Drawn to Rochester for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic, Traci Downs and her husband, Hunter, originally thought they’d be in southeast Minnesota for only six weeks.
That was a few years and a business relocation ago.
Now permanent residents, the Downses this summer plan to open one of the first buildings in the state’s largest-ever economic development project. Their renovated Conley-Maass building, a former woolen mill and factory just blocks from the Mayo Clinic, will house, among other things, a restaurant, two tech companies and a “Maker’s Lab” equipped with a 3-D printer.
It’s the kind of story — from ailing patient to robust Rochester investor — that has inspired many in local circles. It’s also a small victory for Destination Medical Center, the city’s ambitious project that calls for using billions in private investment and public tax dollars to remake downtown Rochester over the next 20 years and turn it into an international center for medicine, health care and technology.
“The whole idea of this building is kind of like a little microcosm of what the plans are for DMC,” Traci Downs said.
A few years ago, the couple were more mystified by Rochester than enchanted by it.
“We were kind of those people who would fly into the Twin Cities and drive down and think, ‘Why on Earth is Mayo located this far from anything?’ ” recalled Traci, who for years was part of a clinical trial at Mayo due to a rare liver disease.
At the time, the power couple — she’ a neuroscientist; he’s a medical physicist — were building their Hawaii-based hardware and software development company, Archinoetics, which focuses on brain imaging, fatigue sensors and other monitors that attach to a person to measure physiological responses.
But long stays in Rochester while Mayo doctors stabilized Traci’s liver condition led them to consider moving from their idyllic island life to four-seasons Minnesota.
Their son even attended local schools while they sought treatment for Traci, and somewhere along the way, they saw their futures taking place close to Mayo.
“Mayo, I can never speak highly enough of them. They’re the world’s best doctors,” Traci Downs said. She was scheduled for a liver transplant three years ago, but due to the work of her doctors, she’s so far not needed it.
They moved their company, renamed Area 10, to a renovated space near downtown, with some employees staying at their locations in Hawaii and San Diego.
And last year they searched for a new building to renovate into office space and a place for people from a variety of fields to work close together, the hope being that a collision of ideas in medicine and technology would lay the groundwork for innovation and new spinoffs.
They found the Conley-Maass, at 14 Fourth St. SW, and eventually bought it for $450,000. Built more than 100 years ago, the structure has been a woolen mill, a camera factory and home to the Loyal Order of Moose. Downs is hoping to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Architect Adam Ferrari said the finished renovation will expose the building’s original skylights and heavy timber. The building’s historic nature meant Ferrari had to carefully bring it up to code without interfering with its authentic feel.
The renovation cost $2.2 million, Downs said. The building should open in June.