By Dan Linehan
The Free Press
A modern mixed-use development along the city's historic Front and Cherry streets got a thumbs up Wednesday from the Planning Commission, which voted unanimously to approve the developer's overall plan.
Its complexity -- the project includes a seven-story office tower, a four-story residential and commercial building and a parking ramp -- triggered this review of the plan, Community Development Director Paul Vogel said.
Parking was the most-talked about aspect of the project.
The 145-stall, three-level public parking ramp would provide space for office workers during the day and visitors to bars and restaurants during the evening. A private ramp beneath the Front Street building would include 36 additional spaces, for the residents of the building. Plans call for 14 mostly two-bedroom, upscale apartments, with a total of 30 bedrooms.
City staff told the Planning Commission that the ramp would provide enough parking, but it's dependent on a $1 million grant request to the state, which is disbursing $3 million during this round of funding.
If the grant doesn't get approved, the city and the developer will have to go "back to the drawing board," Vogel said. And the project would need new reviews, he said, because it won't be approved as it is without the ramp.
Tax-increment financing -- which allow the company's property taxes to be put into site development costs, not government coffers -- has also been requested for the ramp.
Neighboring business owners, including from Pagliai's Pizza, Pub 500 and Savoy, told the Planning Commission that developer Kyle Smith has been working well with them.
"I love the project," Pagliai's owner Jim Downs said. He testified, though, that he's concerned about what will happen to his shared wall during and after construction.
One condition of the review was that an architectural review be completed to determine whether the neighboring walls need to be strengthened.
Developer Kyle Smith called the Front Street structure a "historic building with a modern flair."
He said the buildings are a happy medium between modern construction styles and historic downtown Mankato.
"I think you're going to see material choices that are local," such as red brick, "so it doesn't stick out like a black sheep."
The other major building, the seven-story office tower, is planned to accommodate about 130 jobs. Of that, about 30 would be from new businesses, such as Profinium Financial, which is providing financing for the Front Street building.
The project's total costs have been estimated at $18.5 million.
The Mankato City Council will make a final decision on this review during its March 25 meetings. Other reviews, such as for restaurants and liquor licenses, will be separate.
Smith said he believes his company is bringing a new and successful project downtown.
"It's been a long time since there has been some change on that block," he said.