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Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

Est. 2014

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Downtown alley getting a facelift

Downtown alley getting a facelift

Benches, greenery and artwork could soon replace bare walls and garbage bins in the alleyway connecting Third and Fourth Streets Southwest.

The Rochester Downtown Alliance is working with adjacent property owners on a plan to re-purpose the alley, which is located near a busy stretch of restaurants, bars and other small businesses. Initial improvements will likely include lighting features, murals and hanging art installations.

Karli McElroy, senior director of placemaking for the RDA, said the goal is to improve not only the aesthetics — but also the safety of the space. 

“In researching alleys, we’ve found that public spaces that are programmed and activated increase feelings of safety and often result in fewer instances of undesirable or criminal activity,” said McElroy.

Third Street Alley facing north / Med City Beat

Third Street Alley facing north / Med City Beat

Hal Henderson, a principal with HGA design firm, has been helping lead the effort to enhance the alley. Henderson owns a stretch of nearby properties extending from Canvas and Chardonnay to Big Brads. He also co-owns the 318 Commons building, which houses college students. 

Henderson said his top priority is improving the security of the space, especially during the late-night hours. People are more likely, he added, to respect an area that is clean and well-maintained.

“It’s human nature,” he said. “People respond to the quality of the space.”

Henderson has been working with his design team at HGA for the past couple of years to develop a proposal to improve the alley. By beginning to implement some of the changes, he hopes to serve as a model to encourage other nearby property owners to join in.

Already, he said, there have been some signs of progress. For instance, almost all of the businesses that utilize the alley have joined together to consolidate the garbage pick-up. The result is fewer garbage trucks making trips through they alley — creating greater opportunities for activation.

Concept showing how art could be incorporated into the alley

Concept showing how art could be incorporated into the alley

To bring to life future enhancements, the RDA will work with businesses using Facade Improvement Grants. The city program allows property and businesses owners the chance to apply for financial assistance of up to 50 percent of the cost of improvements (limit of $20,000). 

“This project is a perfect fit” for the RDA-led program, said Henderson.

Upgrades to the alley are expected to begin taking shape in early 2019.

Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking with Destination Medical Center, said his agency has been and will continue to be supportive of the initiative. Seeb is simultaneously working with the firm Coen and Partners on plans to enhance the alleys connected to Peace Plaza.

“Improvements made to [the Third Street Alley] will help inform potential changes to other alleyways, from the Castle Community to the Conley-Maass-Downs building,” said Seeb. 

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Cover: Concept of what the Third Street Alley could look like

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