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Mayo Clinic defends its request for state loan

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers put Mayo Clinic leaders on the hot seat Wednesday, a day after the world-famous medical center's leader said 49 other states would love to be its home.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said he was not happy to see Mayo President Dr. John Noseworthy go to the National Press Club Tuesday "and wag his finger at the Minnesota Legislature."

Lesch said his support for the plan fell after Noseworthy's comments. Other lawmakers also criticized the comments.

Noseworthy said other states would like Mayo's planned $3 billion expansion, but said Mayo plans to keep its Minnesota presence.

Mayo official Dr. Brad Narr would not promise the Minnesota House Taxes Committee Wednesday that Mayo would expand in its Rochester home if lawmakers reject its request for a more than $500 million loan.

"I'm not aware of any formal" talks to move Mayo to another state, Narr said.

Mayo consultant Bob Dunn said Rochester "is the best opportunity for Mayo."

Narr said Mayo's Minnesota and Wisconsin presence will continue, but the organization needs to decide "where we are going to grow in the future." Mayo also has major, but smaller, facilities in Arizona and Florida.

Bill author Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said the project could produce up to 30,000 new jobs.

Norton said that the state money Mayo requests would not go to the clinic, but for the city to improve infrastructure and Rochester's cultural facilities.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said that cultural attractions and transportation in and out of Rochester need to be improved.

"It seems like you are building an island," he told Mayo expansion supporters because it is hard to get to Rochester.

Dunn said Mayo has spent two years looking at the situation. A study that showed entertainment and city culture in general must improve for both Rochester residents and visitors.

He said Rochester's leisure life is "woefully inadequate. ... It's not as vibrant a community as many in the country."

The House Tax Committee considered a bill that would provide the Rochester area help to build its infrastructure, but did not take action.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.