The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 28, 2014

South Front Street businesses back plan

Council to decide fate of $1.3 million upgrade Monday

MANKATO — South Front Street business owners are facing the potential of substantial assessments, the disruption of having their street ripped up on short notice and a narrower street when the project is finished. And most of them couldn’t be happier.

The property owners applauded city officials Thursday for the nearly $1.3 million redesign of a three-block stretch of the aging downtown street which will bring more spacious sidewalks, patio seating outside bar/restaurants, more trees, a few additional parking spaces and room for community events such as farmers markets or art fairs.

“I think you guys have done a fantastic job of coordinating all this,” said Chris Johansen, who with her husband Joe owns two properties on the 600 block of South Front Street and who said city staff heard the concerns of business owners. “You listened to it all, and you’re applying it all.”

That sentiment brought applause from most of the people attending Thursday’s meeting, the last prior to a key Mankato City Council vote Monday night. Councilman Mark Frost warned that the vote could be close and encouraged supporters of the plan to attend and speak up.

“This is going to generate a lot more activity downtown,” Frost said.

“It’s going to save downtown,” said Jeff Palmer, owner of The Fillin’ Station coffee house.

Councilwoman Karen Foreman expressed skepticism of the project at a previous meeting, noting that the pavement and utilities on South Front Street don’t need an immediate upgrade and that property owners are being asked to pay only about 20 percent of the cost through assessments.

“This strikes me a little bit as a ‘nice to have’ project,” said Foreman, questioning if it’s an appropriate use of limited tax dollars.

A revision of the original financing plan, which would have had the 80 percent city share coming exclusively through general obligation bonds repaid through property taxes, spreads the cost among a variety of revenue sources. Under the new plan, the $253,000 in assessments to property owners would be combined with $150,000 in municipal street aid from the state, $150,000 from the city’s local option sales tax, and $250,000 in tax increment financing generated by the $12 million South Front Street office/residential/commercial complex currently under construction by the Tailwind Group.

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