As a Lake Minnetonka resident, one can hear the growing rumbling of tourism advocates. Naive community-development promoters, local politicians wanting more tax revenue, road-construction companies and developers all are raising their voices to make Lake Minnetonka, and especially Wayzata, a “world-class” tourist destination (“Lake Minnetonka has global dreams for tourism,” Aug. 7). But in promoting more tourism, they are killing the very thing that makes Lake Minnetonka enjoyable now.
More tourism will help neither existing businesses nor the residents of the area. The ultimate irony is that the railroad that runs through the town, and what the tourist promoters want to eliminate, is what is saving Wayzata from the worst excesses of tourism.
The worst excess, of course, would be a boardwalk along the shore. In the same way a new football stadium was touted as a way to make Minneapolis “world class” — and to watch grown men give each other concussions — the boardwalk is being touted as a way to save Wayzata. (From whom, itself?)
This is similar to the mall-building craze most cities have gone through. In Minneapolis, we have Nicollet Mall, and many of the fine shops that used to line it are all gone. Now the mall is being “upgraded” in the hope that people from the North Loop and the Mill District, which are thriving, will come over.
People don’t consider the unintended consequences of unbridled tourism. To show what happens when such tourism is encouraged by a million road “improvements,” just look at nearby Stillwater.
One of the main problems is convincing people that tourism is a business like any other. The oil industry is serious; mining is serious; manufacturing is serious, but tourism is a frivolous pursuit, fun (for the whole family!), sometimes seductive, even romantic and exotic. But go to most of the popular tourist destinations — Hawaii or South Florida or New Orleans or Sedona, Ariz., or, locally, Stillwater — and all you see is congestion, tacky T-shirt shops and humdrum restaurants. In Stillwater, I have seen lines of people 30 deep waiting to pay for their parking and shops that offer little more than scented candles made in China.
Wayzata is on the verge of this implosion. The powers-that-be decided that a road leading into the city was “inadequate,” so County Road 101 has been closed for two years. What happened? Look at the stores and restaurants in Wayzata that were never meant to be multimillion-dollar enterprises — or really wanted to be. (To become one of those, they would have gone to the Galleria or the Mall of America.) When 101 was closed, many of the local businesses died — the iconic Blue Point Restaurant was one of the notable. When the road reopens, more-moneyed outsiders with the biggest bankrolls will come in to pick off the pieces.
And as they come in, they want more parking and even wider roads. Wayzata is building a parking ramp, which will take 180 parking spaces out of commission during construction. This will make it even harder for people to get in, and more local stores will go out of business to be replaced by more-moneyed offerings. I predict a McDonald’s on Lake Street in Wayzata within five years.
But back to the boardwalk proposal along the waterfront: For that, a pedestrian bridge would have to be built over the BNSF Railway’s tracks. Can you imagine the cost and the interruption that would cause?
The other solution would be to move the tracks, which probably would cost a billion dollars. Crazy? Consider that in an effort to ease Stillwater’s problem a $700 million bridge is being built.
There is no benefit for lake residents whatsoever. OK — we are snoots; we moved here for the beauty and serenity, not for a constant barrage of automobiles and loud Harley-Davidsons. We don’t need to become another Stillwater. Yet, you can fight tourism and win.
I lived in Virginia, in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, when the Disney Corp. wanted to build a theme park not too far from us in Manassas, near the famous Civil War battlefield. Traffic was already bad, and the thought of the “Disney’s America” theme park — which would have brought 30,000 visitors daily, 6.3 million annually — got the opposition going. Many prominent residents, including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, jumped in with ordinary locals to fight Disney. Disney gave up after a year.
The New York Times concluded: “Along with proving the power of organized, articulate opposition to a bad idea, the intellectuals, environmentalists, preservationists and ordinary citizens who fought the project proved something else. Michael Eisner, Disney’s chairman, argued that Americans were ignorant about their history and needed Disney-style fun to teach them. As the historian David McCullough has pointed out, this episode has shown that Americans do know their history and care about ground made sacred by what occurred there.”
John Freivalds lives on Lafayette Bay in Orono.