Excelsior is looking to expand docks next to its Lake Minnetonka park this winter, in an effort to draw more revenue to support the park and eventually revamp it.
The small west metro city long has wanted to revitalize the Commons, a 13-acre waterfront city park. This fall, city officials held numerous focus groups and sent out a community survey. Feedback results will be compiled in a report to be released in mid-November.
“There really is no public land on the lake like the Commons,” said Jennifer Caron, a City Council member who is on a committee the city started a year ago to head up the park master plans. “It’s amazing land and space and views.”
Across the lake, Wayzata also has added docks, part of a larger effort to make its lakefront — which is cut off from its downtown by railroad tracks — a bigger and more accessible attraction.
Excelsior is seeking simpler changes for the Commons, which has been in the public domain for more than 160 years. A vintage band shell and bathhouse date to the 1950s and ’60s, and the city has long sought to improve its facilities and concessions to resemble those at Minneapolis’ lakes, such as the Tin Fish on Calhoun.
In the meantime, the city is seeking approval to extend three of its five piers, doubling their size to accommodate more boats, and turning another dock into a transient one — all to increase revenue for the Commons. The Lake Minnetonka Conservation District is slated to vote on the request in January.
After failing to get state bonding funds, the city started the park committee and gathered public input to put together more formal plans. A park conservancy group, Community for the Commons, was established last year to lead private fundraising; it has since launched an endowment fund.
“The park doesn’t really get any focus without energy from an organization like ours to push for it,” said Deb Rodgers, the founder and chairwoman of the conservancy. “The Commons always kind of falls to the bottom [of priorities].”
In her 20 years in Excelsior, Rodgers said the Commons has evolved from a neighborhood park into a community space that hosts many regional events each year.
“Excelsior itself has gotten so popular,” she added.
That widespread popularity was at the heart of the city’s argument for park funding at the State Capitol. Officials say that thousands of visitors use the Commons for free and that it should be supported regionally, not just by the city’s 2,100 residents.
Last year, Excelsior unsuccessfully lobbied for the second time for $5 million in state funding for park renovations. The city needed community support before going to legislators and got it; voters narrowly approved a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent for the park in 2014. But without state approval, the city can’t implement the tax increase.
“We’re going to keep trying,” City Manager Kristi Luger said. “We really feel that, [the park] being a regional asset, it should be supported regionally.”
In the meantime, she said, the city is looking for other ways to fund renovations, such as grants or private fundraising through the new conservancy group.
“The Commons is a very important asset,” Luger said. “Everything is just really tired. ... With the standards of today, [the buildings] just don’t even come close.”
After community input on park improvements is compiled this month, the park committee will determine priorities and develop a formal plan.
The city will then hire an architect, and the conservancy will ramp up fundraising efforts.
“Our piece of land is so unique and special and so it doesn’t need dramatic changes,” Caron said. “It’s clear that there’s a strong feeling about the Commons. [Residents] want us to reinvest in it and come up with a long-term plan.”
She said the city will keep collecting the public’s views throughout the process.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “There’s a lot more work to be done.”