The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 15, 2014

Krohn column: Mankato skyline to get new look


The Mankato Free Press

---- — At seven stories, the office tower being built in downtown Mankato along Riverfront Drive won't exactly be skyscraper material.

But it, and a related four-story building on nearby Front Street, will dramatically alter the downtown skyline and provide a bit more of a big-city feel.

What's surprised many who've seen the site recently is how a little demolition in the area has changed its look. The gap left when Miller Motors and Red Sky were torn down is amazingly big. If you haven't been downtown lately, it's worth a drive-by.

While the new office tower won't be the tallest occupied building in town and far from the highest structure, it will be among the tallest.

The ADM stack is by far the tallest structure and the Cargill flour mill building and grain silos in Old Town likely come in second. The towering church steeples of Ss Peter and Paul's and First Presbyterian downtown are very visible in the skyline.		

The tallest occupied building for decades would have been Gage Towers on the MSU campus, with each tower reaching 13 stories. The towers were imploded last summer.

Three of the tallest in town are senior housing or apartments. Walnut Towers stands at nine stories and Orness Gardens (near Madison East Center) and North Mankato's Koppen Gardens, are eight stories.

The Hilton Garden Inn is seven stories, although its design makes it taller than a traditional seven stories.

And there are others of some height, including the civic center, Durham Apartments, the offices next to Wells Fargo, the new U.S. Bank building, the hospital and the former Nichols building being converted to a adult community center by VINE.

Whether Mankato wants to claim ever having had a skyscraper or not depends on how you want to define it. There's currently no official definition of when you hit skyscraper status, but if you go by the original definition when the word was created in the late 1800s (12 stories or more) Gage would have qualified.

Constructing buildings of more than a couple of stories in downtown Mankato calls for some extra engineering. The silty soil, left from centuries of river deposits, would leave us with our own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa without what are called "soil corrections."

They don't usually correct the soil, they just pound huge steel columns into the ground until they hit bedrock, to provide a solid foundation. The depth they go in varies, but the ones under the Hilton went down about 45 feet.

City Community Development Director Paul Vogel said various considerations need to be made when someone plans a building substantially taller than those around them. One is pure aesthetics — would the building so overwhelm that it would look wrong? The big corner lot of the new office tower gives it plenty of room to spread out and up without looking out of place.

And, said Vogel, designers have to look at things you might not consider, such as whether a big new building could create wind effects that would drift too much snow on neighboring rooftops, creating collapse risks.

By next fall, people will get their own look at how the buildings change the city's skyline. Coming across the Veteran's Bridge, the view of the tower and equally sized Hilton book-ending the downtown, should be impressive.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6383.