Minnesota Elevator Makes a Big Lift at Barclays Center

Minnesota Elevator Makes a Big Lift at Barclays Center

The Mankato company designed and built two massive lifts for the Barclays Center.

A Mankato company is getting noticed for million-dollar elevators big enough to drive a bus into.

Minnesota Elevator, Inc., designed and built two lifts for the Barclays Center, new home of the Brooklyn Nets (and soon the New York Islanders). The arena’s site on a busy corner of Brooklyn meant architects didn’t want to waste space on a bus ramp. MEI’s elevators, each 81 feet long with a capacity of 80,000 pounds, allow teams to drive right into the building. The elevator transports the vehicle to the event level, where a giant turntable spins the bus around so it can drive out, as in a railroad roundhouse.

MEI knows something about getting out of a tight spot. The one-man operation John Romnes launched in 1971 grew to 205 employees, but by 2004 the company was trying to compete with bigger players for plain-vanilla elevator contracts, and losing millions of dollars.

In 2006, turnaround expert Rick Lowenberg, referred by U.S. Bank, suggested MEI trim staff and focus on the company’s strength: custom projects. Lowenberg signed on as president in 2007, and MEI went on to acquire elevator service companies in the Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Duluth markets. Even in a recession, Lowenberg says, “no one’s going to cancel a service contract.” MEI now gets half of its revenues from its service division, which employs 90 to 100 mechanics, and half from selling 200 to 300 custom elevators each year.

Revenue is expected to hit $65 million this year, up from $55 million, fueled in part by backlog MEI purchased from industry giant Otis’ discontinued custom division. A big contract like Barclays Center would typically be awarded to a player like Otis, Schindler, or Thyssen-Krup. MEI got the call, Lowenberg says, because it had built something similar for a mall in Salt Lake City.

The elevators were so large they wouldn’t fit inside MEI’s plant; workers had to assemble them in the parking lot. The project complete, MEI is onto the next challenge: several sets of elevators for the new World Trade Center.

In this Bleacher Report video, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant calls the elevator ride “a basketball version of Willy Wonka,” while teammate Antawn Jamison marvels, “That's some 007 stuff.”