By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A prime piece of development land behind Madison East Center has, since Dr. Wynn Kearney Sr. bought it in the 1950s, remained largely out of sight and unchanged.
The ravines, woods, pond and farm fields were playgrounds for scores of neighborhood kids over the decades, including many of the Kearney grandchildren and others who are now bringing major apartment and commercial development to the site.
“We had a lot of fun playing back there,” said grandson Matt Kearney of Eagle Lake. “People keep coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘Hey, I played back there.’”
Grandson Thor Snilsberg of New York romped in the woods as a kid, building forts, riding dirt bikes and building bonfires, the latter sometimes getting the neighborhood kids a visit from the police.
“The folks in the nursing home reported cult activity,” Matt Kearney said. “It was us kids and our bikes sitting around a fire.”
Garth Ringheim, whose family is building the first major phase of the development, prowled the marshes and creeks gathering plants for his aquarium. Ringheim, a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry who lives in New Jersey, went to Mankato East High School with some of the Kearneys.
And Ringheim’s mother, Marilyn, also has strong ties to the Kearneys. For 55 years she served as an anesthetist working with Dr. Kearney Sr. at the hospital.
Even Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel, who helped shepherd the complicated project through the system, frequently played in the woods as a kid, Ringheim said.
“It’s funny how all these connections come together after all these years. It’s neat.”
The right time
For many years the property was entrusted to the five children of Dr. Kearney Sr.
Now 10 grandchildren are developing the property, led by Snilsberg and Matt Kearney.
Snilsberg, whose background is in urban planning, said no one ever thought much of developing the land and no one really approached the family about doing anything, which wasn’t in the city limits.
“Until the Victory Drive extension was done, there wasn’t much access or visibility. It was all pinned behind the mall,” Snilsberg said.
Recently Ringheim entered the picture as he and his family, who own other apartments in Mankato, looked for sites for an apartment complex.
The family partnership includes mother Marilyn, Garth and his sisters Reva Baggott, Debra Holmseth and Nyla Alderton.
“We looked all over Mankato and then I remembered one of the people I went to school with was part of the Kearney clan that owns that land.”
Soon, Ringheim flew to Mankato and walked the property with Snilsberg and sealed a deal with a handshake. Ringheim would build the first major phase of the development — a 77-unit upper-end apartment complex to be followed by two 48-unit complexes — bringing the financial infusion needed to prepare the entire property for development.
“They needed a developer to get it going and I needed good land. It was a win-win,” Ringheim said.
The project also meshes with the city’s plan for street improvement and for Madison East, which will have the back of its property opened for new development and better visibility.
The project will allow the city to finally build an Adams Street connection, replacing the makeshift road, lined with concrete barriers, located behind Madison East.
“We’re excited about helping facilitate Adams Street going through,” Matt Kearney said. “A lot of people are going to be glad to see that parking-lot road go away.”
Hope Street, on the west edge of the property, also will be extended north to Goodyear Avenue.
The east side of the property — along Victory Drive North — will be used for future restaurant, store and office development.
Utilizing the setting
Ringheim’s goal for the apartments was to fill a need for “affordable upper-end” housing and utilizing the beauty of the area.
The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be 20 percent larger than average apartments and feature granite countertops, island kitchens, a large shared community room and exercise center as well as a 40-foot by 15-foot covered porch where residents can look out at the pond and a park.
Rent will be between $900 and $1,450 per month.
“There won’t be any parking visible from the streets. The parking will be on the inside of the building and underground,” Ringheim said. “Underground is expensive, but I decided how it looked mattered more.”
The overall 35-acre Kearney project has received approval from the city, and the apartment complex is in the process of gaining final approval. Construction could start in July with a June 2014 opening.