MANKATO — An historic concrete plant that fed the construction of much of downtown Mankato, then became a largely abandoned eyesore a decade ago, would be transformed into a large winery and vineyard under a plan submitted to the city.
Sibley Parkway Winery would include a two-story building with production areas, indoor and outdoor seating, a kitchen, restrooms and a food truck area, according to the application for a city review.
The facility, including the possible vineyard, would be on lots totaling more than 16 acres near and below the Northstar Bridge, which carries Highway 169 over the Minnesota River.
The documents, prepared by Oleson+Hobbie Architects of Mankato, don’t include the names of individuals behind the proposed development — just SPW Opp Zone, LLC.
SPW presumably stands for Sibley Park Winery. “Opp Zone” likely refers to the area’s location in a federally designated Opportunity Zone.
The Opportunity Zone program was created in the massive tax cut legislation passed by the Republican Congress late in 2017 and signed into law by President Trump — aimed at individuals who have accumulated investment earnings that would normally be subject to capital gains taxes as high as 20 percent.
Under the new law, if those gains are instead rolled over into development projects in specified low-income areas around the country — Opportunity Zones — the capital gains taxes would be reduced (for shorter-term investors) or eliminated completely (for those who don’t sell for at least 10 years.)
The request for a city review of a proposed plat for the site doesn’t include financial information, but the project appears to be a major undertaking for the investors behind it.
Along with production facilities for creating wine, the submitted plans include patio dining with a fire pit, an elevated deck with more seating, a direct bike trail connection to the nearby Minnesota River Trail, roughly 18 rows of grape vines stretching from near Sibley Parkway to the start of the flood-control levee.
The winery would have more than 50 parking spaces and indoor seating for 88 in the 2,000-square-foot tasting room plus outdoor deck seating for 40. Another 24 seats are in an upper-level “Tasting Mezzanine” and 24 more are on the elevated deck.
Along with a small kitchen (213 square feet), the tasting room appears to have a door/window that could be opened directly to a visiting food truck parked adjacent to the building.
The wine production area is listed at 2,231 square feet with a possible second production area of 2,150 square feet.
When much of Mankato’s riverfront was included in the limited number of designated Opportunity Zones in Minnesota, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges was hopeful that it would lead to more affordable housing projects.
“But it also might be a shot in the arm for some of those areas that need redevelopment,” Hentges said last year after the zones were designated. “... It’s a big redevelopment tool.”
Few areas of the city were more in need of a boost than the area around the Northstar Bridge 15 years ago. The largely shuttered concrete plant sprawled from beneath the bridge to a city water-treatment lime pit in the distance — dozens of acres of crumbling industrial buildings, a 110-foot-high ready-mix building, gravel lots and unsold concrete tile from the century-old manufacturer.
On the downtown side of the bridge were more sheds, garages, warehouses and empty lots owned by other businesses. City leaders decided to create “Sibley Parkway” to attract new development to the nearly mile-long stretch of underused land.
If the winery comes to fruition, it would fill one of the last large remaining vacant parcels along the parkway. After the city, with help from state economic development grants, created the winding, tree-lined parkway, it slowly but steadily attracted apartment buildings, townhouses, a children’s museum and a planned daycare facility and more.
After the proposal is reviewed by city staff, it will go to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council.