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Downtown Public Space Improvements Prioritize Safety and Experience During COVID-19

Release Date: September 11, 2020

Media Contact: Katie Adelman
Rochester Downtown Alliance
Direct: 507-216-9886



Downtown Public Space Improvements Prioritize Safety and Experience During COVID-19

ROCHESTER, Minn.—Returning visitors and customers to downtown will discover several public realm improvements designed to positively impact public safety and user experience.  

The Rochester Downtown Alliance team began planning for downtown public space improvements in 2019, when the organization established priorities to improve the daily downtown experience with the addition of a Clean and Safe Ambassador Program and enhancements to Central Park. The goals of the program were twofold: First, create a quality public realm as an amenity for the evolving downtown community; second, to address the “experience gap” identified as Mayo Clinic patients move from inside the hospital to the less managed environment of downtown. The new projects were meant to send the implicit message that all of downtown is safe to explore and enjoy.  

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RDA team saw customers preferring to bring their take-out lunches outside to the open air and realized that enhanced public spaces would be even more critical to downtown users in 2020.  

In consultation with area businesses, local collaborators, and peer special service districts throughout the country, the vision for public space improvements expanded throughout the summer well beyond the original 2019 plans. As of August 2020, completed public space projects across downtown Rochester include: 

 Updates to Peace Plaza

  • Refurbishment of existing furniture, and addition of new movable tables and chairs 

  • Supplemental plantings throughout the plaza 

  • Regular cleaning of tables and chairs and addition of hand sanitizing stations 

Improvements in Central Park

  • Refurbishment of existing wooden benches with Kraus Anderson, and addition of new bistro style tables and chairs 

  • Additional planters and supplemental plantings 

  • Regular cleaning of tables and chairs and addition of hand sanitizing stations 

  • Improved lighting, including string lights around the gazebo and bathhouse 

  • Incorporation of weekly live music 

  • Regular power washing of patios areas, gazebo, and fountain 

For the above public spaces, RDA Clean and Safe Ambassadors regularly sweep, power wash sidewalks, remove weeds, provide directions or recommendations, and offer a soft security presence downtown. In response to COVID-19, they have increased their focus on regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces like tables, chairs, benches, crosswalk buttons, and bus shelters. 

“We want every resident, employee, student, and visitor downtown to immediately sense that our neighborhood is clean, welcoming, and fully committed to their safety,” said Karli McElroy, RDA senior director of placemaking. “We believe the individual changes add up to make a big impression.” 

The above public space initiatives have received critical support from organizational and financial partners, including the City of Rochester’s Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Administration, Licensing, and Public Works Departments; Destination Medical Center; Mayo Clinic; Experience Rochester, and Kraus Anderson. 

“Every single one of these projects has been an incredible exercise in collaboration,” said Holly Masek, RDA executive director. “We’ve been so grateful to our colleagues for their support. Now we hope to see entrepreneurs, cultural organizations, and individuals make these refreshed spaces their own and contribute new programming and ideas.”

RDA will continue to research and implement improvements to public spaces through the coming year. Plans to refurbish the horseshoe pits and shuffleboard court at Central Park, seek coffee cart or outdoor dining partnerships in the spaces, explore wintertime programming, and eventually expand efforts towards Rochester’s riverfront.

“A downtown that our community loves and that visitors want to keep coming back to is a common goal for the RDA and DMC. At DMC, we have been very excited to partner with the RDA and other organizations to help impact the downtown experience. We continue to learn what the community needs are by gathering feedback and following up by investing in future improvements,” said Jamie Rothe, Destination Medical Center director of community engagement & experience.

In addition to exploring the improvements to Peace Plaza and Central Park, residents and visitors can support our downtown community by exploring everything to see, do, and experience in downtown Rochester by visiting

About the Rochester Downtown Alliance
The Rochester Downtown Alliance is a nonprofit corporation comprised of a broad range of people representing property owners, business leaders, the city and others with a direct stake in enhanced business and economic development conditions in the downtown district. We work together to build a vibrant downtown community. We believe a strong core positively impacts the greater city of Rochester. Through a series of special events, activities, and initiatives, we create energy, excitement, and a unique character to Downtown Rochester, Minnesota.