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A $6.5 billion plan to create a city-sized biotech hub looks a lot like SimCity

It's fair to say that the city of Rochester in Minnesota is relatively unassuming. With a population of around 110,000, it's often overshadowed by the nearby and much larger Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, every year more than 1.3 million individuals from all 50 states and 143 countries come to visit Rochester. Why? Because the city is home to the Mayo Clinic: the best-ranked hospital in the US and a major player in the global medical tourism industry.

However, as a report from Fast Company explains, Rochester is planning to capitalize on the Mayo's prestige with an ambitious 20-year project transforming the city into a global biotech and medical hub. The Destination Medical Center, or DMC, was approved by the city council in March and will be built with $6.5 billion in funding from state government and private partners to renovate the city. The concept renders make the plans look like the sort of large-scale city-engineering we usually associate with oil-rich Gulf states, but supporters say the work will be worth it: the global medical tourism market is estimated to be worth around $100 billion and growing at a 35 percent yearly rate (as of 2009).

large-scale city-size engineering

The plan for the DMC will see swaths of the city renovated, with office space built for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, as well as upscale shops to keep medical employees and their rich clientele happy. Foreign investors from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong are funding parts of the construction, reports Fast Company, with the plans also attempting to tackle Minnesota's frosty weather: the downtown area of the city will be "winterized" with skywalks, heated sidewalks, and underground tunnels. New sewers, parking lots, and a performing arts center are also set to be constructed.

The DMC isn't without its critics though, with Rochester's citizens reportedly concerned about the vague nature of the project and the $585 million portion of the DMC's fund that will be generated by increased taxes. There are also promises for affordable housing (Rochester's population is set to nearly double with the plans) which have yet to be fulfilled. But despite this, the DMC looks like it was always going to be too big to say no to. In a New Republic report on the project from 2013, Rochester's mayor Ardell Brede said: "We are very, very supportive of the plan, I want to be clear. When I was in Saudi Arabia as the guest of the king, I said to a room full of people I was from Rochester, home of Mayo, and they all nodded." Maybe by 2020, they'll nod and smile.

All pictures courtesy of Perkins Eastman

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