A Wayzata businessman who has failed three times to win city approval to put up a massive, multiuse building on Lake Minnetonka says he’s done trying.
“I knew from the beginning it was a long shot,” said Rick Born.
Born wanted to demolish and replace the Boatworks, a 1940 multiuse building he owns on the western end of town, with a much larger Boatworks, four stories just steps from the lake. Its more than 200,000 square feet would house office space, a restaurant and condominiums. Public gathering spaces outside, Born said, could connect neighboring attractions: the century-old restored Depot on one side and the city beach on the other.
Although many city officials liked the concept generally, the City Council ultimately rejected it on May 5, deciding that the four-story structure was just too big. The location’s zoning limits building heights to three stories.
The conflict reflects an ongoing tension in communities around Lake Minnetonka over whether to allow large construction on increasingly valuable lakefront property at the risk of changing the traditional laid-back atmosphere of their towns.
At the council meeting, Mayor Ken Willcox warned that the giant structure would undermine the “small-town character” of a city where zoning ordinances limit almost all buildings to two or three stories.
“Over time, Wayzata would be Miami,” he said, if officials aren’t strict about height. “We’d get that kind of development pressure on us all the time.”
Born takes a different view of how the city should grow. “The past is nice, but you need to respectfully go into the future,” he said in an interview after the council’s rejection.
Born is CEO and founder of RBA Consulting, a technology firm housed in the current building along with other offices, a brewery taproom and the restaurant 6Smith.
He first approached the city a year ago with plans for a five-story structure. Officials deemed it too big. He tried again in October with a four-story proposal with a usable rooftop area. Nope, officials said.
In February, he presented the version rejected last week.
One building in Wazyata, a senior housing complex, is actually taller, with some parts as high as five stories. But, Willcox noted, that building replaced a blighted shopping center on former wetlands so heavily paved over that the location presented unusual construction challenges.
City officials had urged Born to consider removing either some of the condos or some of the office space. But he said building less than four floors would not be financially feasible, in part because of the cost of relocating his tenants during construction. And if the building were all condos, he said, the exterior public areas would have to go, as owners would not want people roaming past their patios.
“I’m sorry, but there can never be a three-story building there,” Born told the council. “It all comes down to the math, and the math would never work.”
Though disappointed with the council’s decision, Born said afterward he’ll just continue operating the 80-year-old Boatworks structure as he has been.
“I’m blessed with the fact that it’s 100% occupied. It’s a thriving property — albeit old,” he said.
Born plans to sign his current tenants to long-term leases and spruce up the building’s exterior.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, what do we do now?’ ” he said. “We don’t really need to do anything.”