Saturday, December 15, 2007

Excelsior: Destination or Community? (editorial)

Let me take a moment to editorialize. I try to keep the information on this blog very balanced and factual, but on occasion I like to interject some opinion, always trying to give you fair warning for when I do so.

With the recent proposal to redevelop the Port of Excelsior and another block in downtown, I'm hearing a mantra that has also been used several times in past years when discussing the vision of Excelsior. That mantra is usually something along the lines of "Excelsior can become a premier destination" in the metro area or the Lake Minnetonka area.

If I could change just one word in that phrase, I would then be able to embrace the mantra wholeheartedly. I'd like to change the word "destination" to "community".

I'm not entirely sure that Excelsior needs to prove itself as a destination. Lake Minnetonka is a natural resource that sells itself. It is rare to have a downtown and public area on a 14,000 acre lake so close to a major city. Places like Excelsior and Wayzata, and to a lesser extent Mound, are able to take advantage of prime placement on one of the largest lakes in the state. Excelsior gets a healthy amount of traffic, and one could describe it as vibrant during most business days, weekend evenings, and summer festivals.

Where Excelsior needs to improve, in my opinion, is not in becoming more of a destination, but in becoming a more livable community. We can buy antiques in Excelsior, but we can't buy meat or fresh vegetables. I can buy artwork to my heart's desire, but I can't find a high quality sandwich to-go from a good deli. We have 7 places to have a beer and 2 more to buy offsale, but we have to venture out on a state highway to find cough syrup. I'm all for new development: Development that will make Excelsior a great place to live, 365 days a year.

This is not to discredit the businesses who have set up shop on Water Street. I want any business in town to thrive. If the free markets suggest that Excelsior should supply the nightlife for the Western suburbs, or become the premier concentration of art for the area, I won't stand in the way.

This is just to say that while becoming a "destination" and a livable "community" might share some commonalities, such as good neighborhood nightlife options, the two ideas diverge at some point. We have biking trails, a beautiful lakefront park, 2 coffeeshops, a movie theater, schools and churches that serve the community. What comes next? More bars, nightlife, and a hotel? Or a market, a drug store, and a gourmet deli supported by a critical mass of tasteful residential development like the Promenade?

My vote is for the latter. Yours?


  1. I don't know how much of a destination it will ever be, it can only hold so much, but as a community, it'll be bedroom from now until the end of time. Where is anyone going to put a drug store in Excelsior? The days of downtown shopping are over. You need big lots, easy access and highway visibility. It's too easy for people to drive 5 or 10 minutes to a grocery store, etc., that's just how life is now.

  2. "What comes next? More bars, nightlife, and a hotel? Or a market, a drug store, and a gourmet deli supported by a critical mass of tasteful residential development like the Promenade?"

    Excelsior has a drug store and a market within 2 miles - it's called Cub. The gourmet deli is a little further, it's called Lakewinds.

    I'm thinking more bars, nightlife, and a hotel would be fantastic.

  3. Too many people remember the Amusement Park and want that atmosphere back. Things have changed. Where there used to be a theme park, there are now residences.

    Excelsior should go the way of neighborhoods like Linden Hills and Grand Avenue and create more residential development right in downtown. Bars and restaurants will come and go with high turnover, but mixed-use developments have staying power because the tenants care about the long-term.

  4. The population of Excelsior proper is too small to support downtown businesses for the staples of everyday life. Just ask the people who have tried in the now-Excel bike location. Access in and our, and parking is poor compared to the Shorewood Cub, for example. Mixed use is partially the answer, which would increase the size of the residential population. A hotel is a bit crazy, for the same reason of access. A destination market, like a Lakewinds or a Mackenthun's might stand a chance, but they already have their new locations. So we sit and wait. As much as I want a livable, wwalkable community, we need a PUBLIC (i.e., free) parking ramp, close to highway 7 and/or 19 first. Then we can create a combination of both destination AND livable community shops/spaces.

  5. The Opex page of the Strib on Jan6-08 has an article about making cities livable in winter in northern climates. Perhaps a public outdoor skating rink, at the commons, or at Lyman Park would be an idea for brining people into town in winter.

  6. Seriously - how many bars does a town the size of Excelsior need? It is a town of bars and churches, with very little in between.

  7. We just moved here from Linden Hills and I agree with anonymous, mixed use development is key. This place sure could use a deli or a market. A walkable, livable community will attract people and become a detination. And we don't need to be afraid of franchises. Little gift shops are cute, but a D'Amico or a Trader Joes would be really nice.

  8. Amen to D'Amico. I'd also like downtown to attract a Punch pizza, Potbelly, and a Smith & Hawken-type store.

  9. Too many people want to wayzata-ize Excelsior with small, expensive shops. Let them have their shops and high polluting lifestyle on the other side of the lake.

    Unfortunately, I don't see how a business can make it with the price of real estate? The rent has to be killer for any new business trying to make it. Unfortunately we all seem to be guilty of only buying "upscale" food and alcohol.

    I have to admit the Jake O's has been a very nice add to Excelsior. Hope they can make it long term.

    I'm definitely opposed to giving any of the Commons to a developer. Sure, fine, develop the old Pizza Hut, but leave the Commons alone!

    Parking ramp? Really? IMHO, the only time we need a parking ramp is during July 4th. People are too lazy to walk in my opinion. The furtherest I've ever had to walk to get downtown in the summer is 3 blocks. Come on! Wayzata doesn't even have a parking lot. Loose the hotel and the parking ramp along with it.

    There's no such thing as Excelsior Proper. If you have something people want, they will come. It's too easy to get to Cub Foods in Shorewood and Target in Minnetonka.

  10. keep Excelsior charming...

    There are very few places around the twin cities area left that have as much charm and character as Excelsior. Stillwater, old St. Paul Cathedral Hill area, maybe Wayzata (which is already a bit over developed).. The last thing I would want to see is Excelsior turn into another suburban nightmare. If its chain businesses you want, please look in another community, as that is the "everything else" that is out there.

    Parking structures in Excelsior?! -- ridiculous!

    I support new businesses within Excelsior, but please no chains, no hotels, and no parking structures.