When Todd Gerhardt started working for the city of Chanhassen in the mid-1980s, the population was about 8,000 and the only place you could buy groceries was at a glorified convenience store.
“We didn’t see a grocery store in Chanhassen until we hit a population of 10,000” a few years later, Gerhardt said.
Now Chanhassen has more than three times the residents, almost 27,000, and five supermarkets — just a couple indicators of how much the city has grown during Gerhardt’s tenure with the city, which ended last week.
Gerhardt is retiring after more than 34 years working for Chanhassen, including 21 years as city manager. The City Council has appointed Heather Johnston, a former city manager in Burnsville, as interim city manager and hopes to name a permanent city manager by early 2021.
When Gerhardt joined the city as a planning intern, Chanhassen was a sleepy town anchored by the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres complex, with a smattering of restaurants, bars, retail stores, manufacturers and other businesses.
Now the city offers not only several grocery choices but a couple dozen restaurants, Target, OfficeMax and many other national franchises as well as free-standing retail businesses. Business and industrial growth, including the expanding headquarters of fitness company Life Time Inc., parallel the retail boom.
Jobs have increased from about 2,000 in 1980 to more than 16,000 last year, before the COVID-19 shutdown, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
“There are a great number of accomplishments and markers that will continue to shout the contribution by Todd Gerhardt in our community,” said Denny Laufenburger, a former mayor and council member.
Gerhardt steered incentives for businesses to locate in Chanhassen. Residential neighborhoods now spread across once open fields, and a 134-unit apartment building opened last year. The tax base has soared from about $1 billion to more than $3 billion.
Gerhardt didn’t personally lure Prince to Chanhassen. But the late superstar decided to locate Paisley Park there because the city let him build a recording studio that matched his vision. The sleek white metal structure now houses a museum about Prince’s life.
Some local developments have stirred controversy, including apartments in the downtown district off W. 78th Street and a housing development on land where Prince once lived.
But for the most part, Chanhassen’s growth has been gradual and its expansion has been well received, Gerhardt said.
“We’ve had tense years and tense developments,” he said, but “we’re kind of a steady Eddie.”
Improvements during Gerhardt’s decades with the city include new water lines, more trees downtown and a new county library branch. Driving the 21 miles from Minneapolis to Chanhassen once meant chugging along Hwy. 5, a two-lane road. Now Hwy. 5 has four lanes and the trip takes less than half an hour.
Carver County has taken off in similar fashion, becoming Minnesota’s fastest growing county. Expanding manufacturing, technology and other industries have drawn newcomers to the southwest metro, Todd Graham, the Metropolitan Council’s principal forecaster, said last year.
So Gerhardt can’t take all the credit for Chanhassen’s growth — not that he would consider doing so.
“I like to say there were a bunch of people involved in making this stuff happen,” he said.
That’s typical of Gerhardt, say people who have worked with him — he’s quick to share credit for any accomplishments with city staffers, elected officials and the public.
Gerhardt “carried the burden when things didn’t go well, but gave credit to those around [him] when things did,” said Mayor Elise Ryan during a tribute to Gerhardt at his last City Hall meeting on June 22. “His remarkable career may be ending, but his legacy will forever be tied to Chanhassen.”