DMC is a 'once in a lifetime opportunity,' says new city administrator
Steve Rymer is just the fourth city administrator in Rochester history. He took over the job last fall following the retirement of Stevan Kvenvold, and is now tasked with leading city government through a period of significant transition — both in the community and within his own office. He recently took the time to answer a few of our questions and provide perspective on a number of critical topics, from transportation to the comprehensive plan.
Q: This is our first interview with you since you took over as city administrator in October. How are you settling in so far?
A: The first six months as city administrator have been great. The Rochester City Council, community, businesses and my new teammates have all been very welcoming. I couldn’t have asked for a better start and look forward to working with everyone as we collectively strive to make Rochester an even greater place to live, work and play.
Q: Your predecessor, Stevan Kvenvold, held down the position for nearly four decades. Talk about what that transition has been like for you.
A: As I have mentioned before, I am not trying to fill the shoes of Mr. Kvenvold. His leadership for the past 40 years has truly resulted in Rochester being one of our country’s premier communities. My goal is to build upon all of his success by collaborating with my teammates and the community to ensure we sustain all that is working and find opportunities to improve. The foundation established by Mr. Kvenvold is remarkable and I will personally invest the necessary time and energy to do my part in making Rochester even better.
Q: A number of top city positions, from city attorney to police chief, are opening up for the first time in years. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge out the door. What kind of challenge does that present for the city?
A: 2017 and 2018 is truly a time of change, transition and uncertainty. The dedication and tenure throughout our organization is remarkable. From Gary Neumann and Police Chief Roger Peterson to Terry Adkins, Richard Freese and Fire Chief Greg Martin, among many others, we have and will continue to experience significant changes in teammates. This absolutely means that we are losing a great deal of talent and institutional knowledge that cannot be easily replaced. Their influence on our organization and community will be felt for years to come. At the same, this is an opportunity to build a new team, with new ideas, different perspectives and new approaches. We have been investing a significant amount of time on the hiring process as we work to attract leaders with innovative approaches to delivering public services, working with the entire community and leading our teammates in a manner that helps all of them (and us as an organization) realize our full potential. I am excited that our team will continue to evolve for the betterment of the community.
A: One new position being added this year is the Communications and Engagement Manager. How do you see this position being used? How can the city work together with other groups — DMC, RDA, RCVB, Mayo Clinic, etc. — to develop a cohesive communication strategy for Rochester?
A: Communication and engagement should be a cornerstone for all that we do as an organization. We are in the very early stages of a cultural shift in how, why, when and with whom we communicate. Our long-term success and effectiveness as a public organization will absolutely require our entire team to embrace this philosophy and foster a genuine appreciation for engaging our entire community in policy, project and program decisions. A significant part of this will be partnering with the many organizations who contribute to the fabric of Rochester. We want to collaborate and work cooperatively with each of the groups referenced as well as many others.
Q: Part of the city’s job is help manage the implementation of DMC. Specifically, what you do you view as your role in DMC?
A: The city’s role is to work alongside the DMC board, EDA, development partners and community to ensure the vision is realized. DMC is such an exciting, once in a lifetime opportunity and we need to collectively work together so the plans and investments made today pay dividends for years to come. This will require that we think creatively, embrace new ideas, keep the entire community informed and celebrate success, for which there are many. None of this will occur if we operate in our own silos and the city is committed to work in collaboration with our partners. I would also like to mention that DMC is working. In the first five years, total investment has been approximately $489 million, of which 88 percent is private investment (with Mayo Clinic investing the majority of funds) and 12 percent is public.
Q: The DMC plan focuses hundreds of millions of dollars on a defined downtown zone. What can the city do to develop zones outside the DMC District?
A: This is a great question and one that has been asked frequently. A starting point is the comprehensive plan, Planning 2 Succeed 2040 (P2S 2040). At the core of the P2S 2040 process was testing alternative visions for how Rochester could develop in the future. This included an analysis of 1) the continuation of existing growth and development patterns and policies, and 2) alternative approaches with concentrated development and more limited edge growth. Through the analysis and continuous input, it was determined that P2S 2040 should balance edge growth with infill and redevelopment, especially along transit corridors and nodes to ensure the entire Rochester community is positioned to most effectively advance its transportation, housing, infrastructure, environment, and fiscal sustainability priorities. The DMC is just one part of P2S 2040’s community wide focus.
Q: If we could, let’s talk about transportation. It’s listed as one of the top three priorities for DMC’s first five years. We’re nearly three years in. What progress have we made? What are the next steps to improving our transit/parking/pedestrian infrastructure downtown?
A: As we have recently shared with the DMC and city council, an integrated system is necessary to ensure we have an effective and efficient transit system. This includes investment in our infrastructure and as importantly, in policies, programs and incentives. We have recently made great progress with our planning efforts and plan to ask the DMC board and city council to formally consider adopting our integrated transit studies in June. Simultaneously, we are having many conversations on implementation, funding and ongoing operations. As I mentioned in a previous answer, we will need to be creative, innovative and realistic in how we design and integrate our future investments for the benefit of everyone who lives, works or visits our great community. The one thing we understand that doing things the same way we have in the past will not result in optimizing our comprehensive transit system.