Our View: Creativity needed to preserve corn cob water tower

December 7, 2018

Admit it: One of the first sites you take visiting friends and relatives to see in Rochester is the distinctive ear of corn water tower.

Not quite as ubiquitous as the geese on local logos and souvenirs, the tower at the Seneca Foods Corp. plant in Southeast Rochester is still one of the symbols of the city. It can be seen as representative of the strong agricultural background of this area.

Does all of that make it a historic landmark?

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission thinks so, and has voted unanimously to place the water tower on a list of potential landmark properties. That would protect the tower from demolition.

We’re not going to disagree that the tower is an important, if quirky, local landmark. What concerns us, though, is what comes next in this process.

What happens if the tower is indeed deemed historic, and Seneca, which has protested the move, decides to eventually sell or abandons its site? We’re somewhat uncomfortable with the city telling Seneca what it can and cannot do with property and buildings it owns.

If preservation of the water tower is deemed important, it will likely take some creative thinking to get that done.

Brainstorming possible solutions, we came up with a few, admittedly out of left field:

• The city offers to purchase the tower for a nominal price, with the understanding that if Seneca ever decides to get rid of it, the city will pay to move the tower elsewhere — to the nearby Olmsted County Fairgrounds, for example.

• If the Seneca site ever goes up for sale, Olmsted County makes an offer with an eye to adding the acreage — and water tower — to an expanded fairgrounds/events center.

• Newly elected Rochester Mayor Kim Norton brings the HPC and Seneca folks together to work on a solution.

• Seneca decides the water tower issue is a headache and donates the tower to the city.

We’d hate to see the tower disappear or be changed in some way, because it is, for better or worse, a symbol of Rochester. But we also don’t want to see Seneca’s hands unduly tied to the tower which, after all, is the company’s private property.

If the community really decides it wants to preserve this symbol for the future, and if city and county officials decide it’s worth the battle, everyone involved will have to come up with a creative way to do exactly that.

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