Excelsior is a tiny town that draws big crowds, but being the epicenter of some 200 events each year on Lake Minnetonka is taking its toll.
This spring, the city’s Police Department has started declining some event requests. The city has raised fees for the events it approves and hired a coordinator to manage a problem that many other Twin Cities suburbs would love to have.
“Excelsior is an outlier. They are a very, very popular destination for special events,” said South Lake Minnetonka Police Chief Mike Meehan, whose 15-officer department patrols Excelsior and three other cities.
“I don’t think it’s an issue in the other cities we serve … or in other suburbs. Excelsior is, to a degree, a victim of their own success.”
Like Wayzata across the lake, Excelsior long has grappled with how to balance being a metro-area destination with the increased traffic and other problems that it brings to a community of 2,400.
In the last year, city leaders have cracked down on the overserving of alcohol after seeing a spike in drinking-related incidents, and explored solutions for the parking crunch that results when thousands flock to the city’s lakefront, restaurants and boutiques each summer.
Residents often are annoyed by the city’s myriad summer events, which stretch police and fire department resources and clog up streets in the compact (one-square-mile) town.
Excelsior is on pace to top last year’s 169 public and private events, with the City Council just this week approving a triathlon, brewery event and yoga festival.
“These issues aren’t going to go away; it’s just part of the rise in popularity of Excelsior,” Mayor Mark Gaylord said. “We’re just trying to balance our events with the needs of residents.”
The small police department works overtime (the pay for which is covered by event organizers), but it still can’t keep up with the need to direct traffic, monitor road closures, help respond to medical situations and staff an event where alcohol is served.
As a result, the police have started turning down such events as a street dinner and a running race, and city officials are asking event organizers who don’t need police to work with private security instead.
“I hear a general feeling of maybe we’re at capacity,” said Jennifer Caron, a member of the City Council, which plans to continue to discuss how to prioritize events. “I’m probably not going to be voting for any new events without that community conversation … the goal is to get the balance just right.”
The city upset many event promoters when it bumped up fees, which go to the city’s general fund and help offset the costs of maintaining the city’s lakeside park.
Fees for the Tour de Tonka, an annual bike ride that draws more than 3,500 riders, jumped from $30 to $500, officials said. Fees have shot up 50 percent for the local Chamber of Commerce, which puts on several events throughout the year.
“We’re hoping we won’t ever have to change our plans [as a result],” said Laura Hotvet, executive director of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce.
She added that she supports the city’s efforts to prioritize events and address public safety issues, but she hopes the new restrictions won’t cut into the revenue that events bring to Excelsior and its businesses.
“The goal is to drive people here,” Hotvet said. “It’s a wonderful place to host events. It’s the place to be right now.”