The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 11, 2012

Rooftop martini glass shakes up city

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — A colorful 12-foot-tall martini glass that made its gleaming debut along Mankato’s skyline earlier this week is a piece of art to the man who built it.

To city officials, it’s advertising that must come down.

Don Kopp, who owns a construction business, was doing some iron work when the bright idea crossed his mind. It wasn’t long before he was pitching his plan to Mike Baumann, owner of Old Town’s Wine Cafe.

“I’d made a few little ornaments for my dad and his lawn,” Kopp said. “Then I thought it would be cool to add some lights. I know Mike and I knew he had a flat rooftop. So I said, ‘Why don’t we put something up to decorate the roof?’ I didn’t think he would actually agree to it.”

But Baumann did agree to the plan, so Kopp went to work in the Wine Cafe’s basement at about 4 p.m. Sept. 28. Employees fetching ice for the bar and restaurant occasionally stopped to watch as he welded half-inch steel rods into the form of a martini glass with an olive at the bottom. A straw that sticks out from the top had to be added outside otherwise Kopp’s creation wouldn’t have fit through the door.

He was done welding by about 1:30 a.m. the next day. Kopp and Baumann spent many more hours hoisting the glass, along with about 300 pounds of tools, up to the roof. It was fastened to a 3-foot-high base, which also had to be pulled up to the roof in four sections.

Kopp added LED lights to make the glass blue, the olive green and the straw red. They weren’t ready to be turned on until Sunday of this week.

Kopp said he would put his glowing goblet up against the controversial Mankato Piece at an art show. “It was my silly idea and I was just trying to be creative,” he said. “I didn’t put it up there to be an eyesore or to offend anyone. It’s an illuminated sculpture. It’s definitely better than that awful looking thing at (Riverfront) Park. That’s just a bunch of old bridge beams.”

Paul Vogel, Mankato community development director, isn’t calling the structure an eyesore. But he did call Baumann and tell him the lighted structure would have to come down because it is in violation of city code 10.87. Vogel said the city received a complaint from someone who was familiar with advertising rules.

The code defines advertising as pretty much any display that draws attention to a business and its purpose. It also forbids any roof signs.

“It’s a martini glass on top of a building that has a liquor establishment,” Vogel said.

The Christmas tree-shaped lights on the roofs of other downtown businesses are considered holiday displays, Vogel said. If Kopp would have made a different form out of his metal and lights, it might have passed as art. But, if someone would have filed a complaint, it would have been reviewed by city staff, Vogel said.

Baumann received an official letter Monday from the city that said he has 10 days to take the martini glass down. He said he’s considering options such as calling his City Council representative, but he doesn’t plan to spend too much energy fighting City Hall.

“We’re just trying to do something nice down here in Old Town and we’ve gotten nothing but compliments,” Baumann said. “If it’s got to come down, it will have to come down.

“Don made the whole thing. So I said let’s put it up there and see what happens. I didn’t know what to expect because it’s not a sign and it’s not attached to the building.”

Kopp said he isn’t looking forward to the job of getting his art work off the roof. He hasn’t made any plans for a new location, but he’s open to ideas.

“Maybe they want to put it on one of the North Mankato roofs,” he said. “I certainly can’t put it on my house or anything. I guess it will have to be disassembled and become a fond memory.”