The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 15, 2013

Partnership looks at how to make Front Street pedestrian friendly

MANKATO — Take an outsider’s perspective: Downtown Mankato, especially the bars and restaurants on Front Street, can be tricky to navigate.

Tom Frederick, an owner of Pub 500, remembers one confused couple from Wisconsin who visited Mankato last weekend. The couple was staying in a downtown hotel and was told to make their way downtown to find the bars and restaurants.

They missed Front Street entirely and ended up walking all the way down to Neighbor’s Italian Bistro along South Riverfront Drive, about a mile out of their way. Someone at Neighbor’s gave them a ride back, and the couple shared the story with Frederick the following evening.

And they aren’t the only ones having trouble finding downtown Mankato.

“Where is downtown Mankato?” rhetorically asked Eric Harriman, coordinator of the City Center Partnership. Cities tend to have a destination where they know they’ve arrived downtown, but Mankato doesn’t have an obvious answer, he said.

He believes Front Street is a natural downtown-in-waiting.

The partnership, a coalition of businesses and the city, is researching how to turn the Front Street corridor — from the police headquarters to the library — into the downtown of ages past.

It’s called the Front Street Connectivity Plan and focuses on how to make the street more vibrant and welcoming to pedestrians, although traffic changes, such as signs, also are possible.

The effort has just started, in the form of a task force that is creating a way forward: a plan for a plan.

The most obvious challenge is the same one faced by the Wisconsin couple. Front Street is interrupted by a mall, a civic center and a hotel. But the lack of a road here is also a blessing, Harriman said, because there’s no vehicle traffic to worry about.

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