May 31—ROCHESTER — A recommendation to designate the Silver Lake Power Plant as a city landmark is slated to be considered by the Rochester City Council as early as June 6.
The city's Heritage Preservation Commission unanimously recommended the designation in April, following a more than yearlong review of the site by Minneapolis-based New History.
The consultant's report states the plant's main building has historic significance with eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, but the larger complex lacks the same status.
The City Council's potential June 6 review will include a public hearing to allow comments regarding the potential landmark status of the Rochester Public Utilities property.
Here are a few things to know about the Silver Lake Power Plant:
1. A grant funded research on the power plant's historic significance.
The city received a $9,550
Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant
in 2020 to hire New History to evaluate the power plant for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city's heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said the research paved the way for local landmark consideration.
"I was able to use that data and apply it to the local designation," she said.
2. The plant's proposed period of significance spans two decades.
Defined as the time when a proposed landmark was linked to historic events, the proposed period of significance for the Silver Lake Power Plant is from 1949, when it was constructed, to 1969, when a fourth and final addition was made.
3. The lack of a smokestack doesn't alter findings.
was dismantled shortly before the historic review started.
The chimney has been part of the Rochester skyline since it was built in 1968.
It remained in use until Sept. 24, 2013, and the bulk of the demolition occurred in May and June of 2020.
4. The plant's architectural style is considered significant.
The power plant's main building features characteristics of the Streamline Moderne architectural style, including glass blocks, polished stone and metal surfaces, horizontal bands of windows and ornamental metal or concrete panels around doors or windows.
"This style creates a streamlined appearance and was often used for power plants, factories, and transportation facilities to convey a modern and technologically advanced operation," Michael Koop of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office wrote in a letter to the city, supporting landmark designation for the plant.
5. Size and location are also seen as key factors.
The building's size, along with its location on a curve of Silver Lake Drive, makes it visible from several vantage points in the area north of downtown.
That combined aspect is suggested as a significant reason for considering the property historically important.
6. The building is still being used.
Rochester Public Utility power resources staff work out of the building, which continues to operate with two working boilers.
"Unit 1 and Unit 4 are decommissioned in place," said Tony Dzubay, RPU's manager of power resources. "Unit 2 and Unit 3 are operating, one at a time."
Steam generated at the plant is sent through a pipeline to Mayo Clinic for sterilization of equipment, as well as heating and cooling of buildings.
7. Long-term fate of the building remains uncertain.
The city has a steam-generation contract with Mayo Clinic through 2030, so Dzubay said plans call for at least eight more years of operation.
He said no specific plans for the site after 2030, if the contract is not renewed, but the former coal yard has been converted to hold piles of snow removed from city streets each winter.
8. Plant is starting to need structural work.
Dzubay said extending the Mayo Clinic contract or using the plant beyond 2030 would likely mean investing in some repairs.
"Things are starting to get to the end of their life," he said, pointing to a need for roof repairs and other structural work.
"It's an old plant built in the '40s," he said. "We've done what we can for upkeep, but just like if you leave a house vacant for a while it starts to deteriorate. We are not using it to the full extent we had for the last 60 to 70 years."
9. The historic review has an eye toward the future.
While the current review is focused on the building's place in history, Patterson-Lungren said the goal is to make way for future possibilities tied to preserving the building
"The idea with this is that it's very long term, for when it's no longer being used," she said. "The idea is we are setting the stage for someone to be able to use this for adaptive reuse."
10. Redevelopment would come with limits and benefits.
Designation as a local landmark would limit exterior design changes to the building, if it were converted to another use in the future.
Any proposed changes would be reviewed by the Heritage Preservation Commission.
Patterson-Lungren said the study that makes it eligible for national registry as historic means future renovations would be able to use state or federal tax credits to reduce the cost of preservation work.
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