A new custom-built high-rise featuring a sleek wood and metal design and breathtaking views of Como Lake hit the market Wednesday morning. Best of all? The list price is free — to bees and butterflies.
The pollinator “sky-rise” is the work of Public Art St. Paul and the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota. The purpose of the striking yellow tower is more than artistic, however. Researchers hope to learn what kind of man-made housing will attract, protect and nurture pollinators at a time when natural habitat is disappearing.
At the same time, officials hope the tower and its nearby bins of free flower seeds — milkweed, purple prairie clover and black-eyed Susan — will elicit support for developing even more pollinator habitat.
It didn’t take long Wednesday for a handful of bees from the nearby Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project to check out their potential new digs.
“I see a bee up in the bee house!” shouted Colleen Sheehy, executive director of Public Art St. Paul.
“I think they’re excited for their urban house,” said Amanda Lovelee, a lead artist on the project along with Christine Baeumler and Julie Benda.
The sky-rise was funded with $113,000 from the Knight Foundation, as well as money the city of St. Paul set aside to develop public art.
The project will last three years and cost $300,000 total, Sheehy said. In addition, a $245,000 Minnesota Futures Grant from the U will help researchers test the bee house’s design, use and effectiveness.
Wild bees are known to live in dead plants or fallen trees, said Colleen Satyshur from the Bee Lab. But a lot of that potential habitat is often cleared away and researchers don’t know much about what makes a good artificial nest site for Minnesota’s 400 or so species of bees.
For example, do they like nesting in sunny areas, or shade? Figuring out what makes the most attractive and useful nest “is critical to their survival for the winter,” Satyshur said.
If the bees like what they see, she said they will begin nesting by spring. Researchers would observe them during the summer and, in the fall, take a peek inside the sky rise for more clues on their preferences and behavior.
The 4-foot-high bee and butterfly sky-rise sits atop a bright yellow 10-foot pole near the intersection of West Como Boulevard, Nagasaki Road and Horton Avenue. Officials hope to erect a second sky-rise near Lake Phalen in the fall and researchers hope to build another at the University of Minnesota campus.
Lovelee said the partnership between Public Art St. Paul, the city and the U will help highlight an issue that can be hard to understand.
“This is a great big beautiful sculpture that can draw people in and get them to pay attention in ways they might not have otherwise before,” Lovelee said.