The five-year strategic plan for Mankato may be aspirational, but with time and collaboration and some innovation it has every chance of someday becoming operational.
The plan thinks big. And why not? The Mankato area is growing as a destination place to work, live and play. Its economy has been strong and growing steadily without the boom and bust cycles of other places.
For 15 months, dozens of city staff have been brainstorming opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley as they crafted the strategic plan. The valley is a geography with great potential but in the past has been taken for granted or underestimated.
A number of critical building blocks for the plan are coming together now and in the next few years. Land for redevelopment seems abundant with a retired quarry and industrial land along the Minnesota River. Even a downtown grocery story may offer an opportunity for fill-in affordable housing.
The plan was guided by Mankato City Council goals of affordability, community building and stewardship. And the public feedback will be critical to its success.
The linchpin that could set the Valley Revival plan in motion may have come with tax incentives passed in 2018 by Congress. The Opportunity Zone tax credits would offer huge incentives for investors and entrepreneurs to invest in the area, two thirds of which qualifies for tax breaks as a low-income Census tracts.
The plan thinks big with its idea of opening up the city to the Minnesota River north of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and contemplates an elevated promenade connecting downtown to Old Town. It considers reuses of the retired Coughlan quarry as something that has potential for scenic enhancements. Pedestrian enhancements, including a pedestrian bridge across the Minnesota River, would bring a great outdoors-like feel to the burgeoning city center.
The city could have stopped at redeveloping buildings and creating green spaces, but the plan goes further and contemplates how this all works together with how and where people live and work. So the emphasis on transit-oriented development will be a key piece to making sure the development is nurtured with human activity.
One of the area’s drawbacks comes from a dependency on automobile transportation. Years ago, our competitors in the Twin Cities forged a light rail network that helped limit this growing urban scourge. Keeping development near where people live and work will reduce reliance on automobile transportation and as a result enhance livability.
That idea also caters to the new workforce, many of whom are millennials not accustomed to such dependency and cost of living.
Criticism of the plan will likely come from the usual suspects, raising issues about use of taxpayer dollars for private development. And make no mistake, government resources are limited and should be used prudently, when a return to taxpayer investment is obvious.
But it’s good to see Mankato thinking big, and citystaff not consuming brainpower focusing on small thinking like why greenery and snowplowing can’t peacefully co-exist.
The city’s strategic plan is as good as the public wants to make it. Let’s make the most of the opportunity.