By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — When NBA players arrive at the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, they take an elevator a few floors up to the main level of the complex. But the players don’t have to get off their bus to do it.
Rural Mankato-based Minnesota Elevators Inc. designed and built two massive elevators that are producing awe among NBA players, entertainers and New Yorkers. After a recent ride on the elevator, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant said, “It’s like a basketball version of Willy Wonka.”
VIDEO: See the Barclays Center bus-sized elevator in action.
“It was a neat project,” said Mike Klehr, vice president of sales and marketing at MEI.
Buses drive into an underground parking area and into the 81-foot elevator, outfitted with two large hydraulic lifts that carry up to 80,000 pounds of weight — as well as the 120,000 weight of the elevator itself.
After going up more than two stories, the bus drives straight out a door on the other end of the elevator and onto a large, round platform that turns the bus around so it can drive back in. (The big Lazy Susan for buses was built by another company.) MEI, which employs 225 people, including 125 in the local plant, assembled the two elevators in the MEI parking lot.
“Our niche is the custom applications,” Klehr said. “It can be a big one like this or a lower capacity elevator with an odd shape or size.”
MEI, which builds, installs and services elevators in a nine-state region, is hired by other elevator companies around the country to build specialty elevators.
Besides catering to NBA players the Barclays Center elevators are used to lift a variety of vehicles, including bringing in concert equipment for stars such as Jay-Z — who is part owner of the Brooklyn Nets — and Barbra Streisand, who recently performed there.
Klehr said it’s one of many big projects the company has landed recently.
“We’ve done several dozen elevators at the World Trade complex. We’re doing some with glass-bottom floors. We have elevators in three of the towers and at the memorial site.” The company also just landed its biggest project ever, building elevators for a massive VA hospital complex in Denver. They also makes elevators for Target and Ikea stores and a number of malls.
“We’ve had nice growth the past five or six years,” Klehr said of the company that was founded in 1971 by John Romness. MEI is an ESOP — employee stock ownership plan company.
The Barclays complex job also had another Mankato connection. Big elevators carrying big name stars have big potential liability and lawyer Michael Jacobs of the Mankato Leonard, Street and Deinard office made sure MEI was covered.
“On a design-build elevator you want to protect them. The installation standards, warranty, making sure all the engineers and architects agree what the standards are,” Jacobs said.
“You don’t see too many elevators that lift buses. Something like that has the potential for high injury,” he said.
“It was a cool project to work on. But in the end, it’s another elevator contract.”