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Rochester considers next steps for riverfront site

Rochester considers next steps for riverfront site

With the Bloom project in the rear view mirror, Rochester officials are now hoping to get community input on what to do next with the riverfront site.

The city council discussed options for the 2.3 acres of city-owned real estate at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting. City Administrator Steve Rymer called it one of the “premier redevelopment sites” in the city.

Up until recently, the future of the site had been in the hands of Bloom International Realty. A $230 million proposal from the developer called for building two towers along the west side of the Zumbro River.

That project stalled when in the 11th hour Bloom informed the city that it was considering scaling back the development. The city, which had spent more than three years working with Bloom, has since decided to move on from the project and reevaluate its options for the riverfront.

“I think the Bloom project was kind of foisted on us by some previous folks who are no longer around, and I don’t think we had the opportunity to consider what our options might be,” Council Member Michael Wojcik said at Monday’s meeting.

Wojcik said that while he does not necessarily want the council dictating how the site should be used, he would like to gather input from the community before determining a use for the property.

“We only have one river going through the core of our downtown, and I’d like to be as open-minded as possible with what goes on at that site,” said Wojcik.

One idea floated by council members is to have a design competition that would allow community members to bring forward recommendations on how the site could be used.

Council Member Nick Campion said the city may never have another chance quite like this again — noting that the potential for redevelopment along the river presents “one of the most significant opportunities” the city has when it comes to the $5.6 billion Destination Medical Center initiative.

“It’s time to inspire our community,” said Campion. “And if our community is inspired, then I think this is a great piece of property to take that inspiration to.”

Additionally, Council Member Patrick Keane looked to history for ideas on what to do next. He suggested using a process similar to the one that resulted in the Metropolitan Market Place project on the corner of 6th Street and First Avenue. That project, which now includes the People’s Food Co-op, came to be after the city asked developers to come forward with bids that addressed the need for a downtown grocery store.

“That would be a model I would like” to see used more, said Keane.

Mayor Kim Norton asked about the possibility of a skating rink — something that had been included in the original DMC development plan. She also questioned whether the current state of the site — which includes parking and a bar — may be a deterrent to redevelopment.

“I think what we have there is kind of an eyesore and I wonder if it makes it harder to envision what’s coming next,” said Norton.

Rymer said the city plans to make investments in the existing parking structure for the next couple of years while a decision on the site’s future is being worked out. The building housing Legend’s bar, on the other hand, continues to deteriorate and Terry Spaeth, the city’s deputy administrator, recommended razing the building by next winter.

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