The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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June 12, 2013

Mankato's Downtown also rises

Why it matters: Downtowns help define the character of a city and influence its livability, vitality and ability to grow.

There was a time in the not too distant past when downtown Mankato was considered the scourge of the city. There were dumps and dives, unkempt buildings and empty storefronts. Peeling paint and crumbling mortar were the primary design styles.

How things have changed.

The approaching approval of one of the largest downtown Mankato developments in decades is not only notable because of the size of its $15 million to $16 million investment but also because it is mostly privately financed, except parking lots and infrastructure.

Tailwind Group’s plan to build a seven-story glass office tower on a block of South Front Street along with a commercial building and adjoining parking lot stand as the first major privately-financed office tower in four decades in Mankato. City and state grants will finance a $5 million parking facility, the third such enhancement in a decade or so.

And to think we used to argue about downtown parking.

The transformation of Mankato’s downtown can be attributed to a number of groups, people as well as public sentiments that were brought to bear on elected leaders. It’s not only an urban redevelopment that worked, but, by some standards, can be considered a shining example of urban renewal.

There remains much work to be done. Pedestrian spaces could be improved. Some storefronts still need a facelift and the social scene after 10 p.m. could be pushed in a direction of more order and stability.

Still, it’s important to note how the transformation occurred. The analysis usually points back to public and private partnerships. Clearly the approval and construction of the Mankato Civic Center, now the Verizon Wireless Center, was the centerpiece of the public commitment. It was important to have a public vote on the sales tax that financed the plan. It muted the detractors and encouraged the builders.

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