News Column

Design competition starts conversation over development

June 28, 2014

By Bryna Godar, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

June 28--A mix of architects, neighbors and interested community members milled about the Rochester Art Center on Thursday, examining submitted designs for four properties along the Zumbro River.

The six entries in the Design Rochester competition ranged from small and modular to large and abstract, and all but one design centered on housing. Ultimately, the jury selected two winning designs -- one allowing for higher density but little visibility of the river; the other fitting well with the neighborhood and river but with lower of density.

"This is the kind of design I want to see more of in the community," city council member Michael Wojcik said.

The competition is one way the GF Pougiales Trust is working to engage the community and spur dialogue as it looks to develop its properties in the 100 block of 6th Avenue Southeast. Currently, four houses sit on the land, and the trust has no set plans for how it will develop them.

"Really what we were seeking was ideas to generate conversations, not just with the neighbors, but with other people in Rochester and with other design people," said Trustee Helen Roland.

Throughout the process, the trust has met with neighbors and sought ideas.

"If the developer works on the front end with the neighborhood, they have a much better chance of coming up with a solution that is mutually beneficial," Design Rochester Director Adam Ferrari said.

"It'll be interesting to see how this process works and what the end result will be," said Eastside Pioneers Neighborhood Association President Mike LaPlante.

Now that the competition is over, the trust will study the entries to have a better idea of appropriate density and other guidelines to send to architects for proposals.

"We'll take some time to be able to better define what would work there and then put that out for proposals to firms," Roland said.

LaPlante said many neighbors like single-family, low-density designs -- something that fits in with the zoning that already exists.

"I just want to see something aesthetically pleasing within the zoning that exists for the rest of the neighborhood," said Kevin Damgard, who is on the neighborhood association's board and lives across the street from the plots. "I think single family is the way to stay."

Jury members, however, favored adding some density to the area, particularly with the proximity to downtown and the river.

University of Minnesota Professor and Landscape Architecture Department Head Kristine Miller, who sat on the jury, said there was a desire to strike a balance between the smaller-scale neighborhood and some additional density.

"Both (winning designs) had strong elements that we think are important, but the reason we picked two was, I would say, that both of them could be altered in such a way that they would really strongly fit the goals of the competition," Miller said.

Other than discussions of density, the two main priorities of the competition were to engage the adjacent river and park and allow people to "see through" the project in some way.

"I think we were looking for ways in which development along the river would recognize the asset that the river offers the city of Rochester," said University of Minnesota College of Design Dean Tom Fisher. "It still seems as if the city kind of ignores the river, in some cases turns its back on the river."

One of the winning designs offered a multi-family apartment complex. The design, by University of Kansas architecture student Brianna Sorensen grew up in Rochester and is doing an internship at Minneapolis-based SALA Architects this summer so was unable to attend the event. While that design added density and had some strong elements, Ferrari and judges said it had too much of a blank wall facing the river and didn't allow views from 6th Avenue to downtown.

The other design focused on modular housing and was smaller-scale, allowing breaks in the buildings with views and access to the river. That entry came from Alice Christner, who has a degree in architecture from Kansas State University and is now working for Sunnyside Gardens in Minneapolis. But that entry was lower density than the jury hoped for.

Paul Scanlon, who lives next to the plots in question, said he could live with a multi-family development if it's done with good quality. "I'd like something that's well done, that's quality work," Scanlon said.

Though none of the specific designs from the competition will be used as a blueprint for the site, the competition has spurred the conversation it desired.

Bucky Beeman, a commercial real estate agent, said the process is very transparent and that he hasn't seen another developer do it this way.

"I think what [these competitions] do is they get people talking about, well, what do we want our city to be, and so I think it's less important that you come out with a project that you're actually going to build so much as you come with a set of possibilities or ideas that people can talk about," Fisher said.

"If (Rochester is) going to continue to attract people globally, it's got to offer a range of housing options that don't now exist."


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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