The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 21, 2013

Kia picks Victory/14 for new location

City nixed dealership's first choice on Highway 22

By Mark Fischenich
mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — A new Kia dealership, derailed earlier this year because its proposed location off of Highway 22 ran afoul of city zoning ordinances, has found another prime location. And this time, the property is zoned for auto dealerships.

The new spot is one of the premier undeveloped spots along Highway 14 — on the northeast corner of the Highway 14/Victory Drive interchange (just west of Rasmussen College). Construction could begin this fall with the new dealership opening in the spring.

"The end of May's when we're planning on moving in," said sales manager Ragy Elshaboury. "Of course, that's all weather dependent."

Kia came to Mankato in 2010, occupying the small lot on North Riverfront Drive that was previously a Honda dealership. By earlier this year, the dealership for South Korea's second largest auto company was looking to expand and move to the city's retail hub on the hilltop.

Their first choice was a spot along Highway 22 in the Eastwood Industrial Park adjacent to Country Inn and Suites. The four-acre piece of land is owned partially by the Mankato Area Foundation, and backers of the plan said the sale would be a win for Kia and for the charitable work done by the foundation.

But Eastwood is zoned for industrial uses, with office uses also permitted. The Planning Commission unanimously turned down a rezoning request from the Kia developers, noting that they'd done the same when previous attempts were made for commercial development of that land.

Existing landowners in the industrial park were also mostly opposed to the Kia rezoning, saying that the rezoning would set a bad precedent and that plenty of land was available that was already zoned for commercial use. The developers then withdrew their proposal.

Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel doesn't foresee any problems with the new Kia site, which is also four acres.

"That's zoned commercial, where automobile dealerships are a permitted use," Vogel said.

The Planning Commission at its meeting on Aug. 28 will be determining only if the proposed dealership, including the 14,000-square-foot showroom/service building, meets design standards for a "gateway overlay district." The city code has additional design requirements at major entryways to the city to "create a memorable and positive first impression" of Mankato, according to the code.

"It requires some extraordinary landscaping and certain other treatments," Vogel said, "but nothing onerous."

The Kia designs appear to meet the obligations.

"It's consistent with other newer dealerships," he said.