Definition sought for potential $65M regional community and recreation complex in Rochester – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — The design process for a proposed regional community and recreation complex funded with up to $65 million in city sales tax is set to start this month.

“Obviously, we have some definition of the project to do here,” Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish told the Rochester City Council on Monday.

The proposed complex would be a resource for community events, as well as recreational activities, but specific uses have yet to be defined. The proposal is part of the city’s request to renew its 0.5% sales tax, which is set to end in 2024.

Minnesota lawmakers have until May 23 to make a decision on whether Rochester can seek the tax extension in a November vote.

“We are very happy with how things are progressing and encouraged by what we are seeing right now,” Jenna Bowman, Rochester’s strategic communications and engagement director, said of recent conversations at the state Capitol.

Since the city must gain state approval before a citywide vote on the tax renewal, Bowman said staff is working with a tight timeframe and wants to better define the proposed complex in the coming months.

To do that, the city will recruit a city project team of representatives from community organizations, as well as individual co-designers to represent and engage specific community groups. Members of both groups are expected to be selected this month.

Chao Mwatela, the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion director, said the goal is to use multiple community engagement approaches to help develop a concept for the proposed complex, with the co-designers working with consultants to help develop a concept that will eventually be presented to the City Council.

She said the value of using community co-designers, who are paid for their time, is that they have links in the community that will bring other voices to the table.

“One person gets you a variety of experiences,” she said, noting the selection process typically seeks people who are not already community decision-makers but have strong community ties.

While the proposed 12-member co-design team is defined by specific categories, including youth and adult sports liaisons, immigrant or migrant representatives and other community connections, Mwatela said individuals selected will likely have a variety of contacts in various communities.

“We try to ensure we get people who have as varied backgrounds and experiences as possible,” she said.

While the staff is moving forward with developing the concept for the proposed regional community and recreation complex, Mayor Kim Norton and council members pointed out the facility is only a portion of the city’s proposal for $205 million in future sales tax funds.

With the anticipation that the city would collect $12 million to $13 million in sales tax a year, the Minnesota Legislature is also being asked to approve $50 million for housing vitality projects, $50 million for street reconstruction and $40 million for flood control and water quality projects.

If approved at the state level, each request will require an individual question on the November ballot.

It’s a change in state requirements, and Norton said it raises concerns.

“I am concerned that the (regional community and recreation complex) focus, with the new way the Legislature has us ask these questions, is going to over-involve people in one of four important areas, and they will cherry-pick out the thing they are more involved with, and the things that in my mind are more important than this will be overlooked,” she said.

Council member Patrick Keane cited a similar concern but a need exists to refine the concept for the proposed complex.

“It probably is the least defined, so it needs the most amount of engagement,” he said.

City Administrator Alison Zelms said the co-design team tapped to help hone the community and recreation complex concept could also provide insight into housing and road projects since they are universal needs.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t have those same discussions with the group that has a specific focus,” she said.

Bowman said all four projects will also be part of future community engagement efforts that will unfold if the city obtains the required legislative approval to move forward with a November vote, which would require final ballot questions to be submitted in August.

The council is expected to be asked to approve an initial budget for the co-design team and design consultant work during its April 18 meeting. The co-design effort, which will include working with a facilitator, is expected to cost $40,000.

Bowman said the cost of a design consultant to finalize a concept is still being determined.