What is Heart of the City?

The Heart of the City is a sub-district of the Destination Medical Center development plan. It is home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic and its César Pelli-designed Gonda Building, the recently renovated Peace Plaza, numerous hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Learn more about Heart of the City here. 

Why does Rochester need Heart of the City?

Heart of the City will help make Rochester more accessible, easier to navigate, environmentally friendly and more enjoyable with year-round programming in our community spaces and access to a vibrant local shopping and food scene. Downtown businesses will benefit from the influx of visitors and residents who come to the heart of our great city to see what makes Rochester unique.

Are curbless streets safe? Why do we need them?

The simple answer is “yes.” Curbless streets make it easier for individuals with disabilities to get around. Currently, some of the downtown sidewalks do not meet ADA standards. Creating wider sidewalks with curbless streets solves this problem and adds more room for outdoor café seating too. From a safety perspective, moving from “a street you go through” to “one you go to” is generally safer. According to a studypublished in January 2018, “Evaluating curbless and shared space concepts for use on city of Philadelphia streets,”drivers in areas with shared streets tend to drive more slowly and pay more attention.

When will Heart of the City: Phase 1 be done?

The next milestone of the process is approval of the design documents, with approval of the construction documents completed by 2019. Anticipated construction is to begin Spring of 2020.

Design Terms

Throughout this site you may come across specific terms. Following is a glossary to help you understand what they mean and how they relate to Heart of the City.

Universal design

Universal design is the design of buildings, products (such as seating) or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, size, ability or disability. As we design features and focal points for Heart of the City, our goal to create spaces that meet the needs of anyone who wishes to use them.


Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. This can be anything from a curbless street or an audible alert for visually-impaired individuals notifying them that it’s safe to cross the street.

Public Realm

You’ll come across this term a lot. It just means spaces between buildings – roads, sidewalks, plazas, alleyways, courtyards and thoroughfares. Heart of the City is focused on bringing these public spaces to life through programming, interactive displays, art and creating welcoming places for people to gather.

Active Alley

Alleyways are enjoying a renaissance across the country. Alleys can add significant additional public space and many cities are bringing them to life – or “activating” – them with art, expanded retail storefronts, cafes, interactive displays, and inviting gathering spaces. Heart of the City Phase I includes plans to expand the public realm into previously unused alley space.

Flexible seating

Just like it sounds, flexible seating is designed to serve many purposes. One of the goals of Heart of the City is to create year-round use of downtown Rochester’s public spaces. That means more programming and with it comes the need for a variety of seating arrangements. One day there could be a concert or a farmer’s market, the next, a wedding reception. And every day in between, a gathering space or a place to sit quietly and take in the scenery.

Interactive art

Interactive art makes the spectator part of the experience. Examples of interactive art installations let observers walk in, on or around the art piece, letting each visitor create their own interpretation and outcome. Interactive art is a great way to bring together community, create conversation and interest in a traditionally undervalued space.


DMC is centered around six development sub-districts, of which Heart of the City is the hub. Together, these sub-districts will “activate” downtown Rochester as a global medical destination. Each space is designed to re-imagine underutilized spaces, revitalize existing structures and bring people together with year-round programming and access to local businesses and entertainment.

Pop-up retail/restaurant

Pop-up retail or “pop-up shops” is a popular trend across the country, where temporary businesses open up to the public for set periods of time. Pop-up retail creates opportunities for new and existing businesses to expand or get off the ground. It also adds diversity to the local landscape and meets seasonal needs for various services.

Destination Medical Center (DMC)

This stands for Destination Medical Center, which is a 20-year economic development initiative to promote Rochester as a global destination for health and wellness. Heart of the City is one part of the overall vision of DMC. You can learn more about DMC on its website