The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 23, 2014

Our View: Front Street plan good for downtown

Why it matters: Creating a pedestrian-friendly downtown plan will be good for business and the community

The Mankato Free Press

---- — A plan to create a more inviting pedestrian-friendly streetscape in downtown Mankato along South Front Street has the potential to provide maximum impact at a very reasonable cost.

The City Center Partnership has been working with citizens, downtown businesses, public safety and government to develop the plan that would widen sidewalks and create a pedestrian corridor from the City Center Hotel to the 600 block of South Front Street near the Public Safety Center.

It’s part of a larger effort to revitalize the City Center that was approved by the Mankato City Council in 2007 as the City Center Renaissance Plan.

The South Front Street Connectivity Plan calls for widening sidewalks up to 16 to 18 feet, providing space for restaurant patios, slowing traffic while preserving parking space.

It calls for opening up the Cherry Street plaza and pushing the trees back toward the parking ramps and adding trees along the 500 and 600 blocks.

And while vehicles would still be allowed on South Front Street, there would be streetscaping and parking to calm the traffic.

The estimated cost of the project is about $1.1 million, with businesses paying 20 percent of that through assessments and the rest paid by the city. There appears to be widespread business support for the plan as private property owners of 82 percent of project’s frontage have signed a petition favoring the concept.

It also designates the plaza outside the Intergovernmental Center as the primary gathering spot and maintains near 24 access through the mall, the government center and civic center to provide that connection between the hotels and the South Front Street entertainment district.

A City Center Partnership led task force has been working on the plan for about two years, and has taken great efforts to get input from the businesses but also citizens and various government officials including public safety. Pedestrian plans like this can be a risk to pedestrian safety at times, but so far, Mankato Public Safety has been consulted and there appear to be few major issues.

The plan also has been thoroughly vetted through public meetings, and by professional architects with the I & S Group (previously Paulsen Architects) and the Twin Cities design firm Damon Farber Associates. Task force members also reviewed similar projects in Davenport, Iowa, Iowa City and Beloit, Wis.

There will be another public hearing March 3 at the Mankato City Council and if the council approves the plan, bids could be issued in April.

Timing is also important as the South Front Street project can be done in conjunction with the ongoing Tailwind office tower project. It makes sense to only disrupt the area with construction one time and do both projects at once. If all goes as planned, the South Front Street project could be done in early August about the time of the Vikings training camp.

The project offers benefits to business through increased traffic and a more inviting location. It benefits property owners by boosting values. That city benefits through tax collections.

The project also creates a sense of place and an attractive downtown core for Mankato as a regional center. It will also offer the community more opportunities for public gatherings. The Cherry Street and civic center plazas could be opened up for art shows, farmers markets and other events.

We shouldn’t underestimate the intrinsic value of community pride in a project like this. Living in a classy looking city creates a sense of ownership that can bolster other community efforts.

The Front Street Connectivity Plan will be another important piece in Mankato’s City Center Renaissance.