Happy New Year! I started last year’s address stating that 2011 was busy but that 2012 may be even busier, not only in number of projects and events, but also in importance. I went on to list some 20 events while, thankfully, not talking about each. One of the biggest was the local option sales tax extension which I will cover later.
An event, not on the list but a major event was the death of our colleague and friend Denny Hanson, president and council member-at-large. Denny was always positive and made many contributions to the City he loved, Rochester. His desire was to do what was best to move the City forward in a progressive manner while improving the quality of life for Rochester’s citizens. He was interested in doing projects and providing services that would improve our economy by providing jobs, income, and housing for our families. Of course, in most instances there was an ample level of fun and enjoyment for all. Our continuing sympathy goes to the entire Hanson family.
While Denny’s death was a shock to all I commend the council, and especially interim council president, Randy Staver, for doing the city’s work. Not an easy task but effective, but at the same time we miss Denny immensely. You will be hearing shortly about the schedule for the special election for selecting the councilmember-at-large.
Perhaps the greatest positive event of 2012 was the passage of the referendum for our .5% Sales Tax Extension by a 2-1 margin. Under the leadership of Jerry Williams, both for leading the team that created the list of 10 projects and for chairing the independent committee for the passage. The $139.5 million initiative will provide jobs and projects that will continue to advance Rochester as a progressive community. The projects will improve the health and safety of the community, improve our economy, and provide enhanced educational opportunities for high school and higher-ed students at RCTC, WSU, and UMR. Additionally we will address the needs of our seniors and youth and make significant transportation improvements under the direction of both Olmsted County and the City of Rochester. The $5 million included in the total will be distributed to 17 area communities……as they become stronger with economic development projects we all benefit.
Our local economy in 2012 showed signs of improving. Unemployment is down to 4.1% and increased building, housing starts and commercial permits:
Building Permits: 1928 to 2124; $205 million to $327 million
Commercial Building Permits: 113 to 335; $120 million to $164 million
Housing-single family: 191-297; $41 million to $67 million. We saw the completion of and occupation of 318 Commons with 170 students living there and 30 faculty housed there, evidencing the continued growth of UMR. Under 318 Commons is an exciting new restaurant, The Loop owned and operated by local John Marshall grads.
The Public Works and Transportation Operations Center was completed in 2012, allowing operations from the former MnDOT building on 4th Street SE to move. This new modern and efficient building will improve Public Works services as well as improving our Mass Transit System. We completed Phase II of 2nd Street SW reconstruction: from 6th Avenue to 11th Avenue creating this gateway to Rochester even more beautiful. Another major street and infrastructure project was 1st Avenue and 6th St SW, bordering the new Market Place development. This exciting new food co-op and housing reached their membership goal earlier than expected with stock totaling $900,000. A new Economic Development Partnership was created between the City of Rochester, Mayo Clinic and RAEDI in the new Mayo Business Accelerator in the Minnesota BioBusiness Center. Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
There were disappointments in 2012:
- Not able to get bonding dollars for the Mayo Civic and Convention Center
- Our inability to pass a Heritage Preservation Ordinance; however we will continue to work on finding a way to address the protection of our Heritage, through incremental steps. I have confidence we will experience success.
It was an honor to represent Rochester at two major events:
- February – travel to Kuwait to visit our troops in the Red Bull Division, 34th Division, led by Colonel Eric Kerska, our Rochester Fire Department Battalion Chief. Ten thousand steaks were grilled and served to our troops at 4 camps while at the same time their families were receiving a steak dinner in St. Paul.
- September 30 – The Dedication of the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial. 207 firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty, four from Rochester. I was a presenter of a flag to some of the families at this memorial located on the Minnesota State Capital Mall.
As I said, it was an honor to represent Rochester at these significant events.
In July 2011, Governor Mark Dayton signed a “Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children” law. The Sisters of Saint Francis here in Rochester are sponsoring a series of Human Trafficking Awareness events beginning this weekend. The program “Breaking the Chains of Modern Day Slavery” is designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month by President Obama. Thanks to the Sisters for calling this activity that is happening here in Rochester, to our attention. Law Enforcement and a variety of other organizations will be working closely to prevent and end human trafficking in our community which definitely affects our quality of life. As we talk of Modern Day Slavery it is timely to recognize the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which took effect January 1, 1863 leading the way for African-Americans to fight for their freedom. President Lincoln considered this the crowning achievement of his Presidency.
This past year Journey of Peace III: Compassion Connection” was held in Lourdes Chapel, Assisi Heights sponsored by members of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Native American traditions and a variety of civic, and community agencies and businesses. This third annual event may be the first step in a greater effort. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Internationally, there is the Compassionate Action Network, enabling cities and nations to develop compassion-based programs within political entities that I believe would support the “Journey for Peace-Compassion Connection” effort here in Rochester. The Charter for Compassion is a document that the mayor and city council can pass that fosters positive and effective caring, the principles of compassion that lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions. As we are building an inclusive community the Charter for Compassion may be that first steps Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. The City of Seattle was the first to adopt and Louisville was recently honored as the World’s No. 1 City of Compassion.
Aristotle once wrote, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things but their inward significance”. While we fully appreciate the visual experience of the arts in Rochester; e.g. painted park benches and geese, the Art Center, SEMVA Art Gallery and the list goes on. In addition, we enjoy the visual and sound of Down By the Riverside, a play at Rochester Civic Theatre, the many other community theatrical opportunities, a written poem, or Thursday’s on First it’s the inward significance that lingers in our hearts and minds long after the initial exposure. Other indications of a progressive community are being recognized as:
- A Walk Friendly Community, Bronze level, one of 33 communities in the U.S.
- Best Cities for Successful Aging; top 20 of small metro, #5 of 259.
Rochester Lourdes High School will be moving to a new school, not in downtown Rochester. They have brought great pride to Rochester on many fronts. I am also pleased with the leadership public school superintendent Michael Muñoz has shown, along with his involvement in the community. Our schools are a real asset to this community. While there is “Minnesota Nice” I believe we are “Rochester Rich”; such as in assets, volunteering, and quality.
We were successful this past year in raising funds for the city’s annual fireworks….the best ever. We will once again be asking for private donations with the assistance of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and Joe Powers.
While the swallows annually come back to Capistrano every March 19 and leave on October 23, the village of San Juan Capistrano takes on a fiesta air and the visitors from all parts of the world, and all walks of life, gather to witness the “miracle” of the return of the swallows. The return of the crows in Rochester is not nearly as romantic. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have, as is the case in San Juan Capistrano, the ruins of an old stone church where the swallows build their mud nests. Needless to say it’s a problem that we continue to address.
Due to Federal requirements the City must open the city bus transit contract to a bid process. This will occur in the first quarter of this year with the successful bidder identified in the second quarter with service beginning July 1st. We hope for a smooth process. The branding of the buses will also be changed and buses will be stored in the new Public Works Operation Center and Transit garage which opened late last year in N.W. Rochester.
Thanks to the City Council members and the entire city staff for making Rochester not only a City of the First Class, but a First Class City. I am able to do this job (or joy) with the love of my wife Judy for now almost 52 years. Judy shares the joy as 1st Lady. Her bout with a medical issue which hospitalized her at the same time my associate Donna Bussell was in the hospital due to an accident caused me great concern. Both are now at or near full strength. Donna continues to provide great service to the public who interact with the Mayor’s Office. She also helps coordinate the 1325 events on the Mayor’s 2012 calendar.
Now, let’s get started – God Bless you, and bless our city.
Ardell F. Brede, Mayor