Rochester (MN) needs a New Public Library

Rochester needs a new public library building, not an expansion on an over 20-years old deficient dinosaur of a building that WAS NOT INCLUDED ON THE DMC PLANS IN THE FIRST PLACE. You know they expected to be able to put a hotel or heck, another parking garage there! You can see an alternative building still in many illustrations. The plan was to CLOSE Center Drive in front of the Civic, erhm, Convention Center in early drawings, diverting traffic down 2nd St. entirely.


Rochester Public Library only provides 2 dedicated handicapped parking spots in front on 2nd St. Three other spots are 30-minute NO EXCEPTIONS NOT EVEN FOR DISABLED PEOPLE.

There are a handful of other 30-MINUTE meters across the 4 lane 2nd St. and a few 90-MINUTE meters. Maybe 10 lucky people can catch those and make the dash across the street to the library entrance (ill-advised from the sketchbook stage). NOBODY EVER WALKS ALL THE WAY TO THE VARIOUS CORNERS AND BACK AGAIN. Least of all  me with my problems walking. I can’t even dash — literally, will fall on my face if I try, my legs won’t work — across, but neither can I walk the distances to the corners and back again.

I have seen people in wheelchairs make the death jaywalk effort, and parents with toddlers in hand coaxing them to hurry up across the street. Many times people are simply trying to drop off and pick up books. The book drop off REQUIRES getting out of your car most of the time. Is a congested area with UPS and the Bookmobile, and many many people returning books to the tune of over 800 a day in the book drop.

Even if the door were changed to be on the corner of 2nd St. and 2nd Ave. SW, there is still no parking. the ramp does not have reserved places for library users only and is only going to get busier. It is not ADA compliant so expecting to use it to meet the needs of PwD won’t work. The existing dedicated handicap street parking will then be at least a half-a-block away from the entrance instead of the “SHORTEST POSSIBLE DISTANCE” — which it clearly fails at present with only 2 dedicated handicapped parking places as it is. The parking garage is about 1/4 mile to the entrance, plus the elevator rides up and down, etc., AND BACK AGAIN, not to mention the time you might wish to spend “walking” around in the library.

The library’s successful move to offering a large variety of programming and activities — ALL OF WHICH TAKE MORE THAN 1/2 HOUR and often more than one hour — are thwarted for many by the need to park in the only possible place for programming: the parking ramp. While the first hour is free, that does not included the 10 minute walk and elevator ride to get to and from the library, especially loading up strollers and wrangling multiple children. This means the FREE part of PUBLIC LIBRARY is defeated by $3 to $4 minimum parking costs.

And don’t get me started on transit, that would easily cost $4 for a family and more, plus HOURS OF THEIR LIVES. That’s a topic for another place and time.


The only part of Rochester being transformed in the DMC plan is for the well-paid and wealthy that aren’t even living here yet! The board has been meticulous in designating only a few sections of downtown as DMC zones. They mistakenly believe that economic development only exists by giving tax breaks to businesses associate with the biotech industry in their plans. VIBRANT, ACTIVE cities (the Holy Grail they seek to achieve) depend on WELL-PAID WORKERS who live in ACCESSIBLE AFFORDABLE HOUSING, with FARE FREE TRANSIT, and amenities for those of us who live here and provide all the services for the businesses and their employee, the patients, and visitors.

A new public library building to match the success of the current library in attracting more and more users for a wide variety of ACTIVITIES AND PROGRAMMING as well as books would make Rochester a more livable city. A new library with FREE PARKING and a DRIVE THROUGH PICK UP WINDOW as well as a drop off, would make the library more ACCESSIBLE.

And we could use a year-round waterpark at Silver Lake instead of a pathetic splash pad on the downtown plaza (bad bad idea, discussed below).

It seems to me that our tax money ought to go to things the RESIDENTS could use that would also enhance the economic development efforts by making Rochester a better city with more activities and things to do for the residents — including to attract the much needed NEW RESIDENTS with high-demand skills, and hopefully a desire to stay permanently in Rochester.

The Destination Medical Center (DMC) slogan, “Transforming Rochester,” so far benefits FUTURE workers, FUTURE businesses, and FUTURE consultants (like the recent Trademark acquisition for the Discovery Square “Zone”).

At today’s board meeting, once again the insult to the residents of Rochester was apparent by the recap of the CoW presentation for the “Heart of the City” proposal. Not sure who set the budget, but it sounded like they set it themselves by checking the price tags on other similar “world class” urban developments. The plan proposes to spend over $40 MILLION dollars on a few square blocks downtown, basically at Peace Plaza and in between all the main Mayo buildings, especially the Gonda. This includes $12 MILLION for “world class public art” and as big of an art lover as I am, I question the price tag required to obtain world class art.

When Rochester needs a new library that all the residents could and would use even more than the spectacular usage the library currently achieves routinely. Sure $12 million won’t pay for a new library estimated at $55 million back when it was evaluated a few years ago, but maybe some of the budget could be spent for less esoteric art without high maintenance costs (crows!).

I am reminded of pictures I have seen in 3rd world countries. Magnificent palatial even buildings for a few blocks, then tin and cardboard shanties by the thousands just out of the photographer’s frame. Think Rio de Janeiro slums. Johannesburg, South Africa for another with the extremes of wealth and poverty adjacent to each other. We aren’t that bad, visually, on the outside yet, but with NO AFFORDABLE HOUSING for a majority of workers, we are moving there fast. We don’t even pay a living wage to a massive amount of city residents. There are food deserts in outlying sections of town just beyond the magical DMC zones, but all the FUTURE WORKERS get to have parking garages built in their buildings with retail and groceries right there plus the theoretical ability to WALK TO WORK (no handicapped need apply?).

THE PUBLIC REALM (downtown dwellers and visitors only)

“The Public Realm” aspect of the proposal has limitations, not the least of which, to TRANSFORM ROCHESTER, an attempt should go further afield than a few square blocks downtown.

There is a proposal for a “splash pad” water feature that would allow children to scamper and play about, HELLO LIABILITY INSURANCE INCREASE! I am sure the local stores and restaurants won’t mind wet children being bustled in and out of their tony restaurants to change clothes since there is no bathhouse in the plan. Similarly, NO PUBLIC TOILETING FEATURES are planned for the plaza. Guess those little kids will just pee in the fountain!

Of course, a splash pad would be a WELCOMED ADDITION to the truly public realm of a city park. Maybe one like Silver Lake with existing bathhouses? But it is old and aging. Too bad some MASSIVE AMOUNT OF FUNDING for the PUBLIC REALM isn’t available for land across the river from the “Waterfront District” to completely REPLACE THE AGED POOL AND BATHHOUSE. There is enough land there than a full-on YEAR ROUND water park could be built that would be great for residents and a great TOURIST AND GUEST attraction for those able to participate. But I suppose every HOTEL HAS A POOL for their guests?


As far as I can tell, in addition to wanting to move the public sculpture from in front of the Chateau (not world class enough, obviously), it looks to me like they are COMMERCIALIZING Peace Plaza to the Market Place. A cute pun on food market and pop up markets they are so slavish to embrace the current fad. Not sure the local merchants appreciate their fixed costs contrasted with the pop-up fun times.

We will have no truly PUBLIC SQUARE to gather to protest unjust laws, or celebrate together based on the proposed Heart of the City plans. They apparently have been scolded about their absurd “steps to nowhere” (being abled bodied men) but no drawings exist for alternatives. The designers continue to try to support this hideous waste of time and money concept by saying something like, “People could sit on the steps and gather.” As if (a) I want to sit on a dirty step in nice clothes, as if (b) there were no crows, as if (c) no one ever spits on the ground, as if (d) ALL PEOPLE CAN CLIMB STAIRS in MED CITY!


The juggernaut that began with the expansion of the Civic Center and continues with the DMC transformation of the downtown has left the library isolated, inaccessible on many levels, including metaphorically.

To spend a nickel on the existing decrepit and failing building (HVAC held together by willpower of the staff) much less EXPAND it is throwing good money after bad. $55 million for a new building is not “a wash” contrasted with an expansion that must virtually remove every wall and flooring and more and still result in an inaccessible building that cannot meet the full community needs.

Maybe if the DMC had considered the presence of the library there in the first place, such an expansion could have been incorporated into the plans but they have gone too far now along a different path.

Now the building is beginning to need an urgent overhaul, or bandages to shore up deficiencies while serving exponentially more people.

Time to get out of the way of the DMC economic development that could put a real revenue generator hotel in that spot (complete with its own parking) right across from the CONVENTION CENTER.


Rochester could build a new SUSTAINABLE and accessible building with free parking for visitors and EMPLOYEES. Make some designed to work as bus spaces for the 25 times a year when school buses bring kids to introduce the public library to them, which requires the blocking off of the three 30-minute spots of city street parking nearest the library for each day they are scheduled.

Put in a cafe, open to the public obviously, as a community gathering place, which we don’t have enough of (People’s Co-op being the go-to with food presently). Maybe a roof garden or greenhouse setting. An overlook would be engaging. Work with other community groups like the often mentioned Children’s Museum. What a perfect fit adjacent to the children’s section of the library!

The DMC could designate any location for a new library as a DMC zone. This would mean that ALL OUR TAX DOLLARS obligated to cover $128 MILLION over the next 20 years would actually be spent on something ALL THE RESIDENTS OF ROCHESTER (as well as visitors) could enjoy instead of bleeding away from the vitality of the city for residents into the pockets of developers through TIF credits.

I have pitched a wider application of DMC zones to the Board before, once for transit and park and ride lots to be eligible, and now the library and the waterpark. Please see the public statement I made today at the 7/27/2017 DMCC Board meeting post.


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