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Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Date: Friday, March 21, 2014

MANKATO — The biggest private downtown Mankato development ever just got bigger.

Tailwind Group of Mankato has already begun construction on a seven-story office tower on the corner of Warren Street and Riverfront Drive and a four-story multi-use building on South Front Street. Now, Tailwind has announced it will also begin construction this summer on a third building on the block — a five-story corporate office that will initially house 80 to 100 employees.

“It’s a hundred more employees downtown,” said Kyle Smith, owner of Tailwind. “To have it happen ahead of schedule is exciting.

“It’s a combination of people looking for a different level of office space. But it’s also that people have accepted that downtown is for real,” Smith said.

The name of the corporate tenant will be made available in the next couple of weeks, but it is an existing company in Mankato. Smith said the new tenant will occupy about 75 percent of the new building.

City manager Pat Hentges said the fact tenants are willing to pay for higher-end office space — Smith said rates are 20 to 30 percent above traditional market lease rates here — shows the city has reached a new level of success in transforming the downtown.

“The leases they are talking about are substantially more than what they’re paying now, so their interest to be in a high-end development confirms the vision Tailwind and others had for this area. It’s really coming to fruition as a corporate and entertainment district,” Hentges said.

With the cost of the new building, the total construction in the block will top $20 million.

The seven-story building is $9.2 million, while the four-story building is $4.2 million. With the parking ramp, the project was at about $16 million, prior to the announcement of the third building being a go.

The new development means the city will need to add one more level to the parking ramp it is building amid the new buildings. What was to be a three levels will now be four, if approved by the City Council. The council, acting as the Economic Development Authority, is being asked at its Monday meeting to allow the city to move ahead with a feasibility study for a bigger ramp, which will also be built this summer.

The additional parking space will support employees in the area as well as nighttime visitors to the downtown entertainment district.

Hentges said the massive, multi-building construction in one block will be hectic, but getting it all done in a season is something everyone is looking forward to.

“The businesses (downtown) are putting up with the construction but they see it as a positive. What the businesses are excited about is this is packing in 200 or 300 employees who will have lunch or whatever.”

Hentges said that his stress is to make sure the city infrastructure, including the ramp, is delivered on time as promised.

“Tailwind is doing what it should and the businesses are putting up with (construction), our burden is to deliver what we need to in time.”

Smith said he, too, is happy all of the construction can be done at once.

“The neighbors give us support, but I know they’re struggling through this. So I want to get it done as soon as possible.”

This past winter, crews demolished the Miller Motors and Red Sky Lounge buildings along Front Street to make way for the four-story building.

The development has brought Tailwind Group to the public forefront.

In the past few years Tailwind has been involved in an array of commercial and multi-housing renovation and construction projects in the area, including the construction or renovation of several strip malls.

Tailwind Group describes itself as a fully-integrated, property development, management and leasing firm. They often work with property owners and participate in joint ownership of projects. They are also heavily involved in developing and managing student housing around universities.

The work by Tailwind in the area will dovetail with a city project that aims to upgrade three blocks of South Front Street in an effort to create a dining and entertainment destination downtown.

The City Council recently approved spending $1.3 million this summer to transform South Front Street from Cherry Street to the Public Safety Center from its current stark, utilitarian nature into a pedestrian-friendly street of sidewalk cafes, trees and benches.

Vehicles would still be allowed but drivers will get just a pair of relatively narrow lanes to make room for the wide sidewalks and related amenities.