The nice part about living in Mankato is that you’re often times overlooked by statewide media. Sure, we’ll pop up here and there for the best hockey town or landing number 10 on nation’s drunkest city list, but despite this marginal attention, we’ve been simply humming along.
I have plenty of problems with Mankato that I espouse almost ad-nauseum on my blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the city to have a little bit of recognition. Mankato has been on a bit of building boom in the last seven years. While unfortunately a lot of it has been low-density, ugly, boring, suburban sprawl, some of it is legitimately good stuff. We’ve had several multi-story buildings built recently and this summer promises even more.
While the design is lacking, a seven-story, mixed-use building is slated for a redevelopment of an, ostensibly, empty parcel, despite catching the ire of Jim Kunstler. Right across the street a new four-story building is slated to house a mental health company and right across the street from that is yet another seven-story building (it’s been “coming” for about three years now, who knows if it will get done.) The City Council just this week approved an affordable housing redevelopment of a former public works site, promising to bring even more people and activity into the city center. Finally, two entrepreneurs also announced a new brewery in that very same vicinity bringing the number of breweries in town to two.
Old Town Mankato (the only place not devastated by Urban Renewal) is also seeing a plethora of activity. A three-story infill project (I would use heart eyes emoji if I could) is slated for construction this summer. Just last year we opened a brand new food truck hub thanks to a local entrepreneur with a little bit of vision. One of our local favorites, The Midtown Tavern, also announced that they are transforming part of their space into a brew-pub, something that has been lacking in the Mankato MSA. While we’re on the topic of beer, its worth noting that the Mankato brewery has been chugging away making good beer for a few years now.
The city council is also considering reducing the stroad that dominated our only walkable shopping district from four lanes to three along with other improvements to the entire length of the corridor. Though we’ll wait and see if that comes to pass. The city also invested heavily in a huge new park south of town, reclaiming an old gravel quarry. Its connected by the best urban-to-rural trail in the area.
This isn’t meant to be a shill piece, but more of “Did you know?” Consider it a fluff piece. I’ll grant you that we have lots of problems, lots that would make Streets.mn writers say “Whyyyyyyyyy,” but it’s nice to celebrate the community every once in a while and get the word out that we’re coming into our own.
If you’d like to read a longer, more in depth assessment of what’s happening in Mankato, the Twin Cities Business Magazine had a nice piece on us recently.
What should I do on a visit? Is the Children’s Museum any good? Is Minneopa worth a trip?
We headed down that way last year, but opted for New Ulm and Flandrau instead of Mankato.
Yes and yes!!! Don’t forget to check out the quarry park, I live next to it, it’s amazing! Also look up triple falls and the falls on Judson bottom road! Minneopa has buffalo.
Minneopa is great, except for camping on a 100 degree day in the height of mosquito season. Whoops!
A 4-3 on Main Street seems like a great idea. I’ll have to make a trip there soon!
Making Riverfront street from 4 lanes to 2 plus turn lane is a dumb idea. The street is one of the heaviest traveled in Mankato and the main transit route threw down town. Just to make wider walkways. Yes better sidewalks in old town are needed that’s not the way to do it. Better idea is to get ride of parking on one/both sides of the street, shift the lanes over and that gives you 8 feet on both sides. More than what’s needed due to the lack of foot traffic compared to vehicle traffic. There is enough parking on side roads or alley lots that they dont cause inconvenience.
My perspective comes from having moved to the “Greater Mankato” area (St. Peter) in 1990 and still living there part time, so I have been in Mankato quite a bit over the last 28 years—more so back in the ’90s than recently. This article generally comports with my impressions, but it fails to give a sense of just how dramatic the turnaround over that period has been. To say that Mankato is just “humming along” downplays the fact that it was all but dead until quite recently, such that getting it humming along again was a heroic miracle. You can find some better sense of that by following the link “the only place not devastated by Urban Renewal,” though even that post simplifies the history. One key simplification concerns the role of malls; there are *three*, not *two* malls involved. The first (in 1968) was Madison East, a classic suburban mall way out on the edge of the city. The flow of momentum was very much in that direction. So in response, as an attempt to stanch the flow, the downtown mall was created. It was only very marginally successful. When I arrived in 1990, it still had some retail activity left in it, as opposed to its current use for government offices. However, it was pretty pitiful. Madison East and various smaller strip malls that grew up around it were clearly winning the competition. So what happened then? Somebody got the brilliant idea to out-Madison-East Madison east by building a shiny new suburban-style mall, up to date with the latest fashions in suburban-style malls, even further east, on what was now the ridiculously far edge of the city as Madison East had been in its day. (The edge had shifted thanks to the mall.) That was the River Hills Mall, operated in 1991, so that I just was in time to see the transition between the before and after. The results were predictable. It was the straw that broke the downtown mall’s back, turning it into a complete ghost town. Meanwhile, it also killed off Madison East, a bit more slowly. (That too has found a new life in the service economy, being largely filled with medical providers now.) And the various strip malls and whatnot that were around Madison East started fading, with newer bigger ones cropping up out further east near River Hills. Could downtown have stayed vital rather than going dead and then being revitalized? I’m not convinced. The flow of energy out of town didn’t come because of the tearing down of buildings and desperate construction of the downtown mall; rather, those things happened because the energy had already flowed out. Nor was anyone ready yet for today’s urbanism. To give some sense of the time, it was several years *after* River Hills Mall opened that a shop opened in an adjoining strip mall selling this exotic new thing just imported from the east coast that no one around here had seen before: the bagel. It was a new wonder. Everyone from miles around had to go and check it out. So, yeah, I’m as sad as the next person that there wasn’t a more straight line path from the pre-Madison-East vitality to the present-day vitality, but I just don’t know that could have happened. Automobile- and TV-driven mass culture were what they were. Personally, I’m just overjoyed to be seeing the rebirth.
Bison! Minneopa Falls!
Kato was a long time inexpensive beer, available in southern Minnesota, but now long gone. I believe they had problems from time to time with bacteria content or spoilage.
An unfortunate victim of the boutique beer trend was Walter’s, from Eau Claire WI. They had an inexpensive though excellent product, thought better by many beer lovers than the big name brands. Someone with fancier ambitions took over and Walter’s disappeared.
Not all of those traditional local brews were desirable. “Good Old Potosi” from southwestern Wisconsin seemed a bargain but would quickly give you a headache.
The brewing process needs careful monitoring; the results can be harmful. A chemist friend who brewed his own once brought a glass of a new batch up to his nose and immediately threw it all away: something had gone wrong, and he recognized the smell of acetone. Tests have shown that some commercial products have what I would call excessive levels of undesirable nitrosamines.
The craft brewing trend has pushed some superb products off the shelves, such as my personal favorite, Fischer Bitter. But I’m not much of a drinker and can live very well without any of them.