Lake Minnetonka community leaders are looking to put the region on the map — not just nationally, but across the globe.
They want to launch a first-ever festival that would showcase everything from the lake’s sailing and fishing to the growing high-end restaurant scene in the 14 cities scattered around the metro area’s largest lake.
To drum up interest and support, they’re showing off the lake area this weekend to organizers of the World Match Racing Tour, a sailing series likened to the PGA Tour for golfers. It hosts races around the world in places such as Copenhagen; Long Beach, Calif.; and Perth, Australia.
Wayzata wants to host a tour stop in 2018.
“It would put Wayzata and Lake Minnetonka on the international map,” said Sam Rogers of Excelsior, a pro sailor leading the weekend event and planning for a future festival.
It’s the latest effort by some lake cities to ramp up tourism and become a bigger draw, taking advantage of being on Minnesota’s most popular lake.
The Swedish-based World Match tour is hosting a sailing exhibition on Wayzata Bay this weekend featuring a race between two Marstrom 32 Catamarans — high-performance sailboats that feature the industry’s latest technology, achieving speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour or up to three times faster than a traditional sailboat.
“Nothing like this has ever been done on Lake Minnetonka or in Minnesota,” Rogers said.
Community leaders on the west metro lake hope it not only captures the metro area’s attention but makes the global racing tour the signature event of a new Lake Minnetonka Festival in 2018. Rogers and others envision a weeklong celebration connecting the 14 lake cities and celebrating lake life, including fishing, kite-boarding, windsurfing, wakeboarding and sailing competitions along with food, a sports expo and live music.
They say the tour would draw international TV crews, pro sailors from all over the world and major sailing companies, as spectators line up to watch the action on Jumbotrons with play-by-play announcers like any major sporting event.
It would be a big deal for Wayzata, City Council Member Andrew Mullin said. “We believe we have regional, national and international” appeal, he added.
The city of 4,200 is moving forward with a plan to revitalize its lakefront, including a boardwalk to make it more accessible and a destination.
A few years ago, lake cities tried to create a scenic byway around the lake, using signs to promote attractions and guide visitors on the numerous roads along the 125-mile shoreline. But the idea was abandoned after some towns voiced concern it would drive up traffic.
Some leaders of the lake cities — Deephaven, Excelsior, Greenwood, Minnetonka, Minnetonka Beach, Minnetrista, Mound, Orono, Shorewood, Spring Park, Tonka Bay, Victoria, Woodland and Wayzata — have pushed for better branding of the lake communities as one way to coordinate marketing and promote the area as a regional attraction.
Mullin believes the festival could be better received because the lake already has events like a wakeboarding competition. “No one has tried to smoosh them together into a lake-wide festival,” he said.
The ‘ideal venue’
Community leaders have tried for two years to attract organizers of the World Match Racing Tour. And they seem happy to be here.
James Pleasance, the London-based director of the tour, said Wayzata’s stadium-shaped bay, like a natural amphitheater, allows for good spectator viewing of races. Looking out over the water on a cloudless sunny morning, Pleasance said it would be an “ideal venue.”
“Although it’s not the open sea, it’s ideal for these type of boats,” he said.
The tour has been to the Midwest before, in places such as Chicago, but Wayzata would be the smallest city, Pleasance added. The tour features the M32 catamarans, of which there are 66 in the world right now, including 17 in the U.S. — and two of those now in Wayzata.
On Friday, local youth sailors got a first look at the high-performance boats.
“This is like seeing Tiger Woods — it’s a big deal,” Mullin said.
Speeding across the lake
The boats, 32 feet long and 58 feet high, each cost about $240,000 and are made of carbon, making them much lighter than normal. They float above the water and, fully rigged, weigh about 1,000 pounds, so a group can lift it out of the water.
They’re “total speed machines,” said Rogers, the only Minnesota racer.
A three-person crew of pro sailors took a break from racing to show off a boat Friday on Minnetonka, maneuvering it across the lake as anglers sitting in the bay gawked and took photos. It’s like speeding on NASCAR, the crew said as the boat flew across the water.
They navigated the shifting winds, flying a hull with the boat lifting out of the water on one side as waves splashed.
“It’s very exhilarating,” Pleasance said.
This weekend’s races, likened to a demolition derby, provide a taste of what people would see if the tour comes to Wayzata.
Community organizers hope to keep drumming up interest — and more than $300,000 to pay the tour fees necessary to bring it to Wayzata.
“The sailing world has eyes on you,” Rogers said. “It’s a big deal.”