The city of Minnetonka and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District have agreed to split the $40,000 cost of a preliminary design for a building on city property overlooking Minnehaha Creek that could become the headquarters for the watershed district and a demonstration site for conservation measures.

A preliminary design will provide a sketch of the building and grounds along with cost estimates. The plans would be presented to the public before the city and watershed district would decide whether to proceed, said Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider.

The city's vision for the facility includes a broad deck overlooking the creek where a coffee shop or another business could sell refreshments and draw people to the spot, Schneider said. It also would be a location where people could put a canoe in the creek.

From Lake Minnetonka, Minnehaha Creek cuts through Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Edina and Minneapolis to the Mississippi River -- much of it hidden in backyards.

To open up a view of the water and play up the presence of the picturesque stream, Minnetonka several years ago spent $800,000 for four lots on the creek -- a total of 8.9 acres -- and removed the houses.

The property at 12510 Minnetonka Blvd., east of Minnetonka City Hall, has more than 200 mature trees and wetland habitat and, in the past, the city might have used it for a nature center, City Manager John Gunyou has said. But in tight financial times, the city is considering donating it for a watershed district building that would double as the city's venue on the creek for public meetings and gatherings.

The watershed district, which controls creek flooding and works to improve water quality in the large area that drains to the creek, is considering moving its headquarters from Deephaven to the Minnetonka site, where it could demonstrate wetland restoration, storm water control and creek bank maintenance.

This spring, the city and the watershed district agreed that a joint-use building would provide sufficient public benefit to justify the project -- such as being able to tell the story of Minnehaha Creek, demonstrating how to make wise use of land, water and energy, promoting recreational use of the creek with programs and amenities, and providing a public gathering space in a tranquil setting.

Now the city and the district are advertising for a firm that would present a preliminary design of the building and grounds. It may be about four months before the design is ready, Schneider said.

City Council members are enthusiastic about the project but are withholding final judgment until they see the preliminary design, Schneider said.

"Our goal is to not have any of this come back to the city taxpayer," Schneider said. The city wants to limit its contribution to the land, he said.

As proposed, Minnetonka would finance, own and maintain the building. The watershed district would lease the building at a price that would cover the city's costs, Schneider said. The city would own the building because it has a staff for maintaining buildings, Schneider said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711