When Rosemount officials envisioned a senior center -- adjacent to a proposed privately owned senior housing project -- it contained a few meeting rooms, some storage and maybe a place where elders could tutor youngsters from nearby elementary and middle schools.

What they may get, though, could be far more grand, with amenities like a pool, a whirlpool, therapy rooms and the services of an activities director as well as those meeting rooms and classrooms.

The city has been in discussions with the Doran Cos. about building an 80- to 92-unit senior housing complex on the site of the old Church of St. Joseph school on S. Robert Trail and 143rd Street. The city also committed to building a senior center next to the housing and close to downtown, the new Dakota County Library and the Steeple Center, an events and arts venue in the renovated church.

At a City Council work session last week, elected officials and staff sat down with Kelly Doran, principal of the firm, and Bill Stoddard, vice president of development, to hash out some details and quell some potential misunderstandings.

Memberships for sale?

In an Aug. 6 letter, Doran proposed that Rosemount provide the land for free for the senior housing and contribute up to $1.5 million for a senior/multi-generational center, owned and operated by Doran, that "could possibly offer memberships to the public."

That letter, signed by Stoddard, didn't sit too well with city officials. In a memo to the City Council, Rosemount community development director Kim Lindquist wrote that "the proposal before the Council is inconsistent with the stated goals of the Council. ... The idea of selling memberships is inconsistent with the goal of the center as a space for the seniors and other community groups to gather at leisure and also provide some structured programming. In the end, the City would not receive a public senior center but would have expended the funds reserved for that use."

In an Aug. 9 letter to Lindquist, Stoddard clarified that "We do not care who 'owns' the senior center. We also respect the offerings you wish to have there including crafts, coffee, computers and meeting rooms." The letter said those features can easily coexist with amenities such as a pool and exercise equipment.

Last week, both men from Doran strongly encouraged the city to back the idea of a swimming pool in the center.

"Throughout this process, we visited a whole lot of sites, we interviewed five architects ... about communities this size, what they're doing lately, and it keeps coming back to wellness, wellness, wellness. ... We don't care who offers it, we just think the citizens would really like to see it."

Said Doran, "We're not hung up on any of this. We thought maybe the city doesn't want to own it. Maybe we own it and you help with some of the construction costs. Or you can own it and we can help with some of the construction costs.

Thinking big

"You're the boss on this part of the project," he said. "We can do what you want but we want to encourage maybe a little bigger thinking and that's one of the primary purposes of this discussion."

Doran said the firm does want a development agreement or "predevelopment agreement" in place before spending the money to hire an architect and develop more specific site plans.

While most council members seemed open to the idea of a pool in the center -- at least at last Wednesday's working session -- they repeatedly stressed the importance of including meeting rooms, tutoring space and storage in the center. Doran and Stoddard repeatedly said that this could be done.

When Lindquist asked council members whether they were comfortable with the initial proposal regarding the city's financial contribution, and Council Member Kim Shoe-Corrigan said she wasn't, Doran interjected, "We're getting way ahead of this.

"We were throwing out an idea," he said. "I think what we're looking for from you folks is, is this something you want to explore? And if it is something you're willing to explore, we're willing to incorporate that into our next step in terms of a potential design, bringing it back to you and say 'is this something you envisioned?' Then we can take it to the next step and say what does this cost and who owns it and what are the contributing factors."

Council Member Jeff Weisensel also suggested getting reaction from senior groups and others before getting much further in the process.

"I know there's people out there that want to have a say in what that building is and does," he said.

The Doran executives agreed to return with some preliminary concept plans.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284