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'Bring us your ideas': Rochester puts call out for riverfront proposals

'Bring us your ideas': Rochester puts call out for riverfront proposals

The City of Rochester is keeping its options open as it moves ahead with a process to redevelop a key portion of the downtown riverfront.

The 2.5 acre site is located along the west bank of the Zumbro River, where Bloom International Realty had proposed a $200 million mixed-used development. That project fell apart earlier this year, and ever since the city has projected optimism about other potential uses for the property.

This week, the city council received an update on how it go could go about attracting a transformative riverfront project 2.0. The initiative, dubbed “Riverfront Re-imagined,” calls for putting out a statement of interest (SOI) with some of the goals the city hopes to achieve from a new project.

Among the criteria it lists: any proposal should emphasize environmental and economic sustainability, along with social equity. The project should also include vibrant public spaces and natural integration.

Related: Rethinking Rochester's riverfront

What the city is not doing, however, is putting out a request for any specific project type. That is intentional, according to City Administrator Steve Rymer. He told the council Monday that the city needs to keep an open mind when soliciting ideas from potential development partners.

“We are trying to cast it out to the development community that we want to look at this in a different way; we want this to be a transformative project, and ‘bring us your ideas,’” said Rymer.

Among the concepts the city is considering is what’s called a P3, or public-private partnership. The upside to P3, according to Russ Trice, a partner with the firm Norton Rose Fullbright, is it encourages the investment of private capital, thus taking some of the risk away from the city.

Norton Rose Fullbright, an international firm with offices in more than 50 cities, is consulting Rochester on the Riverfront Re-imagined initiative.

“P3 structure, contrasted to a normal development structure, allows the city to be a bit agnostic during the early stages of the process and to really solicit ideas, sometimes for difficult project sites,” Trice told the council.

This screenshot from the council agenda packet shows the city-owned parcels being considered for redevelopment. Mayor Norton also suggested looking at other city-owned land along the river, such as the current farmers market site, as part of a “cohesive” strategy.

This screenshot from the council agenda packet shows the city-owned parcels being considered for redevelopment. Mayor Norton also suggested looking at other city-owned land along the river, such as the current farmers market site, as part of a “cohesive” strategy.

What type of ideas will come forward remains to be seen. The city plans to accept submissions between now and January 30, 2020.

Trice said, given the proximity to a number of nearby attractions and amenities, he expects the city’s SOI will garner a strong response.

“You’re bound to get a lot of interest, not just from local contractors, but regional people and maybe others who see where this city is going,” he said.

While there is no firm decision on whether to pursue a public-private partnership — that will likely depend on how the market responds — the city has already been in contact with a trio of local partners that are in need of new space downtown. Those are the YMCA, the Rochester Public Library, and the University of Minnesota Rochester.

At Monday’s meeting, however, the council formed a consensus that — at least in the early stages — the process will remain open to any organization looking to partner with the city.

That decision followed some debate over whether to include the aforementioned organizations in the city’s SOI. Some policymakers worried about potentially excluding other groups from consideration.

“I would be more comfortable not naming names in a proposal like this to start with, and see what creative ideas come forward,” said Mayor Kim Norton. “[The Library, the Y, and UMR] are certainly there and if they want to be part of it, they can be bring forward their ideas. But I am afraid we are limiting ourselves by putting those names out there early.”

Ultimately, the city decided to include the three organizations in the document, but with a clear note that other community organizations are welcome to come forward and present their ideas.

“It’s good to give potential respondents examples, as long as they realize those are not the only choices,” said Council President Randy Staver.

Sean Baker is a Rochester journalist and the founder of Med City Beat.

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