The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 15, 2014

Postal building offers unique opportunity

Why it matters: City, downtown could benefit by converting it into a performing arts center

The Mankato city center is going through unprecedented change thanks to its diverse economic vitality, attractive geography and strong, focused leadership. But it has an opportunity to pause and reflect on one more opportunity.

In a couple of years, we will have a different look and feel for the downtown area with the Tailwind towers, streetscaping on South Front Street and the planned expansion of the civic center. These follow the remodeling and expansion of I&S building as well as the Northwestern Office building, which helped transform a once-dismal existence of the downtown.

We welcome progress and improvement that brings life and vitality to the downtown. But as we embrace the future, we also must honor the past.

That opportunity may exist with the announcement last week that the U.S. Postal Service is planning on selling its historic downtown Mankato building and moving its retail operations elsewhere in the city.

Citing “unsustainable deficits,” the USPS is looking for ways to cut costs while maintaining a presence elsewhere downtown and will present its case to the City Council at its June 23 meeting.

If, in fact, the Postal Service is forced to offload the building, the community has a unique opportunity it should not pass up.

This is not an ordinary property transfer. The post office and federal courthouse was completed in April 1896. Built from Mankato limestone, it was lavishly praised and a point of pride for the city. The original structure had a four-faced clock tower that was illuminated by 24 gas jets, and its pumps were powered with city water. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and a testament to our past.

As a community we have mixed affinity for historical preservation. While we can be proud of such treasurers as the county Historic Courthouse and the Hubbard House, we have lost other treasures either through development, calamity or, in the case of the Cray Mansion, lack of concerted resolve or purpose.

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