Discovery Walk: A place of connection

Though skylines are often the most recognizable feature of notable American cities, the activity taking place on the ground is where we find the human-to-human connections that make up the true heart of a community. Destination Medical Center – together with community leaders, business owners, engaged citizens, and the City of Rochester – is strategically exploring the best ways to nurture life and activity at street level.

“Discovery Walk” is the public realm that runs along four blocks of 2nd Avenue Southwest (from the Heart of the City at 2nd Street to Soldiers Field Park at 6th Street). The plan is to transform the underused and uninviting two-lane street into a tree-lined, multi-use linear parkway.

This past fall, DMC facilitated two pop-up community sessions to gather public input about Discovery Walk – one at Mayo Clinic’s Harwick Building and the other at People’s Food Coop. Engagement was strong during each of the sessions. Generally speaking, people expressed excitement about having more places to gather and play, increased food options (especially food trucks), and more incorporation of nature and art into the urban landscape of downtown.

The Design Team spent the last few months integrating this feedback into schematic design concepts. This week, though the project is still in the visioning stage, more than 40 people gathered at Gallery 24 to hear the latest ideas for Discovery Walk, explore the design concepts, and provide additional input.

“The focus of Discovery Walk is to create a place of connection,” explained Jon Buggy, principal with RSP Architects and Heart of the City Design Team member. “We want people to walk down this street and connect with themselves, with each other, and with nature in a new way.”

The stretch of real estate will also be a physical connector between two DMC sub-districts. “You can look down from the Gonda Building in Heart of the City or up from Soldiers Field and see an inviting street that’s been reimagined as a park,” Buggy said.

The street design will eliminate curbs allowing for maximum flexibility and multiple uses during each of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons. Depending on the day, the street could have two-way traffic, one-way traffic, or be closed off for a fun and engaging community event. “The green ribbon of trees will do most of the muscle work to draw people in,” said Shane Coen of Coen+Partners. “It’s a unique opportunity we have here.”

Intended to complement rather than compete with other buildings or activations, Discovery Walk will be an important piece of downtown infrastructure for decades to come.

The Design Team took time at the close of the meeting to solicit feedback and answer questions from the audience, gauging reactions about the design concepts presented, discussing the long-term activation of the space, and noting logistical concerns that tend to arise with any project of this scale.

Patrick Seeb, Director of Economic Development and Placemaking for the DMC Economic Development Agency, applauded the attendees for their engagement. “This is the first presentation of Discovery Walk at this stage of design,” he explained. “We’ll be doing additional public presentations to the DMC Corporation Board and the City Council Committee of the Whole in coming weeks and months, but we couldn’t do any of this work without your involvement and ideas.” 

Stay tuned for more public engagement opportunities as the plan evolves in the coming months.