South-metro beat: Future of Eagan's old water tower is up in the air

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2013 - 7:09 PM

What makes a landmark? It’s a question that Eagan officials will consider next year as they determine the fate of the city’s oldest water tower, which hasn’t held water in years but is regarded by some residents as a symbol of the community.

The 46-year-old Sperry Water Tower is still valuable to the city as a wireless antenna tower for such companies as T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint/Nextel. Its antenna revenue is expected to reach almost $147,000 this year and nearly $156,000 in 2014.

But the tower needs a rehab costing more than $500,000. Officials must decide whether to do that or spend far less to tear it down and replace it with another cellphone antenna tower that would continue to generate revenue. The choice is complicated by some people’s feelings about the tower, so much a landmark that Mayor Mike Maguire has used photos of it in campaign fliers.

Public Works Director Russ Matthys said he’s about to begin seeking public input. He hopes to have the information ready for the City Council in mid-January.

Matthys has been getting informal feedback for several months. “There’s been an interesting range of suggestions,” he said. Some people wonder if it could be converted into housing. “Someone actually offered to move into it. They said they’d like to be the first to live in it,” Matthys said.

Others have told Matthys they’d like to see the tower become a piece of public art, an option that could mean it could still produce revenue as a site for wireless equipment. Maguire also mentioned that idea at a council work session last spring and last week issued a statement saying he looked forward to getting public feedback.

Matthys has ruled out one idea floated by a council member that the tower be converted into a hydro-battery — a system that would use cheap electricity during nonpeak hours to pump water up into the tower and recapture energy later by reversing the flow and sending the water down through hydro turbines. Matthys consulted Great River Energy and determined there would be little, if any, return on that investment.

Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282

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