Whether you soak up a beautiful summer day at the Wayzata beach or take a walk near Lake Minnetonka when the first signs of spring appear, you can feel there’s something alluring about the water. The lake offers peace and serenity for some, excitement and recreation for others.
Holly Evans, owner and co-founder of Wai Nani Surf and Paddle, knows the special draw that Lake Minnetonka has. She’s taught many to enjoy the lake through her stand-up paddleboard business, and she hopes a new long-range vision for the lakefront can enhance Wayzata’s lake experience even more. “It’s a great way to be a part of something very meaningful and significant for our Lake Minnetonka community as a whole,” says Evans. “It’s all about creating opportunities to get out, be active, engage with others and just have fun.”
Evans was one of many citizens and business owners who weighed in on an initiative called the Lake Effect, a 10-year plan and vision for enhancing and guiding future development of Wayzata’s lakefront. The final plan seeks to retain Wayzata’s small-town charm, but also become a regional destination for lake recreation. The Lake Effect project compiled 16 months of citizen input and research, and provides a varied guide to address everything from parks and bike trails to parking solutions and environmental stewardship.
The goal isn’t to dramatically change Wayzata’s already desirable lakefront, but to guide future development that is inevitable. “It spells out different opportunities and challenges for the lakefront,” says Bryan Gadow, Wayzata director of planning and building. That, plus the fact that the project isn’t funded by taxpayer dollars, has almost completely avoided opposition to the Lake Effect. At a December City Council meeting, the members unanimously voted to implement the plan.
Says Gadow, “Lake Effect isn’t a quick ‘Do a couple of things’ plan. It’s a 10-year plan with several projects in the framework that will take a number of years to fundraise, plan, design and go through regulatory processes.”
A Public Process
The Wayzata City Council formed a task force in 2011 to explore opportunities and challenges for the lakefront. That task force recommended gathering public input, and a lengthy dialogue began between the city and residents at festivals, workshops and open houses, as well as in online forums and surveys. “We started thinking about how the community uses the waterfront,” says Gadow. “We set out to find out what residents, business owners, visitors and guests think.”
The results identified nine community values to guide evaluation of future project ideas and development. The values range from preserving community identity and history to ensuring accessibility for people to walk, boat, bike or drive to lakefront destinations. It includes an open-minded approach to development around the operational railroad tracks.
Organizers are confident these guiding values reflect the future citizens’ desire for their city. “How do we take some of the amenities we have, like the train depot or foreman’s house, and think strategically about those assets?” says Gadow. “From those discussions, we decided to take a much broader approach to community engagement. Rather than present a plan to people and hear feedback, we did the opposite.”
Committees also whittled down more than 600 ideas that came from citizens to develop six community priorities. One of the most visible is creating a lake walk by the water, similar to lake walks in Duluth or Chicago. “The idea of a lake walk really seemed to get some traction,” says Gadow. “Conceptually, the citizens liked the idea of being closer to the water.” Another priority is creating more opportunities to use assets like the depot, section foreman’s house, and the municipal marina year-round.
One proposed project is a lake walk, which would allow visitors to get closer to the water.
The St. Paul Riverfront Corporation (SPRC), which has been working on the project since July 2012, developed a menu of possible projects and an implementation strategy for them. Some of the projects are already on their way to completion, like the Eastern Gateway traffic circle. Others merely start a longer process, like a study on Mill Street parking to evaluate whether a parking ramp would be in the best interests of future development.
In 2015, work on a signature project that can bring a greater regional ‘wow’ factor to the lakefront will begin. The design is expected to be unveiled in the fall via a juried competition. Then, a supporting organization will be created to oversee funding through private sources like philanthropic and corporate foundations, and public grants. Ultimately, the organization will oversee the building and implementation of the project. This organization will create consistency and longevity for the project regardless of future political change.
Looking to the Future
In every era of Wayzata history, Lake Minnetonka plays a mayor role. It’s defined the city in the past and the city knows it will continue to do so. Now, the framework, values and priorities established through the Lake Effect project will act as guidelines for the lakefront. Thinking ahead about projects like enhancing landscapes, connecting businesses and attractions, and arranging appropriate transportation patterns will draw more people and their dollars to the area, which benefits local businesses. “It’s more about providing amenities to bring people downtown, and that spins off,” says Gadow. “When they are biking our trails or visiting a park, they might stop in one of our local businesses as well.”
Evans loves having her stand-up paddleboard business on the Wayzata beach and she can’t wait to see future improvements brought about by Lake Effect planning. “I am very excited about the progressive direction the city of Wayzata is taking,” says Evans. “Creating opportunities for residents and guests to greater enhance their enjoyment of our beautiful lakefront and to support commerce around it is definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Lake Effect project identified community values and community priorities to guide development for the lakefront.
- Be Wayzata
- Embrace the lake
- Thoughtful economic growth
- Engaged community
- Reimagine the railroad
- Access for all
- Lively, but not rowdy
- Design matters
- Environmental and historical stewardship
- Parking and circulation
- Lake walk
- Enhanced venues
- Lake access
- Purposeful public investment