The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 19, 2014

Ballroom blitz: New owners breathing life into Kato Entertainment Center

New owners hope breathing life into Kato Entertainment Center

By Amanda Dyslin

---- — The Kato Entertainment Center has been owned by James Cordes' family for 30 years. But his wife, Tania, had only been to the ballroom once.

The Cordeses, married almost 18 years, lived in Chicago for years and spent the last five years in Connecticut. James' parents, Mary Jo and David Cordes, have been serving as silent partners to David's sister, Janet Sell, who has been running the ballroom in Mankato for decades.

Yet despite being so removed from the business, it took just one conversation over Thanksgiving 2012 about the news that Sell wanted to retire for Tania to jump in and say, “I would love to run the ballroom.”

“For the last 10-12 years I have been on multiple nonprofit boards. … I've done a lot of big fundraisers. I've worked in all aspects of event planning,” Tania said. “It's always been something I really wanted to do. This, to me, just seemed like a really great opportunity.”

In May, Tania, James and their four children came to Mankato to see the ballroom again, and Tania said it was like seeing it for the first time because it had been so long.

“I said, 'I think I can do this. It needs some love and care, but I think there is some big potential for the ballroom to reinvigorate itself,” she said.

The Cordes family moved to North Mankato in August, and they've been busy putting a great deal of work into the venue known locally as the Kato Ballroom, even before taking over ownership Jan. 1. The bars, bathrooms and entryway have been renovated, and Tania soon will focus on the ballroom area itself to update the look with some fresh paint.

“I'm trying, No. 1, to take the look of the ballroom back to Art Deco and keep the retro, but upgrade it so it looks like a hipper version of the '40s and '50s,” she said. “You're going to feel like, hopefully, that this is a hip place.”

Tania also will be working on promoting the venue and carving out a new public image. She wants to draw in a younger audience by having local bands perform there. Bluegrass band The Last Revel will be having a CD release concert Feb. 7, for example.

Tania is also looking at hosting family events on weekends and children's birthday parties.

“I'll try pretty much anything to see what sticks and what people want,” Tania said. “... I think a lot of people don't even know the ballroom is open.”

The first show at the ballroom under Tania's and James' ownership will be when Connie Valens performs Saturday (Jan. 15). Valens is traveling around and performing at all of the venues that her brother, Ritchie Valens, performed at during the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959 before he died in a plane crash, a week after performing at the Kato Ballroom. DC & The Drifters also will perform that night.

“I'm excited that it's something sort of unique,” Tania said of the show.

Tania, who earned her MBA from Harvard Business School, has served on such boards as the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago; The Botanic Garden of Chicago, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago; and Child Health Association, Pittsburgh.

She has coordinated numerous fundraisers, galas and social events ranging from 50-1,000 people.

“She will bring a new and innovative eye to the ballroom and has some exciting ideas about attracting new and younger clientele,” said Sell in a statement. “She is extremely personable and has a flair for understanding what people want and helping them to achieve their vision.”

Tania said it's also important to her to preserve the history of the ballroom, which opened in 1946. She is hoping to collect stories and pictures people have of their past experiences at the venue.

Email or visit