Five Questions with Joe Ward, Experience Rochester Executive Director

Joe Ward

Joe Ward joined Experience Rochester in August 2019 as the organization’s executive director. Experience Rochester oversees the operations of the Mayo Civic Center and is the official destination marketing organization for the City of Rochester. It’s currently working to synergize the Experience Rochester destination marketing team with the operations team of the Mayo Civic Center to create one cohesive and high performing team.

DMC: What path brought you to your current position with Experience Rochester?

Ward: I’ve been involved in the hospitality, special event and marketing industries for my entire career.  Most recently, I served as the Director of the Greater Saint Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau in Saint Charles, Missouri, where I also oversaw the third-party operations of the Saint Charles Convention Center.  The recent expansion and renovations of the Mayo Civic Center were very attractive as I was looking for a new career challenge.

DMC: What are some of the top priorities for the organization in the coming year?

HOURCAR Service in Rochester adds to transportation options

From a successful bike sharing program to this summer’s pilot launch of Lime Scooters, Rochester is embracing the idea of ridesharing in the community with cars now being added to the mix. A new car-sharing option is set to launch in Rochester on December 9, 2019. This comes after the Rochester City Council approved a new agreement last month with the Saint Paul-based nonprofit car-sharing service HOURCAR.

The service will allow drivers to rent one of five cars on a short-term basis. Those cars will be parked at different locations around downtown Rochester. Drivers, once approved for an HOURCAR membership, will be able to reserve a car online. The driver can borrow a car for anywhere from 30 minutes to 72 hours and is asked to return the car to the same place where it was originally parked. As demand increases, HOURCAR plans to another five cars to the Rochester fleet over the next three years.

The 2020 Assistive Tech Challenge

April 4, 2020 | Rochester, Minnesota

The Assistive Tech Challenge is a pitch competition presented by Destination Medical Center to facilitate greater independence for individuals with disabilities and the daily challenges they face. The Challenge is also intended to strengthen their ability to live more independently and help reduce the direct support workforce crisis confronting communities in the region and across the United States.

Participants in the Assistive Tech Challenge should develop a product or service related to:

  • Independent living
  • Access to employment
  • Support for care providers
  • Social skill development
  • Improved public infrastructure

Teams in Two Divisions:

Open (community-based teams and students) 

Professional (companies formed with annual revenues not exceeding $200,000)

Teams will address the following questions during a five-minute presentation to an expert panel of judges, followed by three minutes of Q&A:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • How are you solving the problem?
  • Why is your team the one to solve it?
  • What do you need to further develop your idea?

Prizes Awarded:

First Place in each category will receive $5,000. Second Place in each category will receive $2,500.

All first and second place teams will be eligible to participate in the Walleye Tank pitch competition in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Online Application Form will be available on January 6, 2020. Deadline for application is February 10, 2020.


Assistive Tech Challenge Event Details:

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Rochester Civic Theatre

Time to be announced.

Additional questions can be sent to [email protected] Please include “AT Challenge” in the subject line.


Special Thanks to:




Opening of Chateau Theatre Marks Another Major DMC Milestone

Chateau TheatreThe reopening of downtown Rochester’s historic Chateau Theatre marks a major milestone for Destination Medical Center (DMC). This moment is not only a new beginning for the historic building, but it’s also the culmination of many years of hard work to bring the theatre back to its original glory.

The City of Rochester’s purchase of the theatre in 2015, utilizing DMC funding, along with a contribution from Mayo Clinic, kicked off a long process involving many key players to get the building ready to reopen. The Chateau Reuse Task Force, comprised of 12 city leaders, arts and history experts and community members got to work right away to plan the theatre’s restoration and long-term reuse. Minneapolis consulting firm Miller Dunwiddie Architecture helped plan the renovations along with the guidance of the Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission to ensure the building retained its historic value. In 2018, an additional $1.1 million in DMC funding went toward renovations to the space.

Historic Chateau Theatre through the years

Photo from the National Register of Historic Places.

Exhibits Development Group (EDG) is preparing to open its first exhibit inside the historic Chateau Theatre in downtown Rochester, Minnesota on November 23, marking a new use for the beloved building. Since the theatre opened nearly 100 years ago, it has taken on many roles.

When the Chateau Theatre originally opened in 1927, the 1,500-seat venue was used for vaudeville performances, live theatre, and film. At one point, it even hosted a 3,500-pound rhino in a production of Tarzan.

The Chateau Theatre in March 2019

The Chateau later transitioned to showing films and did so for many years. It closed in 1983 with a final screening of Star Wars. It sat empty for ten years, until Barnes and Noble purchased the facility. It opened as a bookstore in 1994 and served customers until 2014. The City of Rochester purchased the building in 2015 for $6 million, utilizing Destination Medical Center (DMC) funding, with Mayo Clinic contributing $500,000.

Reimagining Rochester’s Riverfront

Diagram of Riverfront project

The flood-prone waterway of the Zumbro River in Rochester, Minnesota has mainly served a utilitarian function as little more than a tightly contained stormwater pathway running through downtown, with the buildings along its banks oriented away from it.  In short, the Zumbro has not been seen first and foremost as an attractive and vital natural resource for Rochester’s quality of life.

Now, however, the City of Rochester and Destination Medical Center (DMC) are soliciting ideas from private developers for Riverfront Re-Imagined, in which they are seeking a broad range of redevelopment proposals on how to build out 2.5 acres of key riverfront property now owned by the city.

The site along the Zumbro’s west bank couldn’t be more strategically located to accomplish the goal of providing a vibrant new role for the river in Rochester’s future. The northerly end begins just across 2nd Street SW from the Rochester Public Library, then hugs the river as it curves to the southwest and finishes up at the 4th Street Bridge.

It currently holds a city-owned parking ramp and a retail building which could be razed as part of any redevelopment effort. The site was previously considered for a massive mixed-use project which ultimately failed to materialize; it’s indeed a spot that presents some difficult and costly challenges for most private builders.

City leaders, however, have remained optimistic about its potential partly because of its location within the DMC’s Waterfront Sub-District. This designation gives potential developers access to unique financial assistance tools which can in turn be leveraged to elicit a truly transformative project for the Zumbro riverfront.

Destination Medical Center Corporation Board Gives Thumbs Up to a Productive 2019

DMCC Board Meeting

The Destination Medical Center Corporation (DMCC) Board wrapped up its final board meeting of 2019, applauding the many accomplishments this year, with several major projects completed or nearing completion and new projects approved.

“Decisions made just a few years ago have created economic impact today,” said DMCC Board Chair R.T. Rybak. “This activity demonstrates that our early efforts to catalyze the development market and accelerate the momentum of Rochester’s economy of innovation and discovery are paying off in real time.”

Chateau Theatre

One project supported by Destination Medical Center (DMC) is the renovation of the historic Chateau Theatre. Carrie O’Keefe, director of business development of Exhibits Development Group (EDG), the manager and operator of the Chateau Theatre, announced November 23, 2019 as the public opening for the Chateau and the Minnesota premiere of The Magical History Tour – A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition.

DMCC Board and Rochester City Council Green Light Transit Circulator

BRT Illustration

After months of study, deliberation, and community conversations, the Destination Medical Center Corporation (DMCC) Board approved a transit circular route along 2nd Street SW and Broadway, and approved bus rapid transit (BRT) as the mode of transportation. Included in the approval is a commitment to pursue affordable housing at the two transit villages that will mark the ends of the route. The Rochester City Council also approved the same key components.

The circulator will provide high quality downtown public transportation service for residents, commuters, businesses, patients, students and others to transit villages located in two locations on the northwest and southern edge of downtown. Destination Medical Center (DMC) and the City of Rochester began planning for the circulator to prepare the community for a growing number of downtown commuters.