In the wake of the Super Bowl 2018 “victory”, we’ve failed to recognize that our southern friends in Mankato (pretty much just me) are getting the long-awaited expansion to their Civic Center.
Some of us have talked before about how Civic Centers are generally boondoggles, but I’ll attempt to mount a bit of defense to this one.
The Mankato Civic Center was built during the golden age of civic centers (1995). We now know that we’re saturating the market with convention spaces in America, but it was common practice back then.
The upside to our existing Civic Center is that no state funds were used to build it. The people of Mankato wanted it and they leveraged a sales tax on themselves to get it. So, in the spirit of equality, city leaders thought the state should throw money our way since they have financed the building of worse civic centers in more pointless locations (see Nate Hood’s article above). As far as aesthetic is concerned, the expansion is going to be, in my humble opinion, rather unattractive. It’s mostly glass, but that part of downtown isn’t original architecture anyway, so it’s a wash.
The difference here is that the expansion is more for MSU and less for the citizens of Mankato and/or conventions. Mankato State has an excellent hockey program that brings a number of fans to Mankato who do usually wine and dine before a game and sleep after. The same hockey program also limits a lot of smaller events from happening at the Civic Center. Organizations looking to schedule are often in conflict with hockey, weddings, trade shows or other events. The expansion should result in more professional spaces and easier access for smaller events.
However, there’s a big problem with the same logic that got us the expansion. Agree or disagree, college is a bubble and sports in college are an even bigger bubble. There’s no guarantee that MSU will be a Division One school (in hockey) forever. If the day comes that MSU’s hockey program is no longer the main, regular user, we’ll have to find consistent events to fill the Civic Center calendar or it will become a burden to the city of Mankato. Who knows, with climate change, maybe it will be the only place to find ice in Southern Minnesota.
The propaganda piece put out by Mankato says that the “Increased facility space will result in more than $50 million economic impact annually.” Where they’re getting the numbers from, I don’t know, but projects like this and events like the Super Bowl generally tend to exaggerate their return on investment and use similarly faulty economic theory. I should also make it known that I worked at the restaurant right across the street and saw the Civic Center being used on a regular basis. It’s especially attractive for the agriculture business.
The silver-ish lining? There is no new parking being built! The idea is to use the existing parking ramps downtown to facilitate any needs. We have enough parking in the immediate five block radius to accommodate Elton John coming to town, so I’m certain we’ll have enough for this expansion.
Here’s how the expansion breaks down in my book:
Yes, we (urbanists and land use people) know civic centers are not the best investment, but as far as civic centers are concerned, this one, is by no means the worst in the state (Bemidji). For the time being, it seems that it will be an ok investment in the city. There are better uses for the money, but when you take into consideration that the Nicollet mall alone got $21.5 mil. for redesign, I don’t feel bad about the $14.5 mil. we’re getting. The rest of the funding is coming from sales tax, which, to fund just the construction, will be ok.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is the perception of economic prosperity. There are few people in Mankato who don’t want this expansion and when it’s the will of the people, it’s hard to fight.
TL;DR: Mankato’s getting an expansion to their Civic Center; it won’t be that bad.