A major presence in downtown Rochester is the internationally-renowned Mayo Clinic. In the late 1980s, city planners created a small plaza, half a block long near the Clinic called Peace Plaza. The design challenge that Mayor Ardell Brede brought to the Institute was that the plaza was not functional, being too small for civic gatherings. The idea that emerged from the Institute, and was further developed later, was to enlarge the plaza by closing off the block to the west and thus extending the public space to a block and a half. The expanded plaza bordered two hotels and the west end abutted a large Mayo Clinic patient building. Patients could now look out the window and into the plaza, effectively drawing them out of the Clinic and into downtown.
Since the redevelopment, three sidewalk cafes have opened alongside the plaza that is now the site for lots of civic and cultural activity including weddings, arts and culture events, and community celebrations. The Rochester Downtown Alliance is responsible for programming including Thursday’s on First, featuring food, music, and crafts from June through August, and Social Ice, part of Rochester’s Winterfest Celebration, where a visitor can order a drink at a bar made of ice and enjoy ice sculptures and live music. Both events attract thousands of visitors. As Mayor Brede noted, “It has really helped change the character of downtown.”