ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC)- Every business in the subway-skyway maze linking downtown Rochester has an essence, a purpose, and a passion. Businesses like Carroll's Corn.
"We're part of the treatment at the Mayo Clinic, all the small, individual stores," says Pat Carroll, owner of Carroll's Corn. "They come and travel for many miles, a lot of times the news isn't good or its concerning. So, if they come and have something that they can identify with, somebody who has been here a long time, somebody who treats them really well as far as them being good customers and stuff like that, then they feel comfortable with that. They feel that is part of the Mayo experience."
With Mayo Clinic determined to create a Destination Medical Center by transforming Rochester, meet the man who wants to be the "transformer". Javon Bea is the front man of the group which now owns the four downtown hotels and the retail complex of more than 60 stores.
"The people of Rochester, I believe, are better off for having these hotels owned by a small group of private investors," explained Bea in an exclusive interview in April, "because they have a longer term time horizon in terms of making investments and improving facilities and creating new venues.
If there are new things coming, what does that mean for the old established businesses, the shops that have served downtown Rochester for decades?
There is fear in the air.
"There are a few businesses that have been asked, their leases are going to be up and they have been asked what is going to happen to our stores and they haven't had answers," says Carroll.
One sophisticated older business, the Silhouette Shoppe, operated by Prosthetic Laboratories, is now on a month-to-month lease. The Silhouette Shoppe is one minute away from the physical therapy unit at Rochester Methodist Hospital and helps women after breast surgery and women being treated for lymphedema.
"For patients that see PT's and doctors on the second floor right across the street."
Darren Overton, the chief operating officer of Prosthetic Laboratories, says they have asked for their lease to be renewed but they can't get an answer.
"When you're running a business, it's hard to plan and hard to make those long-range plans in your budget if you're looking at the possibility of having to relocate," says Overton. "I don't know if we can get any closer to Mayo."
Several shop owners told us their previous leasing agent advised them not to re-new their leases until the new ownership took over.
Then things started to change.
"That's the key part of it," says Bea. "Owners change in hotels quite frequently and people don't even realize it if the management company stays the same. It's kind of transparent."
But that's not really what happened in this case. Employees of the management company run by Interstate Hotels and Resorts, Inc., who had worked with the subway-skyway businesses for years..were suddenly fired. Four of those people have filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Interstate, a global hotel management company based in Virginia.
"Former management, former leasing people, they'd come and check with us if not daily, weekly," says Carroll. "'How's it going? What can we do for you? How can we help you?' It was a win-win situation.
Javon Bea has said he intends to improve the level of excellence in the hotel-retail cluster. Many of the owners say they've been told their rent will be increased significantly to essentially force them out to make way for nationally-known businesses.
It is not just talk.
"Then there's other people that have had actually people coming into their stores to measure and doing different things, they ask who they are and what's going on and they really don't get answers," says Carroll. "So, there's just a lot of confusion right now."
The feeling of being kept in the dark, not wanting to say anything for fear of upsetting new ownership and thus hurting their chances of staying in the subway-skyway system.
"We've been in the Kahler since 2005 and in this spot since 2010 and right now we have a month-to-month lease because it's up and we haven't re-newed it. We're trying to do that and we're trying to get some answers. We have a lot of people who work here, we have a business to run," says Overton.
Many say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to say or do anything. One business has been bounced out of its location but has not been given anywhere to go.
So for one business, the future means a subway exit. It remains to be seen how many more local businesses will be forced to go elsewhere in the new "more cosmopolitan" Rochester.
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