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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Commission recommends corn tower be designated a potential landmark

Commission recommends corn tower be designated a potential landmark

The Heritage Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to recommend that Rochester’s famed corn water tower be considered a potential landmark property under the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

“It is a piece of art, and I think it is iconic,” said member Daniel Groteboer, who joined eight others on the commission in supporting the motion.

The 151-foot water tower, located on the site of Seneca Foods, near the Olmsted County Fairgrounds, was one of a handful of properties discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. Designating the structure a potential landmark would provide an extra, albeit thin, layer of protection against future demolition.

“This is as much of a landmark as the Plummer Building,” local auctioneer John Kruesel said during an open comment period, noting that the tower symbolizes the historical significance of agriculture to southern Minnesota.

Discussion on the tower’s future comes as Seneca Foods has already begun to wind down its canning operations in Rochester. The company, which has owned the canning factory at 1217 Third Avenue Southeast since 1982, said the decision is a result of consumers eating less canned vegetables.

The absence of a seasonal canning operation will likely mean the end of the line for the cannery, which was built in 1929 by Reid, Murdoch and Co. While Seneca will continue to utilize a nearby frozen food plant, it has not said what it plans to do with the site that encompasses the water tower.

In a letter sent to commission members, however, the company did make clear that it objects to the tower being listed as a historic landmark.

John D. Exner, general counsel for Seneca Foods, made the case that the design of the structure — an ear of corn that was painted on years after the tower was first built — is not enough to warrant the designation.

“If it were painted any other color, there would be no rationale for listing on the Potential Landmark Properties list,” said Exner, who is based in Janesville, Wisconsin. “It is an industrial facility that is indistinguishable from numerous other food processing facilities in the region,” he added.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioner Barry Skolnick pushed back against the idea that the tower is just a painting on an industrial property. “The fact that so many people take pictures of it shows how important it is,” he said.

The commission’s recommendation will now make its way to the Rochester City Council, which is expected to discuss the topic after the New Year.

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Cover photo: Flickr

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