The future of Wayzata’s lakefront is starting to take shape this month as the city unveils how it could be revamped to draw more people to Lake Minnetonka — from building a boardwalk to opening a restaurant similar to Sea Salt in Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Park.
The city has compiled more than 600 ideas from residents, businesses and community members since launching its ambitious 10-year lakefront improvement plan last September — part of the city’s goal to remake itself as a Twin Cities year-round destination and boost development.
On Tuesday, the project unveiled a fourth concept design to the City Council based off feedback from three concept designs drawn up last month. That fourth plan will also be presented this weekend at the annual James J. Hill Days.
“What Wayzata has said to us is, we’re a lakefront community and we haven’t really built ourselves to do that. … This is a plan that helps them do that,” said Patrick Seeb, executive director of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, which is facilitating the project, the Wayzata Lake Effect.
Over the last year, community members have suggested the city revitalize its lakefront with everything from a band shell to beach yoga, a microbrewery, more docks and even food barges like popular food trucks. Others suggested building a floating island for a lake concert stage or creating a city icon such as a fountain. The increase in attractions could boost development, helping keep property taxes low, Mayor Ken Willcox said.
“What we need is to keep that retail and commercial core healthy, and that means bringing more people into Wayzata,” he said. “People really want to ‘touch’ the lake.”
But keeping the small town feel of the 4,000-resident suburb is also something “we keep … in mind always,” he said. “We’re not looking to turn it into a metropolitan.”
Not everyone is keen, though, on broad changes.
Like a controversial hotel across the lake in Excelsior, there are some Wayzata residents who fear that the Lake Effect project will change the character of the suburb.
“Do we need a massive redevelopment plan for what is basically a nice little town? No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think most people in Wayzata think so,” said Mary Bader, a longtime resident and former City Council member.
She voted in support of the process when she was on the council and said she likes aspects of all three designs, but doesn’t want to see big changes like a band shell.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “Everyone is holding their breath.”
For resident Joann Leavenworth, Wayzata is “a sleepy town.” She said she doesn’t want to trade that quietness for congestion, but does want small shops to thrive.
“It’s certainly a conflicted issue,” she said.
What’s the price tag?
One thing most residents seem to agree on is making the city more accessible to boaters, bikers, pedestrians and cars.
It’s part of six priorities that planners have honed in on: having a lake walk, better lake access, better connectivity to the lakefront, enhancing lakefront venues, improving parking and having a “purposeful” public investment to boost development.
“Think Santa Monica or Naples … a long pier where people could stroll out on the water,” said resident Terri Huml, who’s on the project’s steering committee. “In order for Wayzata to survive, we need an active and robust business community. We want to make sure Wayzata is there and a community for the future.”
The three concept designs drawn up last month varied in detail, but all three designs included building a lake walk ranging from 8 feet long to 45 feet long and adding a food option at the vacant Section Foreman’s House, similar to Sea Salt. Other ideas included creating a performance space, pool or amphitheater at Shaver Park and building a tunnel under railroad tracks.
“We need to do things to bring people to Wayzata,” said Huml, who also owns Gianni’s Steakhouse. “Why can’t Wayzata be like a little Aspen or a little Vail Village and there’s activities year-round?”
While longtime resident Bette Hammel said parking and boat access need to be improved, she said she can’t envision major changes such as filling in a lagoon for a park.
“I think people are really concerned about all this because they want to know what will it cost me,” said Hammel, an architectural journalist also on the steering committee. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and wariness in the community.”
That’s one of the big questions left to answer: the price tag. As the city continues to get feedback on the design concept, the third phase of the project will break it down into individual projects and determine cost estimates and funding. The design concept will also be presented to other lake cities and agencies such as Hennepin County.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” City Manager Heidi Nelson told the City Council last month. “This is where all the work we’ve been doing … starts to come to life.”
For more information, go to wayzatalakeeffect.com.