Contractor has big plans for old Park Rapids water tower
Vacant since 1978, the old white water tower located ½ a block south of Hwy. 34 and 2 ½ blocks west of Hwy 71 – across from the law enforcement center – is currently a forfeited property, owned by the state, but maintained by Hubbard County.
But if Jeff Coleman has any say, it won’t be that way for long.
He has big plans.
Coleman wants to completely renovate the aging infrastructure, transforming it into a unique and regionally recognizable attraction; the likes of which he says has never been seen not only in Minnesota, but the entire world.
Known as “Skyview,” the project would be complete with an observation tower, gift shop, lounge and catering venue.
“The Skyview tower would create a unique skyline for the town and be a visual magnet for anyone within a mile and a half of town. It would be the attraction that would get vacationers to stop and investigate,” said Coleman, the sole proprietor of Coleman Creations.
Coleman fell in love with the idea of renovating the tower and immediately began developing his concept.
“From the first time I saw the water tower I envisioned creating a unique structure near the top of the tower. This structure would allow vacationers and locals alike to be able to take in the beauty of the area and see the attractions and services the town had to offer,” Coleman said.
“Once at the top of the tower, people would receive a brochure that would be a picture of the area. It would highlight the streets, attractions and services of the town; it would be a visual sales presentation for the City of Park Rapids,” Coleman said.
Born in Lincoln, Neb. and raised in Fargo, N.D., Coleman has been designing and creating architecture as a contractor for over 40 years. He studied architecture for three years at North Dakota State University and then studied sculpture design at Metropolitan State University in downtown Minneapolis.
After traveling around the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Arts at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Although he has been primarily based in Tucson, Arizona the past 25 years, he is no stranger to the area.
“In the last five years I have spent four to five months a summer at our family cabin on Round Lake, which I've been going to for 48 years,” Coleman said. “The remainder of the year I would spend in Tucson, but I am planning to move to the Minneapolis area this spring.”
With knowledge and experience intact, Coleman believes he is capable of pulling off such a large project.
“I have been remodeling for over 40 years and have been a contractor for most of that time, working on both residential and commercial projects. I was a hands-on site supervisor for a number of years,” Coleman said.
Not only would Skyview be an aesthetic attraction, Coleman says, he would like to implement a fully functioning and interactive business model.
“In the upper section there would be a wide corridor all the way around the outside of the entire structure for viewing; there would be stationary viewing telescopes positioned around this area. There would also be a small area for snacks and drinks near the central core. This upper area could be used for weddings, conferences, and celebrations of any sort that would require space for up to 350 people. The proposed square footage is 4,500 sq. ft.,” Coleman said.
“The lower section would be closer to 2,500 square feet and would accommodate a small theater, rest rooms and the entrance to the elevator within the tower. There would also be a sizable gift shop which would sell mementos of the tower and also highlight local shops by having small sections displaying each interested vendor's signature items,” Coleman said.
The basic design premise came from a common item Coleman has seen throughout the area.
“The design of the structure came out of a need for beauty, stability, and weight considerations; to achieve these goals I settled on something that has been used for decades in the surrounding rural areas: The grain bin,” Coleman said.
“A grain bin is structurally sound. It withstands gale winds and needs little to no maintenance once erected. The circular shape of a grain bin also lends itself to the shape of the water tower.”
Coleman has given considerable thought already to the construction process.
“In order to insure safety and quality construction of the grain bin that would go on the top section of the tower I plan to build most of it on the ground. I would create a temporary 3' high mock tower the same dimension as the real tower and do most of the construction there; this would allow 80% of the construction of the structure to be completed on the ground,” Coleman said.
“The idea is to leave a ‘donut hole’ space in the center of the bin on the ground and crane the mostly finished structure up and over the top of the tower. From there it would be placed on support beams that will have been embedded through the tower. The actual tower itself will house a double door, 4,500 pound capacity elevator that will lift occupants up ten stories. Wrapped around the structural support for the elevator within the tower will be two spiral staircases to be used as a fire escape,” Coleman said.
Although this process sounds like a complete overhaul, Coleman believes the structure of the already existing water tower aides in the architecture of such an attraction.
“The tower was built out of concrete and was designed to hold two million pounds of water, plus the weight of itself. My proposed structure wouldn't be anywhere near that weight,” Coleman said.
He also believes the process would be quite the spectacle to see. Believing the process of creating this project will be very awe inspiring, he plans to film and take photos of the entire process. He would then make a video that would be shown at the small theater in the lower section.
Although it’s clear Coleman has given the project much consideration, other factors and additional forces need. More testing will ultimately need to be done before any groundbreaking ceremonies are penciled in. Engineers will need to take everything into consideration.
“A section of the foundation will be unearthed to expose the main foundation and then core samples will be taken from the tower's walls. Then there will be an X-ray of the tower to show where the rebar were originally placed. There are only a few companies that do this testing and may have to come from out of state, but all aspects of this project must be done by licensed Minnesota contractors,” Coleman said.
Private funding would be used for the costs of the project, which Coleman declined to comment on as of now. He feels that the City of Park Rapids should one day be the owner of Skyview, but he does not see it pertinent to pursue that idea anytime soon.
As for the long Minnesota winter’s, Coleman plans to throw an annual New Year’s party, but then shut Skyview down until the following March.
Coleman whole-heartedly believes the idea is not only possible, but practical.
However, before anymore major hurdles are cleared, he wants to gauge public interest on even housing such a project in their community.
“The project has been in motion for me for the last three years. Now that I'm confident that it can be accomplished I need to know if the community is in favor of such a project. The two main hurdles I need to get over are the community’s support and the results of the concrete structural testing. The testing must be done so that engineers can give the project their stamp of approval,” Coleman said.
Once the testing is complete, Coleman will begin to seek support around the Park Rapids community, as well as, purchase the land currently owned by Hubbard County. He will sell the project concentrating his efforts on promoting tourism and business.
He estimates the sky is the limit Skyview.
“As an additional feature, the area that would be in the top of the actual water tank would become a one bedroom hotel, to be made available for wedding couples, dignitaries, or just those wanting to sleep amongst the clouds,” Coleman said. “The process and the end result would be the only one like it on the planet. Through the internet and word of mouth, people from all around the world would make it a place to stop on their vacations to the north lakes country,” Coleman said.
“The Skyview tower would potentially employ up to 20 people, highlight what the business community has already established and add revenues to businesses in the area.”
Coleman plans to complete his final business plan over the winter months and present it to investors in the spring.