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At more than 50 feet tall, the hotel would exceed the city’s 35-foot height rule. But architect Neil Weber said design standards don’t account for something like a hotel. “We’re dealing with a use that’s new to the city,” he said. “It’s a whole different building type.”
The small boutique hotel will be independently owned and would be an economic catalyst, he said, drawing guests to the town’s stores and restaurants. Gaylord added that it could create jobs and reduce taxes for local residents, and that a vocal minority of residents oppose it. “It’s all about controlled and thoughtful growth,” he said.
While some feel it will set a precedent for taller buildings, City Manager Kristi Luger said that isn’t likely. There are few open sites, and any other building type wouldn’t justify the height. “It’s such a unique project,” she said of the hotel.
Anything in that prominent of a spot — by the lake and off the town’s main street — would have stirred debate, she added. “There’s a lot of politics at play,” she said. “We really looked at it and we’re making the best decision right now. No one can predict the future.”
Before the council approved the general plan in February, criticism ramped up with an online petition that featured a video interview with former WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby and an industry expert saying that the hotel won’t succeed financially or attract guests beyond the summer.
But four feasibility studies indicate there’s a market for a hotel, Weber said. The allegation that it could become condos is a myth, he said.
Other critics say the council approved the hotel to get tax-increment financing, which could exceed $1 million. Luger said TIF didn’t motivate the approval, but was “icing on the cake” and could fund port and water treatment upgrades by the lake instead of city taxpayers having to pay that bill.
The hotel is expected to get final approval this summer. But the fallout probably isn’t over.
“I didn’t move to live in the middle of a carnival,” Finch said. “Is it just a play place for the richer residents on the periphery? More and more, it’s divorced from us living here.”
The controversy has prompted the City Council to re-examine design standards, starting last week. On Thursday, Judy Mueller said she was the fourth of seven commissioners to leave. “The town has a completely different feel than when I moved here,” said Mueller, who’s lived there since 1967.
Jon Monson, an architect behind a much-anticipated grocery store and Shelby’s $1.25 million Excelsior home, said there’s been a conscious effort to preserve buildings. But now, the hotel that will go next to the 1930s-era movie theater he owns just doesn’t fit in, he said.
“This is what everyone is trying to copy,” he said of Excelsior’s downtown, pointing to cities like Maple Grove’s Arbor Lakes area.
“We have the real thing.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib