Kone’s Christmas tree tradition lives on in a new sustainable steel structure.
Developer Rodney Blackwell recalled vividly how when he unveiled plans for a new office tower and his plans to acquire all of Kone’s downtown Moline real estate, the first question Kone employees had was “will you still have a tree?”
Five years later, the $40 million Kone Centre is open and the elevator/escalator manufacturer is in place as its anchor tenant.
Now, workers are assembling a new steel-framed, artificial tree to place atop the eight-story office building on the Moline riverfront.
“The tree is three-and-a-half stories tall and comes apart,” said Blackwell, the managing principal of Financial District Properties, the developer and owner of Kone Centre, which is downriver from the old Kone headquarters.
“We just got Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification) for the building, so we couldn’t go out and cut down a tree every year to put up there.”
But Kone’s new home could not be without its 47-year-old tradition.
“We had to have a tree,” said Dave Bisby, Financial District Properties’ maintenance manager. “The tree was a meaningful tradition. With all the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint, it was a good decision to lean in this direction.
“Every time we cut down a tree and put it on the other facility, we were taking a tree out of the ecosystem,” said Bisby, who previously worked for Kone and led the tree crew the past decade. “With this one, we can use it over and over.”
The plan is to have a crane from E.J. Cattani & Son Inc. lift the tree atop Kone Centre on Tuesday — with assistance from Industrial Steel Erectors and Ryan Companies US Inc.
The tree will be lit Nov. 17 in conjunction with the Lighting of the Commons event in downtown Moline. It contains 5,100 C7 LED white lights.
According to Bisby, the genesis of the tradition came in 1965 with the ironworkers who built the elevator test tower for what then was Montgomery Elevator Co. As is the ironworkers’ practice, a tree is placed atop a building when the steel work is completed.
In 1966, Montgomery Elevator placed its first lighted Christmas tree atop the tower at the suggestion of Hank Holuba, the company’s research and development director. For years, the effort was led by the company’s research and development team until the past 10 years when the facilities management group took over, Bisby said.
He credited the experienced Kone tree team of Ben Rogers, Ted Anderson and Larry Nordstrom, and Bob Drollsbaugh of Financial District Properties’ maintenance crew with helping to erect the new tree. Other employees of the two companies volunteered time Friday to help shape the tree.
Bisby said the crew spent several days assembling 10 pallet loads of tree parts for the artificial tree, which Financial District Properties purchased from Vickerman, a décor company based in Minnesota. On Friday, they began the task of wiring in 355 individual branches onto the tree base and folding out the 83,000 branch tips.
“Our plan is to take it down the first or second week of January, deconstruct it and store it safely on site for next year,” he said.
For many years, Kone had used a real 20-foot tall Blue Spruce tree. “Because of the size of the tower, people didn’t realize that how tall it was; they thought it was a seven- or eight-foot tree,” Bisby said.
Special provisions for the larger tree were made in the building’s design and construction, he said. “We did additional beefing up of the structure above the elevator hoist ways to hold the tree,” he said, adding that the planning had to take into account the weight of the tree as well as the wind loads and snow and ice loads.
The new tree measures 20 feet wide at the base and 40 feet tall. “Look at this building; that’s up almost four stories. That’s how big this tree is going to be.”