MANKATO — Jim and Betty Sohler sat under the tent amid the building site for a new Wal-Mart distribution center as Jim pointed out where his parents' home, their own farmsite, their daughter's home and an old school sat amid what was then corn and soybean fields.
Sohler's parents bought land in about 1934, with Jim and Betty buying their farm next to them in 1980. All told, the family had about 500 acres of farm land that is now the industrial park on the city's northeast side, bordered by Highway 14, Highway 22 and Victory Drive North.
On Tuesday, the Sohlers took part in the culmination of the area's development — on their former land — at the groundbreaking for the $75 million, 420,000-square-foot facility that will distribute frozen/refrigerated food to Wal-Mart stores in five states.
While excited about the start of a project that began 10 years ago, Jim Sohler's farm roots showed through.
"It's fun to see development, but you hate to see good black soil concreted over," Sohler said.
The groundbreaking brought dozens of elected officials, business people, Wal-Mart executives, city and county staff and business leaders to recognize efforts in getting the project.
Joel Marpe, Wal-Mart divisional VP of logistics, based in Bloomington, worked on the project since the start. While the recession delayed the project and the company went through changes in the ensuing years, Marpe said its commitment to build in Mankato never wavered.
"Your city leaders, they partnered with us and we kept the bigger picture in mind. It was never a question of where, just when," Marpe said.
He said the company will be a big player in local charitable donations, noting the company donated $21 million last year in Minnesota.