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.