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“I think the two communities have a really compelling story to tell to get people back on Lake Minnetonka,” he said.
Not everyone is supportive of the big changes. Developments in Wayzata and Excelsior have drawn criticism from those who worry that those communities’ small-town character could be forever altered. Others say there are already enough lake visitors.
“I call it a little identity crisis that Wayzata has gone through in the past few years,” said Wayzata City Council Member Bridget Anderson. “It’s who Wayzata could be [in the future]; it’s more than tourism.”
For both cities, it’s also a way to drum up money. Excelsior leaders are meeting this month with legislators to discuss a food and beverage sales tax that could bring an estimated $5 million over 25 years.
That money could fund Excelsior’s own major makeover of a lakefront park and port, perhaps with a new band shell or lake walk. But restaurant owners and legislators, who would have to approve the tax, still need to be convinced.
Excelsior also plans to start a lodging tax when a boutique hotel opens, the first hotel on Lake Minnetonka since 1964. It’s expected to get final approval next month, breaking ground later this year.
Becoming a destination
The third city with commercial shoreline, Mound, is also trying to attract new businesses, with a market study last year showing demand for new development like retail or restaurants. The city razed an old business district and replaced it with a new downtown and pier, and hopes to draw rooftop restaurants to its main street.
Mound is also one of the 14 cities meeting in about a week to discuss the idea of designating a scenic byway. The lake, with 42 bays and 125 miles of shoreline, can be confusing to visitors who stop by the local Chamber of Commerce asking for a route to tour the whole lake.
If approved by the cities and the state’s scenic byway commission, it would be the 22nd in Minnesota and would involve putting up signs directing visitors around the lake and to attractions.
It’s all part of a shift in viewing the lake region not just as a haven for boaters, but a destination for Minnesotans.
“This is a regional asset; it doesn’t belong to any one city,” Willcox said. “And we have to look at it this way.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141