Can 'a nice place to live' be fun?by Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester - fun or not? The city is one year into its "Rah Rah Rochester" campaign. The Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau wants people living in Rochester to get excited about the town. But the thing that makes Rochester a success may be what's dampening the sizzle factor.
Rochester, Minn. — The Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau launched the Rah Rah Rochester campaign because no one in town seemed to know what there was to do. On a recent morning the bureau's Mary Gastner led MPR on a whirlwind tour of Rochester's highlights.
She points out the tours at Mayo and a few small museums. Then we try out a tandem bicycle at Silver Lake Park. Gastner shows off the city parks, indoor rock climbing. Then paintball.
Gastner says all of these activities fit Rochester's reputation of family friendly.
"We can't be everything to everybody. So if what our strong point is is the family activities, then that's what we need to focus on and promote at this point," she says.
But the goal of the "Rah Rah" campaign is also part of the city's larger strategy to be more dynamic and attract more visitors. It's also intended to keep the growing number of residents like Elisha Anderson happy.
"It's been really really hard. I mean I'm not going to lie," Anderson sighs. "There have been times when it's been pretty awful."
Anderson says when she and her husband moved here from Chicago seven years ago, they didn't expect Chicago. But she thought it would offer more to do than Hollywood movies and a Honkers baseball game.
"Not to mention the restaurants. We come from a city that is 75 percent fabulous restaurants. And we move here and there are, like, three. It's been really hard. We've actually resorted to having things Fed-Exed from Chicago and other locations," she laughs.
Like a lot of people, Anderson and her husband moved for a job at the Mayo Clinic. A job Rick Andreson loves.
"However," he says, "If an opportunity came in a larger city where I made a little bit less money, but it offered me the opportunity of another city, I don't think we would hesitate at all to move."
The couple is considering moving to St. Paul and commuting to Rochester.
Three years ago the city commissioned a study on Rochester's needs. Researchers recommended building an urban village, encouraging local businesses, creating a downtown core and an avenue of the arts. None of this has happened, although a few plans are underway.
University of Minnesota geographer Judith Martin says part of Rochester's trouble may be motivation. Martin says the Mayo Clinic and IBM attract employees. But it's a homogenous population, and few people are interested in starting small businesses that would enliven the town.
"There's a tension really between having a place that is a good place to live and safe and all those things, versus having a little bit of edge and a little bit of interesting stuff to attract people, and typically those are things that don't coexist very easily," Martin says. Moreover, the Mayo Clinic prides itself on not just providing world class health care, but also being a quiet, safe place for that care.
Martin wonders why Rochester wants to broaden its reputation at all.
Valerie Guimaraes, a member of the stroller set, is equally skeptical. Guimaraes and her husband went to medical school in Rochester. They moved back she says because Rochester has everything -- good schools, activities for her and the kids, and career opportunities.
"I get apprehensive, because for me, the draw is that it has everything that you need with that small-town feeling, and I like that, personally. My feeling is they are going to get too cosmopolitan," she says.
The Rochester of 1997, when the city was ranked the second best place to live in America according to Money Magazine, may already be morphing into something else. In 2006 the city ranked 67th. Number 10 was Twin Cities suburb Eden Prairie.
- Morning Edition, 06/06/2007, 8:25 a.m.