Congratulations to the MSU softball team!

Buffalo Wings & Rings opening in former OCB

Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, MN
Date: April 17, 2017

MANKATO — Buffalo Wings & Rings is opening its first Minnesota location in Mankato.

The Cincinnati-based sports restaurant franchise will open in part of the former Old Country Buffet building, across from the entrance to River Hills Mall.

The franchisee, Todd Fetter, already operates eight locations and said Mankato was the launching point for Minnesota because of determination by a local developer and by his impressions of the city.

The OCB building was bought by Kyle Smith and the Tailwind Group and is being divided into a few commercial spaces.

“The guys at Tailwind Group had reached out to Wings & Rings and that’s how I got involved,” Fetter said. “The corporate guys said I should talk to them and see what I thought. I like the aggressiveness of that Tailwind group, and we’ve really hit it off. They traveled with me to Aberdeen to see what our location there looks like,” he said.

“Mankato kind of chose us. But the more we learned about the town, we said this is where we need to be.”

He said the chain sets itself apart from other sports bars by offering a higher-level experience.

“It’s a club-level sports experienced as opposed to the mosh pit of a stadium. It’s more upscale, high-quality food served on fine china not in a paper boat.”

The restaurant will feature 40 TVs and the menu will include gyros, fresh salads, onion rings, homemade bleu cheese, and fresh wings and burgers.

Work on the building is already underway and the operators hope to be open by mid-September.

He said they are already getting resumes and will start hiring some positions soon with plans to have a staff of near 80 when they open.

Fetter, who took a break from planting soybeans for a phone interview, is not a typical franchise owner. He and his sons operate a corn and soybean farm in Ohio that was started by his grandfather in 1933. For 25 years Fetter also owned and operated a powder coating business, which he sold a few years ago.

“I had to keep doing something, and me and my boys love sports and wings and we said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Fetter said. “I’ve only been in the restaurant business for four years and I’m over 50. We’re passionate about it. We love it.”

Beside his sons, his wife, Audra, is also involved in the restaurants.

He got his first franchise and watched it succeed for two years before quickly opening more locations.

Buffalo Wings & Rings started in 1984 and has more than 70 stores. In the U.S., restaurants are in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

They also have several locations in the Middle East, including Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Iraq and planned locations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Last year “Franchise Business Review” named it as one of its “Top 40 Food and Beverage Franchises.”

College Town boasts high-end housing, community values

Nicole Schmidt
MSU Reporter, Mankato, MN
Date: February 23, 2017

Congratulations to College Town for claiming the title of Best Apartment Complex in the greater Mankato area.

Finding a place you can call home is an important step in your time at college, and College Town has yet again taken the top spot for a number of reasons, including a large list of features and amenities, convenient location, on-site security, and bus service.

College Town sets itself apart from the wide range of living options for a number of reasons. Firstly, College Town has a high-end neighborhood feel to it with gated access and security. Once in the community, 100+ multi-level cottages line the streets, varying in sizes and floor plans. In fact, College Town offers ten different floor plans, ranging from three bedrooms and four bathrooms to five bedrooms and six bathrooms. Each house is fitted with hardwood and ceramic tiling and personal bathrooms attached to each bedroom. The homes also come with a variety of amenities, including free high-speed internet and cable.

One unique feature about College Town is that it is truly a community. Those within the community have many different ways to bond with neighbors and friends with amenities such as an outdoor pool and indoor hot tub, volleyball and basketball court, and a game area. The community also offers a 24-hour clubhouse with fitness center, lounge area, computer lab, and study area. You can catch a tan outside on the available greenspace or by using the free tanning provided. After a full day, you can retreat to your personal quiet, personal room. It truly feels like a day at a resort.

Safety is also a key feature in this living space. Security, electronic access-controlled gates, and HD security cameras all ensure those living within the community feel safe and secure at all times.

Of course, location is also a key feature that makes College Town the top of its class. Only about a mile away from campus, this living community is very accessible. Whether you want to enjoy a nice walk to school or catch the campus bus that arrives every half hour, you are guaranteed you’ll get where you need to go.

College Town operates under RENT MSU, which includes College Station, The Quarters, and other RENT MSU houses, so you know you are dealing with knowledgeable landlords when it comes to renting. RENT MSU also knows the needs of the thousands of college students they provide homes for every year, which is a key benefit when looking for an apartment for the first time.

With all of these features and amenities, its obvious why College Town earned top apartment complex in Mankato. If you’re looking for a safe, high-end, fun place to live, look no further than Mankato’s very own College Town. It may be the best decision you make all year.

EPA grant could prepare quarries, other parcels for redevelopment

Mark Fischenich
The Free Press, Mankato, MN
Date: January 21, 2017

MANKATO — From the former quarries along the Minnesota River, through downtown Mankato and along the Sibley Parkway, up to 10 potentially contaminated sites could find an easier path to redevelopment under a federal grant being sought by the city.

The application for an Environmental Protection Agency grant, if successful, would provide up to $300,000 to investigate for pollution on so-called brownfields — mostly in the oldest portion of Mankato. Without that sort of investigation, developers tend to shy away from purchasing and building on properties that have a history of industrial uses or possible chemical contaminants.

“We’ve found that having those answers upfront can really speed up the redevelopment process,” said Kristin Prososki, economic development specialist for the city of Mankato.

Residents don’t need to look far for examples. The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, the Performing Arts Center attached to the civic center, the Tailwind office and commercial development on South Front Street, and the small commercial building that replaced an abandoned convenience store across from The Y — all happened after grant funds investigated the potential environmental pitfalls on the sites.

Developer Kyle Smith of the Tailwind Group was involved in projects on both ends of the scale. Tailwind remodeled and slightly expanded a long-vacant Super Shop convenience store into a small three-tenant commercial building when grant funds showed that the site wasn’t contaminated with leaking petroleum products. And Tailwind made one of the biggest private investments in downtown Mankato in decades with the three-building South Front Street project after clean-up funds subsidized the cost of removing tons of contaminated earth.

“Without some of those matching funds, the deals just don’t get done,” Smith said. “Because the economics just don’t work.”

Previous projects relied on state funding, mainly through the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The latest application is for federal funds through the EPA’s brownfields assessment grants program.

Mankato made an application a year ago for a piece of the $55 million in funding available nationwide but wasn’t one of the 131 communities selected. The agency provided feedback on Mankato’s unsuccessful application, including suggestions that the city provide more specifics about possible redevelopment sites, and Prososki is more optimistic about the city’s chances this year.

The new application specifically mentions the Coughlan quarries — one just east of Riverfront Park and another off of Third Avenue just south of Highway 14 — which have an assessed value of $1.1 million.

The Coughlan family last year announced it was interested in offering the depleted quarries for redevelopment, likely including public uses such as parkland. The potential of the 86 acres of quarry land — complete with rock cliffs up to 60 feet high and riverside landscapes in the heart of the city — sparked the imagination of area residents, who have suggested everything from a new county fairgrounds to a baseball park to a high-tech industrial park.

Dreaming can turn into planning more easily if it’s determined that the land is free of major contaminants. The EPA funds could finance soil borings and other testing, along with creation of a plan to address any pollutants found, Prososki said.

“There can still be surprises (during the redevelopment process), but it minimizes them,” she said of the assessments.

The Coughlans’ willingness to redevelop the land is a critical component for the brownfields assessment grants.

“It’s done on a voluntary basis when a property owner is on board,” Prososki said.

If the grant dollars are awarded, any other willing landowner could also participate. Prososki estimates the grant could fund Phase One assessments for as many as 10 properties, which would involve a thorough search of the historic uses of the land to identify past businesses that may have utilized toxic chemicals.

If the Phase One assessment suggests potential pollutants, the grant funds could finance roughly six Phase Two assessments involving soil borings and other testing. The funds can also be used for assessments on older buildings for items of concern such as lead-based paint and older light fixtures that could contain mercury or PCBs.

Even a full $300,000 grant won’t address all of the potential sites in the older parts of Mankato, but it would make a substantial dent in them — particularly considering the number of properties already tackled in the past five years.

“It takes years to get these sites fully redeveloped, decades even,” Prososki said. “But it would be a really great start.”

Solid information about the environmental problems — or lack thereof — can definitely make a difference in the pace of redevelopment. The tax-forfeited Super Shop convenience store sat vacant for years, even though buyers were interested in the parcel at the heavily traveled intersection of Riverfront Drive and Highway 169/60 across from The Y.

When it first went up for auction, no one bid.

“The three parties that were interested were concerned about the tanks,” Prososki said of the buried fuel tanks.

Then came the government-funded testing, a clean bill of environmental health and the purchase and redevelopment by Tailwind. The building is now home to real estate, financial advising and weight-loss businesses.

The Front Street development by the same firm resulted in more than $20 million in private investment downtown but only after the environmental problems with the site were identified and the subsidized clean-up occurred. The site provided almost a complete checklist of some of the worst possible previous uses — railroad siding, dry cleaners, foundry, underground storage tanks … .

And the investigation found significant pollutants in significant quantities. Immense amounts of soil were hauled from the site before construction could begin.

“That’s got to be one of the largest clean-ups Mankato has done,” Smith said.

The Tailwind Project, which brought hundreds of jobs downtown and contributed to the wider revitalization of South Front Street, wouldn’t have happened if the public assistance with the environmental costs hadn’t been available, Smith said.

Developers recognize that greenfield sites — farm land on the edge of town — offer a much less complicated place to construct a new building. But it’s good public policy for the city, state and federal governments to promote reuse of brownfields in the city core where streets, utilities and other services are already in place, Prososki said.

And the revitalization of the city core has brought momentum that makes the private sector even more interested in investing downtown.

“It’s really made it an attractive place where businesses want to locate,” she said.

Smith agrees: “Right now, it appears to be pretty trendy.”

So if the tenants want to be downtown, or in Old Town, or in a former quarry, or along the Sibley Parkway — which is undergoing a transformation from industrial to office/residential — developers are going to be more willing to tackle the complexities of brownfield redevelopment.

“As big as the challenges might be, there’s a bigger opportunity,” Smith said.

The fate of the EPA grant application is expected to be known sometime in May. One major brownfield redevelopment that won’t be benefiting from the grant is the former city public works department site just north of Cub Foods West along the Sibley Parkway.

The City Council is eager to redevelop that four-acre property and didn’t want to await the results of the EPA grant process. Instead, the city has agreed to finance the environmental assessment with hopes of seeking private redevelopment proposals later this year.

Julee’s Jewelry opening in Mankato

Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, MN
Date: January 16, 2017

MANKATO — Julee’s Jewelry, a longtime St. Peter jeweler known for her custom designs, is opening a shop in the new Tailwind building in downtown Mankato, joining the recently opened Primp Boutique.

“I’ve had people asking me to open in Mankato for a few years,” said owner Julee Johnson. The Tailwind Group asked her to check out their new building on South Front Street. She drove to the building and parked. “I was looking at the building and a couple crossed the street right in front of me holding hands and I though, maybe that’s a sign,” said Johnson, who sells plenty of engagement and wedding rings.

“There’s a lot of energy downtown and when I knew Primp was for sure opening I thought we’d be a good compliment.”

Johnson’s space will be a little larger than the boutique and there will be one more retail space available in the building after she moves in. She hopes to be open by the end of the month.

Johnson started her business in downtown St. Peter in a former jewelry store in 1999. The store had been around for more than 40 years and the business was being liquidated after the owner’s death. Johnson ended up buying the inventory and opening Julee’s Jewelry in the same building.

In 2013 she moved a block north to the historic Nicollet Hotel building. “It’s a beautiful building with big wood columns and great architecture,” she said of her new space in St. Peter.

Johnson travels to Antwerp, Belgium and to New York to buy gems. “I sell gems to customers and we design the jewelry together. I do a lot of custom designs,” Johnson said. She uses a CAD-type system to work with customers on designs or sometimes hand sketches designs that she will make.

“I’m a little more techie than a lot of jewelers. It’s the engineering part of me.”

She said the industry has changed significantly since she started. “The margins have dropped drastically because of the internet. But you never know what you’re getting on the internet, the sparkle, the quality.”

Johnson recently qualified to become a “Preferred Jeweler.” She said just one other jeweler in the state, in Rochester, has the designation. People who buy jewelry from preferred jewelers can bring it to any preferred jeweler in the country for free repairs.

Former Old Country Buffet to be redeveloped

Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, MN
Date: October 31, 2016

MANKATO — The former Old Country Buffet property will be expanded and redeveloped for at least three businesses while a former restaurant downtown will get a new tenant and the River Hills Pet Care Hospital has plans to move to a new location with a lot more room.

And in downtown Mankato, an experiment called Envision Lab has closed.

Tailwind Group in partnership with Lidstrom Commercial Realtors is redeveloping the OCB site, which sits on prime property directly across Adams Street from the main entry to River Hills Mall.

“Location, location, location is what I liked about it,” Kyle Smith, of Tailwind, said of the property. Tailwind and Lidstrom have owned the property for about two years and previously leased it to OCB.

He said their success in leasing the new space relatively quickly this summer confirmed to him the site is a good one. Smith said they have three tenants for the spaces but they do not yet want to disclose names.

The project will be finished in the spring or early summer of 2017.

Smith said two of the tenants are new to the area.

Tailwind and Lidstrom plan to add 3,100 square feet to the building, completely renovate the interior and exterior and divide it into three and possibly four commercial spaces. The current building is 10,000 square feet.

Drawings for the plan, which is being reviewed by the city, show the spaces as planned will be about 2,800 square feet, 4,500 square feet and 5,500 square feet. The drawing shows two outdoor patio areas, suggesting food-related businesses in at least some of the space.

They will also reconfigure the parking lot adding 10 stalls for a total of 129.

OCB was closed abruptly in June after the chain shuttered 92 locations, part of an ongoing downsizing of the chain.

Pet hospital

River Hills Pet Care Hospital has submitted plans to the city for construction of a new building. The business has long operated out of space in Pet Expo.

The new 4,700 square-foot building would be across the street from the west side of Home Depot and between Community Bank and Sherwin Williams, according to plans submitted to the city’s Site Plan Review Committee.

River Hills Pet Care Hospital opened in 1995 and has five veterinarians. They are a full service veterinary clinic specializing in preventive care, laser surgery and dentistry. In addition to dogs and cats, they care for small mammals, reptiles and birds.

Burrito Express

The former Daisy’s Soul Food at 410 South Front St. in downtown Mankato will become a Burrito Express.

The building is owned by Shawn Clow and the restaurant will be operated by Oscar Castro.

Castro had operated the Burrito Wings restaurant near the Minnesota State University campus, which he opened in 2014, until selling it this summer.

Castro also owns the Patron Mexican Bar & Grill in Chaska.

Daisy’s Soul Food opened in January 2014 and closed in July of that year.

End to Envision

In 2015 Katie Boone opened Envision Lab in part of a building on the corner of Broad and Main streets with the idea of offering office co-space that could be rented at relatively low costs for the short term.

The lab started with the help of a $20,000 grant from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which believed a space for start-up businesses, telecommuters and entrepreneurs was needed.

Boone announced last week that Envision Lab has closed, saying they couldn’t afford the space.