J&J’s Water Cooler Talk: Old Town

jim-john-2015-sqaure-for-webJim Santori is the New Business Development Director at Greater Mankato Growth (GMG).  John Considine is the Director of Regional Business Intelligence at GMG.  They work together to grow the regional business marketplace.

JOHN: So Jim, Old Town is going through a planning process that will likely shape it’s future for the next several decades.  I think it’s exciting, but I’m an urban planning geek.  You’re a former news guy, so does this type of community activity bring out any “inner-geek” for you? 

JIM: Well, any time you get a wide swath of people involved in decision making it can get exciting and a little messy. But, yeah, it triggers my ‘inner-geek” because it takes this kind of planning out of quiet bureaucratic offices and makes planning transparent. Press guys love that stuff.

JOHN: What do you think of the regional economic impact of this planning process?  And by “regional” I mean outside of the immediate Mankato-North Mankato community… how it ties to nearby cities of Saint Peter and Eagle Lake or even south central Minnesota as a whole. 

JIM: Yep, when you make any area in the region a “destination point” all communities that lie along the routes should benefit. Take the Chankaska Creek winery in Kasota for instance. It pulls from a wide area exposing travelers going there to all sorts of cities and towns they may not have been exposed to otherwise. But you know what really excites me about the Old Town project? It’s being driven by the small business owners in that area.

JOHN:  Exactly!  It’s a template that has worked for our community before with Mankato’s City Center Renaissance Plan.  The city convened, listened and created a shared vision driven by the business community.  That led to $147 million being invested in the City Center (downtown).  Now the small businesses in the Old Town area want to build upon that planning process and create a specific vision for Old Town as a part of the downtown. 

JIM: How much of that investment came from the public coffers?

JOHN:  Around $44 million…  $34 million of which is related to the Civic Center.  But this doesn’t include the sidewalk improvements and other enhancements like parking which leveraged additional investment.

JIM: Whoa! That’s a pretty good ratio! I guess you can count the development of Riverfront Park as the first step in public investment leveraging for Old Town. We’re also talking about “streetscaping” in the Old Town area too, right?

JOHN:  I think it’s all on the table at this point.  One of the challenges is to make Old Town more pedestrian-friendly in order to enhance the location as a “shopping experience.”  Something more social than just sitting in your pajama pants ordering off Amazon, you know?

JIM: Ow. Now there’s a mental image I’m not able to shake off. I need a cup of java. Think I’ll head down to the Coffee Hag. Maybe pick up a muffin from Friesen’s. You coming?

JOHN:  Sounds good, I’m in.