Downtown Rochester task force aims to help, business owner voices concerns

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 7:09 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – A downtown Rochester task force that started this year is ready to put some plans into motion to help businesses still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task force presented findings last week in a city council study session. The four areas of focus are downtown promotion, access and parking and safety, streamline processes for special events and plans for long-term growth of real estate.

Pasquale’s Neighborhood Pizzeria is just a block away from the Thursdays Downtown site, but owner Pasquale Presa said the restaurant will not be participating this year. He said the lack of Mayo Clinic employees downtown is to blame, as many work from home now.

“We noticed that the last year when we were downtown, that our sales went down, there’s not enough employees,” he said. “Yeah, they may have a large volume of people coming, but the workforce, that’s the eco system of downtown, that’s why we pay a lot of taxes, high rent is still there, while we’re not seeing the revenues, especially during the lunch hour.”

Instead, Presa is hosting his own version of Thursdays Downtown. His staff will be selling $3 pizza and ice cream.

“We’ve transformed our patio into a true neighborhood place al fresco dining,” he said. “You know, what we all want to play in the sandbox, but only certain people want to play in the sandbox. So we are creating our own sandbox. Where they can come an enjoy. We’ll have some music, and they’ll play, and we’ll have fun.”

Presa said he’s sent letters to city leaders with his concerns. He has also told them about the increasing issue with people experiencing homelessness coming into the restaurant, requesting free food. He used to have a “common table” where people could help themselves to free pizza, but he’s had to discontinue it due to the high volume of people taking pizza.

“It breaks my heart,” he said. “We try so hard to do good, but there comes a point where we need to pay our bills.”

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said she’s aware of Presa’s concerns and the task force has started addressing some issues.

“One of the concerns is the growing homelessness downtown,” she said. “Another concern is that people aren’t feeling safe in some of the parking ramps. The Rochester Police Department has a downtown presence all the time now. I sent the police chief and others out to the businesses to talk specifically about the issues are. I think we have been quite proactive in our response.”

When asked about her thoughts on Presa’s concerns about less Mayo Clinic employees working downtown, Norton said she has not control over how private organizations handle their employees.

Rochester Downtown Alliance Interim Executive Director Kathleen Harrington acknowledged that there are few Mayo Clinic employees downtown, she said the RDA is working hard to promote Thursdays Downtown, hoping people will come back every week, especially the people who work from home.

“I hope they can come and say hi to their coworkers that they haven’t seen in a while,” she said. “As an association that’s really dedicated to increasing vitality downtown, we have to do all we can to get those people who are at home to come back downtown. It’s not an easy challenge.”

In the meantime, Presa said he will continue to work hard and be creative when it comes to his business.

“You’ll see me running around in my van delivering to Hy-Vees,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to get into the Kowalski’s and the Targets up the cities. We’ll keep running and gunning to try and make up for the loss business we’ve had.”