If there's one thing Shakopee officials want, it's for drivers heading south on Hwy. 169 to cross the Minnesota River.

"That river is a huge barrier, a mental barrier, to a lot of folks," said Mayor Brad Tabke.

But the city is trying to change that, and may soon get a push from Canterbury Park in the form of a major development along Hwy. 169. It's the latest step — and the greatest, potentially — as both Canterbury and the surrounding area try to evolve into multifaceted destinations.

"This project is going to be extraordinary for Shakopee and Scott County and the entire area," Tabke said. "I really, really hope that it makes it all the way to groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting and all that fun stuff."

Details about the development are few, but there are clues in old plans for the approximately 200-acre site. Those plans, which fell apart during the recession, showed a neighborhood with multifamily housing, commercial and office space, a movie theater, a grocery store and a park. Cost projections were in the billions.

Now, ideas are percolating again, and Canterbury is in the process of negotiating a formal development agreement with Kraus-Anderson.

Canterbury President and CEO Randy Sampson declined to comment on this stage of the project.

"They are planning, that much I can say," spokesman Jeff Maday said April 1, as Sampson was emerging from a development-related meeting. "There's a lot of talk going on."

Canterbury's larger vision

Amid increasing competition for gambling dollars nationwide, racetracks, including Canterbury, have felt the pinch.

Canterbury has stayed afloat by rebranding itself as more than a racetrack, hosting everything from music festivals to ostrich races. There are also card tables, which in 2014 accounted for more than half of the operation's total revenue.

Development discussions are happening a little less than three years into a multimillion-dollar partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The 10-year cooperative marketing agreement came in summer 2012, after what Sampson described in the official announcement as "long-standing political differences over gaming."

Edward Stevenson, president/CEO of the Shakopee tribe's gaming enterprise, said the tribe had come to a point where it wanted to leave those differences behind.

"I think there was a realization when we entered into that agreement that all those years of fighting over that had made very little progress," he said. "If we really wanted to market the area and keep the attractions healthy, we needed to do something different."

The agreement is twofold: The tribe funds a "purse enhancement program" that ultimately will total about $75 million. There are also joint marketing efforts between Canterbury and the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, involving an additional $8.5 million from the tribe.

In return for the monetary investment, the tribe benefits from increased traffic to Mystic Lake and opportunities for joint events.

Doug Reed, director of the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program, said partnerships like this one have become more common as racetracks try to diversify.

"The racetrack has the ingress and egress and the land and a gaming license, and the casinos or the Native Americans have the capital," he said. "And so it makes for, hopefully, a good marriage."

Both Canterbury and the tribe say there haven't yet been any decisions about tribal involvement in the proposed development.

Once Canterbury is further along in these early planning stages, Stevenson said, "I'm sure that the tribe would certainly visit with them and talk about what potential investment might be there."

A boon for the city

The proposed development would create something of a gateway into Shakopee and the rest of the far south metro.

It comes amid the growth of the "River South" brand, an effort to market Canterbury, Mystic Lake, Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival. The hope is that the development's retail and entertainment components will draw visitors year-round, supplementing the area's mostly seasonal attractions.

"We're pleased to see that there's an opportunity for retail development to draw folks out here south of the river," Stevenson said.

The spot also offers an unusual opportunity, in a city with little empty land, to build something to serve the growing community. In conversations with Canterbury officials, Shakopee city leaders have pushed for a walkable community with jobs and access to transit, Tabke said.

"People, including myself, anticipated that this type of development would grow with the community. Everyone expected this type of thing to be there eventually," he said. "And finally, we've gotten to a place where this can happen."

Emma Nelson • 952-746-3287