We had a huge crowd for the P-B Dialogues event last night at the Rochester Public Library. It was hard to know how many people might turn out; I wouldn't have been surprised if it'd been the more typical 75-100 people. Instead, it was standing-room-only, with dozens more in the hallway outside.
As I mentioned at the meeting, we'll do this again in March, in a larger venue -- could be at the Hill Theatre at RCTC -- and hopefully with key legislators, not only from Rochester. It's on my list for today, aiming for a date in late March.
There's another community meeting on DMC at the library on March 20, presented by the Rochester Issues Forum. That one is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Based on my notes from last night, here are eight questions about DMC that we need to explore with news stories -- and that DMC advocates need to respond to effectively:
How quickly would we see a DMC-related building under construction downtown? If DMC makes it through the Legislature and the governor signs the bill in May, would the authority be up and running by fall? Would Mayo get to work on one of its major investments within a year or two, generating tax revenue for DMC spending within five years?
Mayo's Lisa Clarke said she thinks that would happen sooner than five years.
This is a big point that needs a more precise answer from DMC: How quickly would we be "transformed?" When would we see a new building going up on one of those vacant lots south of downtown, when would schools begin to see the impact of thousands of new jobs being filled in the area, etc.
What powers of eminent domain will the development authority have? We need to do a full story on this and how the process would work.
How would conflicts of interest affect the authority's balance of voting power? This topic came up in passing, but if authority members have to recuse themselves from voting -- or if city council members have to recuse themselves from council votes -- it could get interesting.
What did Phil Wheeler know and when did he know it? The Rochester/Olmsted planning director's name was invoked more than once, as to whether he and the planning department were aware of the vast scope of DMC in advance. DMC Administrator Lisa Clarke and Chamber President John Wade indicated that the planning department was aware, if not exactly involved. I'll find out.
How would area towns be affected? Dr. Bradley Narr made the point that, just as all Mayo's current employees don't live in the city, many of the 35,000-40,000 new employees who would be drawn to jobs generated by DMC would live in area towns. Will they be ready?
When did the city council, county board, legislators, the Chamber and other big wigs know the scope of this plan? Talking transparency, this may be the $6 billion question. Clearly, the relatively modest Destination Medical Community concept, which was talked about in vague terms for several years and reaped $20 million in local-option sales tax money in November, morphed into a $6 billion colossus at some point.
When? What public officials knew about it? Why was the process kept so hush-hush?
The P-B, in editorials, columns and news stories, pressed for more answers last year regarding DMC and the sales tax. Turns out, we didn't know how little we knew. There were indications that something bigger was going on. Sen. Dave Senjem told our editorial board in September that DMC would be a key priority in the upcoming legislative session. At that point, nothing had been said publicly about DMC as a project for the Legislature to consider.
It's reasonable for people to ask, how long has this been cooking, who was involved, and why wasn't it a more public process, rather than a closely held secret that was sprung in mid-January, in the governor's office?
Several comments last night reflected this concern for transparency going forward.
What will the DMC "community engagement process," which is just getting under way, look like, and will it be substantial or window-dressing?
Again, some would say it's late to be engaging the community in a massive proposal that already has left the station in St. Paul. The faster we can learn about the "engagement" piece of this, the better.
Is Mayo's DMC team ready to answer questions? The jury is out on this one. There are many, many unknowns in DMC and the promoters -- not just Mayo, but council members, business leaders and others -- need to figure out quickly how to best respond to the reasonable questions and concerns that people have.
The clock is running on not only the legislative session, but the special election for Rochester City Council president. If this is a "pivotal moment" for Rochester, DMC ought to be the front-and-center issue in the council election, and the more information we get before March 19, the better.