The unanimity of the Mankato City Council’s approval Monday of public assistance for the Bridge Plaza project masked some justifiable unease.
The council approved two loans and tax-increment financing — a total value of $1.5 million — for the long-in-the works $16 million project, which is intended to include offices, high-end apartments, a restaurant and some public parking. It will fill a 1.6 acre parcel next to the Veterans Memorial Bridge that has been vacant since the demolition at least a decade ago of the former Embers restaurant.
That prominent, highly visible vacant lot between downtown and Old Town has long chafed the city, but piecing together an appropriate use for the land — and the necessary financing — has not come easily for lot owners Michael and Catherine Brennan.
One reasonable objection from some members of the council is that the lead tenant for the office space, the accounting firm of Clifton Larson Allen, is now housed only a few blocks away. Devoting public resources to shift an employer a few hundred feet simply feels unnecessary.
Bridge Plaza projects to hold a minimum of 122 full-time equivalent workers, with 42 of those jobs new to the community. So it’s not merely shifting jobs, although that is a significant piece.
The decisive factor — the overriding reason to approve the subsidy — is that filling that space is a significant step in the continuing revitalization of Mankato’s core. The council is right to promote density in development. The old Embers site has been an eyesore for too long, and the city is unlikely to ever get a better proposal to fill that space.
This project may not be a perfect use of the land or of the public resources, but it figures to better the city. The council did well to approve it despite its reservations.