From a first distillery to a face-lift at City Hall, Excelsior is gearing up for possible changes this year.

As a result, city leaders are seeking input from residents at a May 28 open house. The event, which will also include a discussion about changes to the city’s historic preservation ordinance affecting downtown historic buildings, will give residents a chance to sound off on the proposed changes.

Renovating City Hall

A makeover may be coming to the town’s aging City Hall this year.

The government building for the town of 2,100 residents is housed in a 1960s-era building that doesn’t meet ADA accessibility standards. The entire building once housed a fire hall and Hennepin County Library, along with city offices, before the library recently relocated to a new building.

Earlier this year, the city hired architectural firm BKV Group to put together renderings of renovating and moving city offices into the former library space. Walls and windows would be added along with a conference room and City Council meeting room while minimum exterior work would update the older brick building. The city could then lease out its current city offices along with the former fire hall.

“It’s a big deal — it’s the city’s building, the community’s building,” City Manager Kristi Luger said.

Some City Council members said preliminary concept plans featuring steel were too modern looking for Excelsior. The same opposition happened with the library, when Hennepin County first proposed modern glass-and-steel designs similar to libraries in Plymouth, Maple Grove and Roseville; that was nixed by the community, in favor of a brick building instead.

Bruce Schwartzman of BKV said City Hall plans have since been revised with softer elements like wood and stone.

“We’re trying to give it some identity and yet represent the character of Excelsior,” he said.

The company has done work on city halls in other west metro cities, including Edina, Maple Grove and Plymouth. To demolish Excelsior’s building would be too costly, but the renovation is expected to be covered by the city’s capital fund, Luger said. After getting community feedback, the city would hire a firm and bid out the work before construction starts, with the goal of finishing it by the end of the year.

New distillery proposed

The city is also considering changing city ordinance to allow micro-distillery licenses and cocktail rooms, which are similar to brewery taprooms.

Heather Manley, the CEO of On-Demand Group, wants to open Crooked Water Spirits, which would be the first distillery in Excelsior and one of the first in the west metro, producing gin, whiskey and vodka. The name comes from Minnetrista, which is the Dakota word for crooked water, and is branded around Lake Minnetonka.

“We want to make it a destination part of a community,” she said. “It’s the perfect location for the kind of distillery we want to open.”

It’s part of a growing distillery industry in Minnesota following the big brewery boom. About a dozen distilleries have opened in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Greater Minnesota. And last year, Waconia opened J. Carver Distillery.

Now, Manley, who also lives nearby, wants to open a distillery and cocktail-tasting room in Excelsior, which also has a popular craft brewery. But first, the city has to sign off on allowing it in its ordinance. The city is getting input May 28 before moving forward; Manley’s business would also need separate approval.

Any new liquor licenses is controversial in the city, Luger said. “We’re starting to get feedback that we have too much liquor in our small town,” she said.

But Mayor Mark Gaylord said a distillery could attract for visitors.

“Any new business coming to town could benefit Excelsior,” he said. “It needs to stay relevant with changing times.”

If approved, Manley said the distillery, which doesn’t have a location yet, could open as soon as by the end of the year. Crooked Water (crookedwaterspirits.com) is already available in some local liquor stores and restaurants.

Changing design standards

The city will also discuss at the May 28 open house revisions to its historic preservation ordinance. The city got a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to revise the ordinance and establish design standards for the downtown historic district. The money has funded a consultant working with a committee chaired by Gaylord.

Revising the ordinance would make it clearer to businesses and add oversight to the process, he said, having the Heritage Preservation Commission along with the Planning Commission and City Council review changes. The city has put a moratorium on additions to historic buildings in its downtown area.

“The historic business district is important to Excelsior,” he said. “It’s really our primary identity.”