News Column

Some complain that 150 buildings in Rochester core shouldn't be removed

August 6, 2014

By Rachel Leingang, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Aug. 06--The Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to remove more than 150 properties from further evaluation by the 106 Group, a Minneapolis consulting firm examining the city's potential historic properties.

Several community members said during the Heritage Preservation Commission's open comment period that the move was concerning and hurried.

"It's a railroading and a rush to judgment," Barry Skolnick said.

The commission said the buildings still could be brought back for consideration at a later date, if needed.

The decision came after a preliminary report by the 106 Group assessed the potential historic qualities of 200 buildings in the city's core. The group found 20 properties were potentially historic and would warrant a more thorough review in the second phase of the consulting.

Among the 20 properties are the Mayo Building, the Kahler Grand Hotel, the Rochester Methodist Hospital, the Days Inn/Pannekoeken, four churches and the William W. Mayo Statue.

"What we surveyed and recommended roughly became about 10 percent," said Anne Ketz, CEO of the 106 Group. "That is what normally happens with surveys, so it's sort of in line with standard practice."

Commission member Valerie Guimaraes said she views the report as a "work in progress."

"I think this is a beginning, a step in the right direction," Guimaraes said. "We have to start somewhere ... I don't by any means think this is the end."

Before the HPC voted to remove the list of properties, commission member Nowell Bjerkaas made a motion to allow public comment on the report. The motion failed because nobody on the commission seconded it. Bjerkaas said he wanted the community to have more input as the process moved forward.

"I feel that (the report) is incomplete at this point," Bjerkaas said. "I'm sure that all the best practices and methods were followed ... I just don't know that they've had the opportunity to review all the information that could provide context."

The report, consisting of four documents with about 900 pages of content, was released less than a week ago.

None of the properties on Historic Third Street were included in the group of 20 recommended for further study.

"We did not come prepared to speak because we felt as though your group would use diligence and prudence in taking time to review this report," John Kruesel, who owns a store on Historic Third, said. "All of us are witness to the corrosiveness to this particular committee."

Kevin Lund, an historic preservation advocate and Olmsted County district judge, has spent thousands of hours researching historic buildings in Rochester and worked to put together an architecture and history walking tour of downtown, he said. Moving at the pace the commission did, with one week to review extensive materials, was inappropriate, he said.

"This is not something that can be done in an hour and a half," Lund said. "To make this decision as quickly as you made it is more than disturbing ... It really calls into question whether a commission like this is serving any purpose."

The commission's chair, Jeff Allman, said the group has had some issues for the past year in moving forward on putting together an inventory of historic places.

"Part of what we've been struggling with is what it means to be historic as opposed to old," Allman said.

The 106 Group will do a preliminary survey on all the additional properties on the Stark list, a so-called "inventory of inventories" that includes about 400 buildings deemed potentially historic by the city. A phase two process will need to be done on the properties that make it through the phase one preliminary research, though funds are only available at this time to conduct additional phase one work.

The Rochester City Council ultimately will approve which buildings end up on the city's heritage preservation list.


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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