A new boardwalk, band shell and other improvements may finally be coming to the Commons park in Excelsior.
For the past two years, residents and city officials have been developing a master plan for changes at the 13-acre park on Lake Minnetonka. Last week a final public hearing was held, and the resulting feedback and redesign plan will be forwarded to the Excelsior City Council by December.
“We are getting very close to the end of the planning process,” said Council Member Jennifer Caron. “This has come after a lot of public input and [reaching] out to residents in a variety of ways.”
The Commons, a rare piece of public land on Lake Minnetonka, has been in the public domain for more than 160 years. It includes an outmoded band shell and bathhouse that date to the 1950s and ’60s.
But the park is a popular Twin Cities-wide destination, Caron said, and long-needed facility improvements can’t be covered with tax revenue generated solely by Excelsior’s 2,500 residents.
This summer, the city added boat docks to boost revenue for the park. A park conservancy called Community for the Park has already raised $50,000.
Excelsior residents agreed in 2014 to a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent for the park, but the city so far has failed to get legislative authority for a sales tax increase. It has also tried in vain to be included in the state bonding bill.
“We’ve never been able to get across the finish line,” said Caron. “I’m not in favor of charging a user fee for walking through the park.”
Once a master plan is approved by the City Council, Community for the Park will crank up private fundraising efforts, said Eric Snyder, chairman of the master plan working group.
Caron said she looks forward to working with the group to raise money, but she discussed some other ways the city could generate revenue for the park.
Excelsior has earmarked a portion of fees collected from the new boat docks and plans to look into revenue from newly installed parking meters and potential development. Property taxes won’t be used to fund the park improvements, said Snyder.
Public input, along with advice from consultants, helped prioritize what changes were wanted or needed for the Commons. A boardwalk loop along the lake was requested because there isn’t a hard surface walkway along the shore. It’s been determined that structures such as the bathrooms, band shell and concession stand at the ballpark need replacing.
Moreover, the space between downtown Excelsior and the park is often congested and needs a more cohesive design, said Snyder.
“We don’t have to do anything really new or dramatic,” he said.
Like much of the Lake Minnetonka area, the Commons has an amazing history, he said. He noted that city founders had the foresight to set aside a prime piece of real estate for the public good, which points to great stewardship.
“People around the area have a strong attachment to the park, and they all have their own stories,” he said. “That creates intense feelings on how we steer a plan for change.”
Caron and Snyder both lamented that there haven’t been any significant improvements to the park in 20 to 30 years.
“It’s an absolutely fabulous piece of property,” Caron said. “But we struggle to keep up with it.”