The 1960s tore a hole in the middle of historic downtown Chaska. Now city leaders are hoping to fill it in.
The city is seeking a consultant to help bring pedestrian-friendly buildings — possibly including a library — to a block now dominated by a car-oriented strip mall. The redevelopment of City Square West, on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th streets, was among the top priorities identified in a 2011 plan for Chaska’s downtown.
It is among the few blocks in the heart of Chaska that retains little evidence of the city’s 19th-century history as a brickmaking boomtown on the Minnesota River. And it sits across the street from the city’s public square, City Square Park.
“So much of the downtown has been preserved. But that’s one block that has not been,” said Lisa Oberski, president of the Chaska Historical Society.
Before the mid-1960s, City Square West housed the Carver County Courthouse and a number of narrow storefronts facing the sidewalk. Today, it is home to KleinBank, a post office and a strip mall with several restaurants and a convenience store.
The city’s downtown master plan noted the buildings are “primarily one-story structures, oriented more toward the automobile (parking lots and drive-thru facilities) than the pedestrian (streets and sidewalks).”
“This pattern of development is consistent with their period of construction but does not reflect the character or development patterns of historic downtown Chaska,” the plan said.
The city’s planning director, Kevin Ringwald, said the consultant they are bringing in will help devise a concept for the site with input from the community. “Right now, no one knows really what that [concept] might be. And we’re not prescribing what that outcome might be,” Ringwald said.
Possibilities from the 2011 plan include a mix of residential, office, parking and retail uses at the site in four-story buildings. One option would move the city’s library, now tucked into City Hall, into a larger space on the block.
The proposed remaking of City Square West follows the city’s recent overhaul of nearby Firemen’s Park into a popular curling center, event space and restaurant.
“There’s not any other blocks in downtown that are … guided for redevelopment,” said City Planner Liz Hanson. “This one’s kind of the last one in downtown that’s planned to be redeveloped.”
Ringwald said the city will be working with existing property owners on plans for the block and that it remains unclear what the city’s role in the project will be. The parcels are owned by KleinBank, the Klein family and William and Danielle Modell.
“We don’t want to stand in the way of their vision, as long as we’re treated fairly,” said Dan Klein, former CEO of KleinBank.
Some important moments in local history took place on the block, Oberski said.
Crowds gathered at the courthouse jail in 1902 to watch the hanging of murderer Andrew Tapper, who killed a waitress at a hotel in Carver. Oberski said it was the city’s only hanging.
The block is also where Cooper’s Foods grocery, still a staple in the area, got its start in 1917.