MANKATO — The Mankato City Council approved a plan by Dotson Iron Castings for a major expansion and facelift for one of Mankato’s oldest businesses.

The project, with construction tentatively scheduled for this year, will bring new meeting rooms, break areas, locker rooms and a rooftop patio to the foundry on Rock Street.

The 7,800-square-foot two-story addition will be built on the front of the building, giving Dotson a gleaming new appearance for people passing by on their way to Riverfront Park and — most critically — to prospective employees.

Like many manufacturers converting to the latest technology, Dotson is in an ongoing competition to attract and retain skilled workers. Denny Dotson, the semi-retired former president of the company, portrayed the project last month as an “exciting project that really goes to the continuation of the retention and recruitment of the best talent.”

City approval was required because the expansion will consume some of the required parking on the site, prompting Dotson to request a variance allowing parking stalls to be relocated into the setback area near Rock Street. The council unanimously granted the variance this week.

“I’m glad they’re putting something up that can help the health and safety and welfare of employees and neighboring property owners,” Council member Mark Frost said.

City staff made one request as part of discussions on the variance — that Dotson relocate a piece of antique machinery surrounded by decorative boulders that serves as a sort of sculpture on the manufacturer’s property near the entrance of Riverfront Park. Relocation would make room for the extension of the sidewalk leading to the park and the Vetter Stone Amphitheater, which draws thousands of pedestrians for bigger concerts. Sidewalks on both sides of Rock Street currently end short of the park, forcing people onto the street.

“There may be the opportunity to construct a sidewalk in that location to get pedestrians to Riverfront Park,” said Mark Konz, a planner for the city.

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