One Small Step for Walkability — One Giant Leap for Mankato.

Monday March 3rd is a date to be celebrated among Mankato residents. At a regular city council meeting (which was packed to the brim with supporters) the council voted unanimously to approve a roughly $1.3 million redevelopment of Front Street.

A little context on Front Street: Pre-WWII downtown Mankato was arguably one of the best downtowns in the state, if not the midwest. I’ve had old timers tell me that it was better than Galena, IL. During the dark ages of urbanism and the peak of our lust for everything automobile, we decided to either destroy or neglect our downtowns — a tragic result of the automobile hivemind.

The thriving, pre-WWII Mankato downtown ran for a good number of blocks and even had a streetcar. Today the only real remnant of downtown is North Riverfront, or “Old Town”, which is marred by small sidewalks and a stroad, and South Front Street. Front was cut off from the rest of downtown in a move to “revitalize” the downtown during urban renewal. At that time, Mankato received a one of a kind (and one of the first in the nation) downtown mall that covered Front street and connected some of the existing buildings. Talking to residents, it did seem to work for a while. There were businesses where people shopped, ate, walked until the massive mall(s) were built up on top of the hill. This, along with the retail development the malls brought, was the nail in the coffin for Mankato’s downtown.

A few years back a true commitment to downtown was made and the city center partnership was formed. The organization worked exclusively on bringing life back to the downtown. This brings us to today. Over the past year and a half the City Center Partnership under Eric Harimann and others worked on a plan to increase pedestrian connectivity through the downtown, mainly on the old Front Street.

During the three meetings that I attended, most of the business owners were concerned about parking. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t seem to believe me when I said that people are driving less and that we shouldn’t be so concerned about parking, but in the end, I think we have a good project that accommodates concerns of pedestrians and cars.

The partnership hired Damon Farber Associates who put together a plan on how to best accomplish a pedestrian-oriented culture. The time frame on this project is another big win for Mankato, as they’re hoping to have everything done by this fall. You can view renderings for downtown here.

The plan will give more on-street parking to the blocks that requested it (the 600 block), the 500 block will be getting 16 foot sidewalks for outdoor dining and walkability and the 400 block (pedestrian only) will be getting a facelift to be more open. The three blocks will also be getting more trees and sidewalk “bump outs” to slow traffic and reduce the distance pedestrians need to cross from street to street. The plan is also getting a shot in the arm from the newly announced Tailwind projects that are bringing new life to downtown Mankato. I’ll have more on that in a forthcoming article.

Downtown Mankato still has plenty of problems (and too much parking), but as an urban advocate who lives down here, it’s a success that this project is going through and that so many people are open to the idea.

I had a beer with some of the local business owners and it was really great to hear the excitement in their voices. I think this is the beginning of good things for Mankato and her citizens.

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5 Responses to One Small Step for Walkability — One Giant Leap for Mankato.

  1. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel March 12, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    It’s good to see Mankato moving in the right direction.

  2. Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Indeed, good to see this happening. Mason City also built a mall across their main street, although with less detrimental effects than Mankato. First, it was at the south end of the downtown where the main street crossed a river, so it was a natural (yet, unnatural) breaking point. Second, the mall is still in operation and anchored by two department stores.

    For Mankato, is there any possibility of tearing down that mall, or at least making the Front Street section open air?

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel March 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      The mall failed as a place of retail. However, part of it’s been converted to the City Hall and the entire second floor is full of standard office space. The lower levels facing the outside have food tenants, including a BW3 and local places.

      It’s one of the weirdest mall-retrofits I’ve ever seen. But, it’s not empty by any means. And, since the late 1990s, there have been steady tenants. The bigger problem is the large parking garage near it that runs along Riverfront.

  3. Eric Harriman March 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    The current mall is unlikely to be opened up in any large scale as it would substantially disrupt the interior tenants – something we didn’t want to do. One goal of ours was to not transform the district, but to enhance it and hopefully retain the local character.

    However, the Connectivity Plan that is currently approved is only phase one. In future phases we expect the design concepts to continue through the interior/exterior sections of the 100-300 blocks. Meaning we’d have a 6 block indoor/outdoor pedestrian corridor. This directly connects the entire Entertainment District including the hotels, civic center, mall, and the 20+ bars/restaurants.

    This approach was the most feasible option for our community. Then, at some undetermined point in the future we might have the opportunity to extend the final four blocks of Front Street and make an 10 block pedestrian oriented corridor.

    The plan itself is guided by the public/private input we received and that resulted in 13 design points:

    1-Implement a cohesive design framework
    2-Maximize the pedestrian realm
    3-Maximize or maintain parking levels
    4-Allow encroachment spaces (sidewalk cafes)
    5-Maintain, yet calm, traffic
    6-Add raised crosswalks with bump-outs (ends & center of blocks)
    7-Enhanced pedestrian amenities (greening, bike racks, benches, etc)
    8-Implement clean and safe tactics
    9-Implement comprehensive wayfinding signage
    10-Design public space for flexible use
    11-Utilize a more open design to Cherry Street Plaza
    12-Enhance Civic Center Plaza as a public gathering place
    13-Maintain near 24 hour access through design and operations

    As for the large parking ramp on Riverfront, this is (whether liked or not) a requirement for our downtown. Though it completely disrupts Riverfront, that road is unlikely to be attractive even without a ramp because of the high traffic and speeds. But since Front Street runs parallel the ramp serves it, the employees and customers of the area and the peak capacity needed for our 300,000 annual civic center and MSU hockey attendees.

    Keep informing us of the great things happening across the state!

    Eric Harriman
    Executive Director
    City Center Partnership

    • Alex Bauman
      Alex Bauman March 13, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      It’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to disrupt so much of the existing life of downtown by tearing down the mall, but is it possible to at least remove the portion that covers this old facade:

      http://goo.gl/maps/YEkrg

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