The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 28, 2012

Commission tips its glass to rooftop art

By Dan Nienaber
The Free Press

MANKATO — That colorful martini glass on top of the Wine Cafe in Old Town Mankato is still half full after the city's Planning Commission said cheers to a proposed ordinance that will allow similar displays on downtown rooftops.

The "skyline logo" ordinance would effectively reverse a notice Wine Cafe owner Mike Baumann received last month saying the martini glass would have to come down. If the ordinance is approved by the City Council during its Jan. 14 meeting, it would still require Baumann's glass to pass a review by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

Baumann said he was encouraged by what he heard at the Planning Commission's meeting Wednesday night. Some questions were raised about how to define wording in the ordinance that requires skyline logos be of a high quality and aesthetically pleasing.

When Joe Smentek made a motion to approve the ordinance, he added more buildings to the proposed logo district and changed the language to provide wiggle room for a requirement that logo signs be at least 200 feet apart. The logo district would basically stretch from Vine Street south to Jackson Street along Riverfront Drive and from Cherry Street south to Byron Street along Front Street.

Smentek's motion passed unanimously.

"I think as smooth as this went through, there's a lot of support for it," Baumann said. "There was no opposition and the Planning Commission unanimously went along with this. It sounded like they wanted more signs.

"I think it's a very positive thing and maybe it will draw more business to Old Town once more of these go up."

The lighted martini glass was built in the Wine Cafe's basement by Don Kopp, who worked for hours with Baumann to hoist it up to the flat roof and weld it to a metal base. It's made out of half-inch steel rods that are decorated with LED lights. The blue glass is also decorated with a green olive and a red straw.

Shortly after Kopp's art went up, Paul Vogel, Mankato community development director, received a complaint from someone familiar with city rules that don't allow rooftop advertising. Vogel called Baumann and told him the glass would have to come down. The call was followed by a letter from city staff saying he had 10 days to comply.

That enforcement action was put on hold after the story was covered by local and Twin Cities media, prompting public support.

Now Kopp said he has started a new business called Light Emitting Designs, which he pointed out has the first letters of LED.

"I don't know where it's going from here," he said after Wednesday's meeting. "I want to do more, just not for free anymore."

Some ideas he has are colorful musical notes for the top of the Verizon Wireless Center. He wants to focus on historical themes in Old Town, such as some golden wheat and a wagon wheel on top of the Cargill flour milling building.