A new public square in downtown Chaska could include an open plaza with a stage, firepits, open-air markets, shops and restaurants featuring rooftop seating overlooking the city.
City Square West, a concept for downtown revitalization created by a local task force, has been greenlighted by the Chaska City Council, giving city officials the go-ahead to seek proposals from developers.
“I’m wanting us to think about this as a large outdoor community center,” said City Administrator Matthew Podhradsky.
The square is part of a multiyear plan to turn Chaska’s downtown, filled with brick buildings recalling its history as a 19th-century brickmaking center, into a walkable, diverse, modern community.
Earlier parts of the city’s revitalization efforts — such as improvements to Firemen’s Park and construction of the Chaska Curling Center — are already completed and considered successes. When the Curling Center opened at the end of 2015, city officials hoped to sign a couple of hundred members by the end of the year. Membership soared to about 1,000 within two months.
“We’re creating infrastructure that gets used,” Podhradsky said.
Gift shops and eateries have been popping up in a city that a decade ago was struggling. In 2010, building permits dropped from about 500 a year to fewer than 100, Podhradsky said. Downtown streets were scattered with empty storefronts.
“It was quiet and a little run down and shabby,” said Dan Keyport, owner of Dolce Vita Wine Shop in downtown Chaska, president of the Chaska Downtown Business Alliance and a member of the task force. “Even people who lived in Chaska never really came downtown.”
The City Square West location is one of the few blocks in downtown Chaska that lacks quaint brick buildings. A 19th-century courthouse burned years ago and was replaced with a strip mall and other 1960s-era structures.
The new concept includes underground parking, a glass pavilion and four buildings with mixes of commercial space and apartments at price points ranging from affordable to high-end. One building would be dedicated to artists’ lofts and galleries. The open space between them would feature outdoor dining as well as games and other amenities designed to attract both residents and visitors.
Meanwhile, Chaska’s public library, now occupying 1,000 square feet in City Hall, would move to a new 35,000-square-foot building across the street. Hwy. 41, which slashes through the city, would be narrowed from four lanes to three. Improvements to walkways that snake behind buildings would encourage pedestrians to visit shops and restaurants while avoiding street traffic.
As Twin Cities suburbs develop, residents don’t always welcome proposals to build higher-density housing, especially those that, as in Chaska’s plan, locate apartments next to neighborhoods of single-family homes. And walkability, though increasingly sought-after in some communities, is not always treasured in neighborhoods that developed around car travel, with cul-de-sacs and expansive yards.
But most Chaska residents seem to like the plan, Podhradsky said. He attributes that to the city’s transparency; the task force has made a point of keeping residents informed, holding public meetings and posting extensive information on the city’s website.
Density and diversity were among the qualities that advertising executive Greg Swan and his wife were seeking when they moved to Chaska from St. Paul about 10 years ago.
“I wanted to be able to walk places and have people and energy around,” said Swan, who sat on the task force. “I wanted diversity; I wanted my kids to grow up with kids who don’t look like them.”