Wayzata approves lakefront concept plan

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 1:16 PM

City Council members emphasized that the approval is for a broader vision, not specific spending or plans.

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Wayzata lakefront

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Wayzata has long said it’s the gateway to Lake Minnetonka.

Now, city leaders hope to better show that off by becoming more of a regional destination on the Twin Cities busiest lake, boosting tourism and access to its lakefront in a massive redevelopment plan unanimously approved by the City Council last week.

The estimated $30 million to $40 million concept plan is a 10-year “framework,” or vision, for how the town of 4,000 people could revamp areas of the lakefront. It is approval for overall concept ideas, council members reiterated, not for specific spending or initiatives.

“It’s a framework of what-ifs; it’s a framework of options. It’s not marching orders,” Mayor Ken Willcox said before the council vote followed by celebratory cake. “But it gives the council a context in which to make decisions about specific projects and specific opportunities that come our way.”

Wayzata is one of only three of 14 lake cities that has commercial lakefront. The massive project kicked off years ago after one question: Is the city-owned parking lot outside the former Sunsets restaurant the best use of lakefront? That set off a broader discussion on how to improve lake access for both residents and tourists.

A task force started in 2011 and the city hired the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation to lead the Lake Effect project, starting in 2012 with community input sessions that brought in more than 600 ideas.

That led to the 10-year plan approved last week that includes boosting access to the lake, better connecting trails and enhancing venues such as the Section Foreman’s House, an old railroad building.

“This isn’t a GPS … with turn-by-turn directions. This is a map you get to choose the route you go on,” Patrick Seeb, executive director of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, said about the final framework.

Price tags for the plans

For about $2 million, the Section Foreman’s House could undergo a total makeover with landscaping and a trail, housing year-round events and a lakeshore food vendor similar to Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun. For about $5.4 million, a tunnel could be built under railroad tracks to the old railroad house — just one of the many new ways to help people get around the lakeshore tracks that can’t be moved. A pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the marina parking lot could cost another $1.8 million.

And that city-owned parking lot? It could become more like a plaza, hosting everything from food trucks to a farmers market. It’s all to draw people year-round, not just the summer, inspired by places like Key West and San Diego.

The plan also suggests adding trails, signs, landscaping, sidewalks and a lakewalk from the depot to a future Broadway pier, which is estimated to cost more than $3 million. Adding a pier at Broadway with docks and benches could cost another $1.75 million.

Total cost for everything in the plan: an estimated $30 million to $40 million — but, city leaders said, not everything will be done or end up looking like it does in the framework plan. And for many of the initiatives, the city wants to seek grants and partner with other agencies and local foundations.

Next steps

This isn’t the first time Wayzata has embarked on such an ambitious plan. In 1920, there was a lakefront development plan followed by a boardwalk plan in the 1980s. But this latest effort, leaders said, is different because it gathered extensive input and was community driven.

“I kind of view it as a 100-year process where the last three years have been the last miles of a marathon,” Council Member Andrew Mullin said. “I think it has the best chance of moving forward in a good way.”

Not everyone was supportive throughout the process, with critics saying the big changes could destroy the small-town character.

But Mullin said, “If you get it right, the experience is what will draw the attraction” to Wayzata, adding that the next steps will be key. “Now it comes to choosing the right pace and priorities.”

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