MANKATO — With unanimity, an aggressive construction schedule and very high hopes, the Mankato City Council approved a nearly $1.3 million plan to upgrade three blocks of South Front Street in an effort to create a dining and entertainment destination downtown.
The impending decision brought a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 100 people to Monday's council meeting with nearly all supporting the proposal. Under the plan, which will be completed by mid-to-late summer, South Front Street would be transformed from Cherry Street to the Public Safety Center from its current stark, utilitarian nature into a pedestrian-friendly street of sidewalk cafes, trees and benches.
Vehicles would still be allowed — which owners of the bars, restaurants and other businesses insisted on — but drivers will get just a pair of relatively narrow lanes to make room for the wide sidewalks and related amenities.
Supporters of the project encouraged fellow business-owners to turn out in force, concerned that the council vote would be close. They did, but it wasn't.
"The mere fact that there's a bunch of people who give a crap about Front Street is great," said Mayor Eric Anderson. "... I've been waiting a long time for South Front Street to be in the spotlight."
Councilwoman Tamra Rovney, like Anderson, recalled childhood memories of the vibrancy of the former main drag in Mankato. That street — now interrupted by a highway, a bridge, a hotel, a civic center and an enclosed mall built in a 1970s urban renewal effort — isn't returning.
But Rovney said she thinks the three blocks being targeted for an upgrade could restore a taste of that.
"To bring some of that back, I think would be great," she said.
The only words of caution came from long-time resident Anthony Zaragoza and his daughter Eleanor.