The Mankato area has witnessed immense growth over the course of two decades.

The population has risen from 32,427 in 2000, to 41,720 in 2010, or 23%.

With that population growth comes economic expansion; expansion that began with a key landmark coming to town in the early 90s.

"The River Hills Mall opened in 1991," said Blue Earth County Historical Society Communications Manager Heather Harren.  "So that's really going to be our big kick–off on expanding up in that area.  With that you have more job opportunities, more retail spaces there for businesses to move into the area so you have that expansion happening."

The River Hills Mall led the way for development on the East side of Mankato.

Companies like Menards moved to the hilltop while car dealerships such as Snell Motors relocated from downtown Mankato to the hilltop.

"Where our current Victory Drive is, that was kind of the edge of town for a while," explained Harren.  "Yeah, they expanded a little, but with that you had all this land that could be purchased up, new buildings could be built and then space to have parking lots for these buildings so you weren't cramped.  Downtown you were very limited on space.  Being able to expand in the hilltop area was just a great economic boom for the community."

All those companies moving from downtown to the hilltop left quite a void in the heart of town.

That led to Envision 2020.

Envision 2020 is a concept that City Leaders adopted in 2005 with the idea to make downtown a destination once again by the year 2020.

"There are so many people that once the downtown mall went in during the 70s, felt it ruined downtown," added Harren.  "So really that big push to get people back down there renewed the energy that once was Front Street.  The buildings that are there that were there 100 years ago and just to bring the life back down there."

That revitalization has led to new buildings, more people converging in the center of town and made downtown Mankato a destination for visitors from across the state.

*Corrected "Vision 2020" to "Envision 2020"

--KEYC News 12