Dear Echo, Please Don’t.

Earlier this year, I discovered that the Echo food shelf is attempting to make their services “more available” to those in need. According to the Mankato Free Press, Echo plans on buying the two neighboring lots, both which have perfectly good structures dating back to the late 1800s, and tear them down to allow for more parking and easier delivery access—all for the low, low cost of $350,000.

While I believe their intentions are good, I think it’s sad that they believe this will help their mission (especially for such an exorbitant cost). This will do nothing to help the food shelf and will only tear down more of our city’s history.

The buildings for reference.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking the food shelf or anything that they do. They provide a vital service for the community. But to spend such an absurd amount on parking lots, something that has no proven record of doing anything for any business or nonprofit organization, is a depressing commentary on how pervasive car culture has become in the US. The belief that more parking somehow equates to better access to food is sad.

The reason I’m writing this article is to ask Echo to think twice. Downtown Mankato was devastated by Urban Renewal in the middle part of the century. We have so very little of our original downtown left that it would be almost criminal to tear down any more of it. The buildings that are slated for removal have their roots in the late part of the 1800s. While maybe not architecturally significant, it’s a shame to think that they would be needlessly destroyed.  Removing these buildings to make parking lots is anti-community, which is antithetical to the mission of a food shelf.

The irony of this situation is that transportation for the average American (i.e. cars and driving) is more expensive than food costs. In a roundabout way, Echo’s plan, by inducing people to drive, will actually cost an average family more than if they were encouraged to take the bus, walk or ride a bike.

Likewise, if the average food costs for a year is, give or take about, $7,000, the amount of money they would spend building a new parking lot and tearing down these old buildings down, would equate to about 50 families having food for an entire year. Likewise, if you were to cover half a year’s worth of groceries, you would go up to 100 families and so on and so forth.

Many of you probably disagree with me, citing that more parking indicates current success and allows for future growth. While this argument may seem obvious, there’s actually no evidence to show that parking equates to success. In fact, there are a host of problems when you add parking, the least of which, increased rents.

I’m no stranger to roasting people on my blog for stupid decisions—I’ve done it to school boards, developers and the government. However, for this article, I wanted to take a lighter touch and simply ask Echo to look at the broader implications of its plans. We need to look back and see how much we’ve torn down… and how little we’ve built back in its place. Everytime we destroy an old mixed-used building, we’re taking away the space for a new shop, a new office or, I don’t know, a chiropractor.

If you want, I’ll walk you through downtown and show you what used to be there. I’ll show you why our downtown has only two nice blocks. I’ll show you why this decision is the wrong one, why it won’t solve any problems you think you have, and why it hurts our city in the long run.

I’m happy to talk. Feel free to reach out. I’m sure we can come to see eye-to-eye and preserve what little downtown we have left.

Build Small, Not Tall.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a prime piece of land sitting adjacent to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. It’s been empty for quite some time now, awaiting the construction of Bridge Plaza—a mixed-use tower with space for office, retail, and living.

There have been signs up for the better part of 2 years now, talking about Bridge Plaza without any indication of construction actually starting. I don’t blame them. It’s hard to get an anchor tenant so you can move forward on a huge project like this and I wish Brennan construction all the best in completing their building.

In the meantime, I’d like to think about something else that could go there. I’m not saying that this is a better idea, just a different one.

I’ve written before about the devastation that Urban Renewal inflicted on Mankato and I think that this building site would be a great place to make amends. This is a huge downtown lot, and, instead of building one large tower, I propose we build small mixed-use buildings with the same architecture (or at least facade) as some of the buildings that were torn down in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m going to spare you the actual calculations of how many buildings could fit there and rather am going to go with the tried-and-true “Photoshop and Google Maps” method of site planning.

Old Town will be our scale. We’ll take one mixed-use building out of Old Town and plop it on the site (at scale) to see how it looks (without getting into the nitty-gritty of how buildings are actually built.)

(I’m using Dan Dinsmore’s building as a reference, Coffee Hag is about the same size)

It looks OK. Now, what happens if we roughly duplicate Old Town on the site?

Wow. By my estimate, there are 32 historic buildings in Old Town that people would consider interesting (Hag, Mom & Pop’s, Dork Den, etc.) and you can fit about 24 of them on this one plot of land. Even on the low end, that would create close to 20 new downtown housing units. The “inside” of the lot could be used for parking. The city financed a ramp for the Tailwind project, I think they could do the same for this.

More importantly though, this would be a pedestrian friendly, efficient use of space. The economic impact of this would percolate out into the rest of the downtown neighborhoods and hopefully bring in a little redevelopment for blighted properties.

Again, this isn’t to say that Bridge Plaza would be bad, this is simply a thought experiment.

I think that this project would play in well to the Old Town redevelopment and would bridge the gap between Downtown and Old Town. It would also allow for plenty of new space for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Likewise, you could maybe even get more community buy-in as the development would not need to be owned by one company or a few wealthy investors. Anyone that could finance a building could be given a shot at developing their own property so long as it fits with the rest of them. This would be a nice way to limit fragility and create a sense of ownership.

Who knows? Maybe this would even set the stage for developing on the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.

Likewise it was just announced that the six acre public works site will go on the market this winter. This is a huge opportunity for downtown, but should we spend it on one or two big buildings? Or should it be a collection of small, mixed-use buildings like downtown already has? Those are the buildings that give a city its character, that give it life. We need towers, but we never really built back our stock of small buildings after Urban Renewal. Now is our opportunity.

Big towers are great for certain things, but they really suck at activating the street. Popular neighborhoods across the country are never near towering buildings, they’re always in small places designed for people. It’s more fun to walk along the street and gaze through the windows of shops than it is to stare into some corporate office space while being dwarfed by 15 stories of glass.

These are the types of development that we should be promoting, not boring “townhouses” built nowhere near the town.

Now, who’s with me? Should I start a GoFundMe? If Jordan can raise $2500 bucks because he sucks at biking (kidding, buddy), I feel like there’s no way we wouldn’t reach our goal.

The Cherry St. ramp needs to die

I’ve been quiet over the past few months, working on my house, contemplating Mankato’s existence as a “regional center” and being busy trying to convince people that there is indeed no war on cars. But more so than that, I’ve been lazy. Recycling my post from my semi-regular gig over at Strong Towns and passing it off as original content for you, the readers of Key City. Today I say no more! I have a beef with something kato-centric and I’m going to air it out.



That stupid ramp that flanks the cherry street “plaza”. For the love of all that’s holy, tear that thing down and put something, anything worthwhile there. The idea that we have a “plaza” whose one wall is dedicated to sleeping cars is absolutely antithetical to the idea of anything urban, because when you see the great public spaces of the world they make sure that they have abundant parking right next to it.

The parking lot isn’t even necessary! It’s completely free (which is my first grievance) so it’s not generating any revenue, they just built a brand new one a half block over which is, from what I can tell every time i’m there, totally underutilized, and the ramp sits empty for most times outside of the weekend.

There is one, and I will make this clear, ONE saving grace to that parking lot. It was designed to have a building put on top of it. I’m not sure when that was built, but I assume it was the early 2000s. We’ve gone at least a decade now with no development on top of it, either we wait it out and subsidize something to take that spot, or we tear it down and give the market the chance to snap it up and given the development that has happened downtown and inevitably will continue, someone will jump at it.

Though the ramp may have been a type of godsend when it was built because it alleviated some perceived parking “problem” it has since outlived its usefulness and the city is missing out on valuable tax money by leaving it alone. Heck, you probably wouldn’t need to tear it down, you would just need to retrofit it to put something in there, using the existing footings and structure to build something worthwhile.

Any way you slice the cake, that ramp doesn’t need to exist, there’s plenty of parking in and around the area as proven by the THREE giant parking structures all within a stone’s throw of Front St.

This would be a good chance to show a commitment to downtown, to give us a real plaza and to generate more things to do for pedestrians and more taxes for the city.

Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s what it replaced (the far building, but the near one was also torn down and is now, you guessed it, a parking lot.)

pg 6d
Continue Reading