Bill Von Bank is going to be seeing a lot of giant pairs of scissors this year. The director of marketing and communications for Rochester’s Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency has nine ribbon cuttings for new area developments on his calendar and more are on the way. “There’s a lot going on,” he says.
You can say that again—and again and again. Von Bank is on the team that’s leading Rochester’s $5.6 billion economic development initiative, called Destination Medical Center (DMC)—a 20-year plan that kicked off with work on a number of fronts, including Discovery Square (a 16-block subdistrict built in collaboration with Mayo Clinic in a highly connected urban life science hub) and Heart of the City (a subdistrict that’s focused on becoming a vibrant, community-centric destination).
Five years in and results are starting to rise—literally—all over town as those giant scissors are snipping ribbons, indicating the openings of hotels, restaurants, meeting spaces and more.
With the global headquarters of the Mayo Clinic right in downtown, Rochester has long been an attraction for international medical travelers. The city, which is a quick 90-minute shuttle ride from Minneapolis, has its own high-powered air connections, with an international airport that flies directly to Atlanta, Minneapolis and Chicago (and sees plenty of private jet traffic, too). “We are so easy to get to,” says Mary Gastner, interim executive director and director of marketing and communications of Experience Rochester MN.
Once you get there, you’re in for a surprise because these days, Rochester’s only constant is change. “Even if you were here a year ago, it’s a place with plenty for you to rediscover,” Gastner says.
The DMC is the largest public-private economic initiative in Minnesota and the catalyst for growth in Rochester. “It’s going to position us as a global center for health, wellness and medical innovation,” Von Bank says. And while it will be providing many new amenities to the health care providers and patients who gather at Mayo Clinic, the plan includes a multitude of projects that strengthen the city’s reputation as an excellent midsized convention gathering. Beginning with the opening of several projects this summer, the city is poised to offer meeting and conference attendees a robust variety of places to dine, exercise, shop and be entertained.
After a major expansion in 2017, the Mayo Civic Center, the largest event facility in southern Minnesota, now has 200,000 available square feet of multiuse space for conventions and events. It’s accessible to downtown hotels, restaurants, parking and shopping through climate-controlled skyways. In addition to the convention center, the floor plan includes versatile venue spaces like the Arena, Auditorium and Dr. Charles H. Mayo Presentation Hall, as well as a 25,200-square-foot Exhibit Hall. “The center has state-of-the-art technology and an exceptional level of professional service,” Gastner says. “Our Mayo Civic Center Ballroom is already the largest in the state, with capacity up to 4,000 guests,” she adds. “Our ideal group is averaging about 1,200 attendees and 500 room nights.”
“Just within the 1 square mile of the DMC, there are already 600 new hotel rooms in development in the DMC district,” Von Bank says. The 605-room Kahler Grand is currently undergoing a $30 million renovation. The property’s marketing manager, Matt Elliott, says: “We offer great flexibility for gathering spaces with everything from small board meeting rooms to our large ballroom, Heritage Hall, which accommodates 400 or more.” There’s also the Elizabethan Room, which was the original ballroom when the property was built in 1921. “It’s warm, classic and historic— just a great space.”
Another renovation on the way is the transformation of the 173-room downtown Holiday Inn into a Hotel Indigo, a boutique hotel concept owned by InterContinental Hotels Group. New properties include the 264-room Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area, which offers some serious luxury in the heart of downtown Rochester. “Three floors of guest rooms offer premium services, including an executive lounge with daily breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails,” says Marketing Manager Michelle Milde. Just seven VIP luxury suites occupy the entire 19th floor, which has its own concierge lounge. “It’s for distinguished travelers requesting additional privacy, security and luxury,” Milde says. Meeting capacity includes two large ballrooms, an outdoor reception terrace and three configurable breakout rooms; read more on page 43.
Ready to Eat?
Hungry meeting attendees will have more options than ever, thanks to a booming restaurant scene. “We learned through our market demand studies that now that we’ve created the density in the DMC, it’s time to pivot and look at retail, dining and entertainment options,” Von Bank says. “We already have a cool dining scene, with independent places like Bleu Duck Kitchen [seasonal New American dishes served in an upscale-casual space with a full bar and an industrial vibe], Porch & Cellar [above, a family-style setting with ‘proper fried chicken;’ below, a funky cocktails-and-apps gathering spot] and Hot Chip Burger Bar [an upscale burger bar that promises ‘the comfort of your favorite hometown hang’].
“Our focus this year is to add to the great dining scene we already have,” he continues. “And we’ve attracted our first Parasole concept, a Pittsburgh Blue in the new [Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area].” Pittsburgh Blue, which has two locations in the Twin Cities, describes itself as “a classy chophouse featuring hand-cut steaks and seafood.”
Fine dining options abound in Rochester, including the pretty-big-deal arrival of the new chef in town—2017 James Beard Award Winner Best Chef: Midwest, Paul Berglund. A former head chef of The Bachelor Farmer, Berglund joined Fiddlehead Coffee Co. as culinary and sustainability director, helping lead its planned transformation from coffee shop into world-class coffee and culinary destination.
Cameo at the Castle
The Castle Community is the new name for the renovated Rochester Armory, a brick Romanesque Revival building with a castlelike parapet. In addition to fun features like collaborative artists’ spaces, Queen City coffee shop, used book and record stores and multiuse meeting space on the second floor, it’s also home to a new upscale restaurant, Cameo at the Castle, which describes itself as “influenced by cultures from around the world, while still having the Midwest flair we have all come to love.”
“Our restaurant is quickly cementing itself as a destination because we have the ability to give our guests such a wide range of experiences,” says Zach Ohly, owner and operator. “The ambience in our dining room is the best in town, with industrial chic décor and plenty of views of our open kitchen.”
The space works well for private events. “The lounge is perfect for a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres or an informal gathering of up to 35 people, while our private dining room can accommodate dinner and presentations for 28 guests in a beautiful space complete with A/V, its own sound system, private entrances and more.” Compete buyouts of the venue also are available.
Ohly says his staff’s philosophy is, “Yes is the answer. What is the question?” and he notes that “complete guest satisfaction is what we strive for, and we will customize menus, offerings, style of service and décor to fit the needs of the guest.”
A beloved landmark will have a new lease on life this summer, when the Chateau Theatre, which has formerly been a vaudeville house, movie house and bookstore, will again be open for events. “It was originally built in 1927 and it’s really a gorgeous space,” Von Bank says. The downtown landmark, which can accommodate up to 390 people, features castle-like décor and an interior decorated as a medieval village, with built-in balconies, towers and a night-sky ceiling. It’s been called “Minnesota’s ‘last and best example of atmospheric theater’” by The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
The DMC has invested in significant upgrades to the historic property and intends to rent the venue for concerts, lectures, dinners, luncheons and other activities. It is currently reviewing several proposals from management companies on the best ways to utilize the space.
Out and About The city, which sits in the valley of the Zumbro River, is surrounded by 3,500 acres of parkland. Natural beauty—and new adventures—are easily accessible. “Not only is Rochester a great place on its own, but it’s also a hub for exploring the rest of southeastern Minnesota,” Von Bank says. “With us as the hub, participants can ‘spoke’ out to Red Wing, Lanesboro and other nearby towns. This is a beautiful part of the state, which is sometimes unappreciated, but a stay in Rochester is a perfect launching pad for further exploration.”
Rochester has always been known for making it simple for visitors to get around. “Just about every hotel and restaurant has a shuttle, so always ask about it if you don’t know in advance,” says Gastner. She also mentions plans for a “transport circulator,” a transit bus that will connect the downtown core to Mayo’s Saint Marys campus. “It will be very easy to jump on the circulator to get from one side of town to the other,” she says.
The city, which has long been known for its walkability, has both a skyway system and an underground pedestrian subway, both of which feature retail shopping, coffee shops and more.
As easy as it is to get around by shuttle or foot, there now are plans to make it just as easy to traverse town by bicycle. “We have a 100-mile bike system all around the city, but right now it doesn’t come into downtown,” Von Bank says. “As part of the DMC’s overall transportation plan, we’re working now to extend that system.” Work on bike lanes is already underway, and Von Bank says that a “world-class urban trail” will soon become part of Rochester visitors’ experiences. A seasonal bike-sharing system is already in place.
As the Mayo Clinic and the city have grown up side by side, generations of Rochester residents have grown accustomed to playing host to people from all over the world—often people who are experiencing some challenging times in their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. People here understand how much a little something extra—a smile, helping hand or easy-to-find information—can make a difference in a person’s day. And that’s what they deliver, time after time.
“Our surveys tell us that our levels of hospitality are second to none,” Gastner says. “We are known worldwide for our exceptional levels of care. We hear over and over again, ‘I feel like I’m being taken care of wherever I go here.’”