Mayo upgrade could boost Rochester campus

There’s a push for city renovations to support Mayo Clinic’s $5 billion expansion.

Alma Pronove

Some state legislators are pushing to revamp the city of Rochester in an effort to keep Mayo Clinic a world-renowned medical institution.

In January, Mayo announced its “Destination Medical Center” plan, a 20-year, $5 billion expansion that University of Minnesota officials hope will benefit their 370-student Rochester campus.

“If it’s good for Mayo and it’s good for their patients and their visitors, it’s good for us as an institution,” UMR Assistant Vice Chancellor Jay Hesley said. “Having those resources in place helps us with our recruitment and our retention of students, faculty and staff.”

But before the plan moves forward, the clinic wants $585 million from the state to bolster infrastructure in the city.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, proposed the bill to fund the infrastructure renovations around the clinic earlier this month.

“[Mayo Clinic] is most interested in growing here in Minnesota,” Norton said. “In order to do so, amenities are needed and development is needed in Rochester to support their growth.”

The Rochester campus has a close working relationship with Mayo, the biggest private employer in the state.

“I think that the idea of the Mayo Clinic and their reputation is a draw for students who choose to come to school here,” Hesley said.

Undeclared freshman Keith Kallmes went to Mayo High School in Rochester and now attends the Twin Cities University campus. He said growing up in a medical community was very influential.

“The Mayo clinic is Rochester,” he said. “My dad is a doctor and he knows all my friends’ parents because they’re all physicians, too.”

Kallmes said many of his friends went to college with the intention of following in their parents’ footsteps.

“The whole skyline is made up of Mayo buildings. All the famous people who come through town, like the Dalai Lama and all these kings, are there for the Mayo Clinic,” he said. “I mean, makes being a doctor look like a pretty good gig.”

To fund its expansion, Mayo would put up $3.5 billion in capital investment, and the rest would be covered by private investments.

“Our goal is to be known as the best health destination in the world,” said Lisa Clarke, co-chair of the Destination Medical Center initiative.

UMR has been very vocal about its support for the expansion.

“Without the resources of Mayo Clinic, we couldn’t run our UMR programs,” Hesley said. “There is a lot of institutional knowledge over at the clinic, and we can bring that knowledge into the classroom to support the academic process. That means everything from bringing in speakers to opportunities for student employment.”

Health science senior Nicole Yates, a member of UMR’s Pre-Professional Club, said Mayo has a strong relationship with the college.

“Our club collaborates with Mayo to bring in speakers and talk with potential employers all the time,” she said. “And my biology class works with cadavers over there.”

Yates is hopeful the Mayo expansion could bring more students to UMR.

“The expansion will open up opportunities for everyone on campus,” she said. “Maybe it will entice more students to come here.”

Mayo’s expansion in Minnesota is contingent on getting the state’s funding.

“If that doesn’t happen, we’ll step back, re-evaluate and find someplace that will allow us to grow,” Clarke said.

Norton said her bill moved through the House Jobs and Economic Development Committee with ease earlier this month.

“[Mayo’s expansion] will produce a lot of jobs, somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 new jobs,” she said. “It will be wonderful not only for construction jobs, but the Mayo also employs lots of people from around the state.”

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, a co-author on the bill, said state-supported medical expansion efforts are not uncommon.

“Other medical facilities like [Massachusetts] General, Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic have gone through this same thing,” he said. “They received large government subsidies, comparable to those we’re hoping to offer Mayo.”

Clarke said Mayo did extensive research before requesting state support and found gaps in the “patient experience” in downtown housing, retail, research and arts and culture.

“These renovations are necessary to satisfy the customers and their families while they’re in town,” Norton said.

The Rochester community has had a mixed reaction to the Mayo expansion proposal.

“The Mayo Clinic employs thousands of people in Rochester,” Norton said. “But some people are a little nervous about who will have control over city development. People want the city to be in charge of construction, not Mayo.”

Norton’s bill will be heard by the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday.

“We feel very optimistic that we can work together to secure Minnesota as the destination medical center,” Clarke said. “This is the opportunity of a generation.”