1st-degree robbery. "Today's suspects are tomorrow's victims," one cop said.

13. Dalai Lama meets with local Tibetans

The spiritual leader of Tibet spent more than a week In Rochester while getting a routine checkup at Mayo Clinic. During his stay, he met with leaders from Minnesota's Tibetan community at the Mayo Civic Center.


14. Food truck ban sparks backlash

The city's crackdown on a pizza truck sparked a community conversation about the role of food vendors downtown. Critics argued the city's ordinance, which essentially bans food trucks from the central business district, is too restrictive and needs updating.

The frustration led to a food truck summit, in which the public was invited to give input on the ordinance (the city later launched an online survey). The council will likely take up the issue in 2016.

15. Investors announce proposal for new arena

A group of consultants and investors, commissioned by the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, unveiled a proposal to demolish the Mayo Civic Center's Taylor Arena and replace it with a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment arena. The proposal, which would require both public and private funds, was met with mixed reaction

Rendering courtesy RCVB

16. Authorities make major meth busts

There were multiple high-profile meth busts in 2015, including one in May that led to the seizure of 17.6 pounds and another in November that prevented three pounds from entering Rochester via a FedEx package.

But the most notable bust came in September when investigators broke up a drug ring connecting Mexico to southeast Minnesota. Authorities seized 19 pounds of meth and made five arrests.

17. Rochesterfest moves to Soldiers Field

The city spent more than $100,000 upgrading Soldiers Field Park to make it the new permanent home of Rochesterfest. It had previously been held in front of the Mayo Civic Center, but construction forced it to be moved. The change of venue was met with good weather and mostly positive feedback.

18. Gamehaven gets green light

The city council approved the master plan for Gamehaven Regional Park, giving the go ahead to a project that has been years in the making. The park is being billed as a four-season facility, but supporters anticipate that its wintertime amenities will set it apart from the city’s other parks and draw users from throughout southeast Minnesota. 

19. Coffee shop reopens under new ownership

A small group of entrepreneurs teamed up to purchase a popular downtown coffee shop after its owner was arrested for criminal sexual conduct. The new owners renovated the interior, purchased new equipment and renamed the shop Café Steam. The business was voted Rochester's best coffee shop in our first-annual "Best Places in Rochester" competition.

20. Red ball makes a splash

Artist Kurt Perschke brought his RedBall project to Rochester for a full week this summer, setting up the exhibit at sites all over the downtown. For something so simple, it sure created quite the buzz — as large crowds of people, smartphones and cameras in hand, followed the ball wherever it went. 

It reportedly cost the RDA more than $26,000 to bring the project to Rochester.

Photo: RedBall Project in Rochester / The Med City Beat

About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.

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(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)

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