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New Grocery Store Plans Spark Debate in Excelsior

Residents expressed a mixture of support for and opposition to site plans.

residents are voicing both excitement and grievances regarding a development plan that would potentially bring a grocery store and other businesses to town.

Paul Tucci from Minnetonka-based Oppidan presented development plans for the now vacant Mason Motors property on Water Street, between Oak and George Streets, to the Excelsior City Council last week. The site plan includes an addition to the building, a second building for businesses and parking.

Bill Mason, owner of the former Mason Motors, told the council about the excitement surrounding the possibility of a grocery store coming to Excelsior.

Many council members, however, had concerns about traffic and the orientation of the building that would house the grocery store. City design standards require parking areas on Water Street to be 50 feet away from the street unless a building obscures the area from view. Public parking lots are an exception.

Tucci explained that reorienting the building to face Water Street would create storm water issues and that potential grocery store tenants were opposed to such changes. Councilman John Olson said he needed more information about the engineering problems posed by changing the building’s direction, though he admitted that he was open to being convinced of it.

Councilwoman Jennifer Caron wants to explore other options.

“There are reasons we have design standards,” she said.

Councilmen Greg Miller wondered about extra traffic going toward the residential areas on George Street while Councilwoman Caron described the difficulty of turning onto Water Street during busy times of the day. When traffic is busy she said that she has had to force her way into traffic. She also had doubts about the safety of having two Water Street access points into and out of the parking lot. Councilmen Miller had similar questions.

Jon Monson, architect for the project through his company Landschute, responded to these and other concerns in a later address to the council at the mayor’s request. He said that limiting access on Water Street would push more traffic onto George Street.

Several residents also addressed the council to voice their opinions about the plan.

Kevin Dilorenzo, a resident on George Street, opposed the design, saying that he didn’t “want a suburban strip mall in the heart of downtown.” He added designs for the site should model the street facing storefronts of other sections of Water Street.

Lynn Walker, also a resident on George Street, countered that she liked the current design and the included greenery. She would love to have the opportunity to walk to a grocery store and was afraid of the costs of delaying action.

“We’ve seen some very positive changes by the developer and architect," John Anderson, another George Street resident, said. "You can’t please everyone.”

Tim Brandow, an Excelsior business owner, asked the council to deny the plan. While he supports the idea of development, Brandow said that the plan could be better.

Linda Murrell, executive director of the South Lake-Excelsior Chamber of Commerce, disagreed.

“Short of blowing up the whole block, you have to work with what you have,” she said. “Let’s get going.”

When Monson addressed the council, he said that the history of Excelsior supported having a different look for the section of Water Street where Mason Motors sits from the portion of Water Street that has the more historic appearance and street-facing buildings. That portion of Water Street is also zoned differently. Having looked at multiple alternatives, he said that he believed they had found the best solution.

Councilwoman Mary Jo Fulkerson said that she liked the design.

“This is a different section of Excelsior," she said. "It’s always been a parking lot and car dealership."

While she initially had questions about traffic, she said that the developer had adequately dealt with the issue.

Council members Caron and Miller rounded out the discussion with more questions, and Miller mentioned his preference for more detail on the buildings to give them a more historic look. Mayor Nick Ruehl, who said earlier in the meeting that he thought the plans were on the right track, asked for patience as the city gathered more information.

The city council will return to the topic at the May 7 meeting.

Jay Corn April 23, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Comments via Facebook: Shelly Hanson Krafve: TRADER JOES is the very best idea! I have posted this on my FB and everyone prefers Trader Joes over any other store. It will be soooo successful for TJ & Excelsior. Please make it work!!!!! Dawn Erickson Wolfbauer: I was excited when I heard possibility of Trader Joe's! I think it would drive so much more traffic in town for the other businesses as well. I agree, please make it work too!!! Bob Edmondson: Bring back RED.OWL !! LOL! An eclectic store like TJ'S or any other gourmet store would suffice. Lets just hurry it up for once! Elizabeth Galan Flom: I would absolutely love a Trader Joe's there...Hurry up with the planning! Gloria LeSueur: A high end grocery store would be awesome and would make me do more business in Excelsior:) I drive through there all of the time going to chanhassen.
Suzy Watson April 23, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Everyone I've talked to wants a grocery store in Excelsior. No one (except the developer) wants a strip mall, especially with all the space currently for lease downtown. Give us just the grocery store and leave the rest as green space.
Tina April 23, 2012 at 03:09 PM
A Vote for Trader Joes and keeping the quaint town experience, a vote for no strip mall but added unique boutique shops and cafes with store fronts similar to the rest of downtown excelsior.
Jay Corn April 23, 2012 at 03:50 PM
As a recent Mason Motors employee and an area resident, I feel that bringing new life to the corner of Water St. at the entrance to Excelsior is a perfect idea. Excelsior has made a name for itself in the recent years by bringing traffic from all over the country with the events it hosts. By having a grocery store, regardless of the name, will be recreating history in the town. Monson's plan to re-purpose the existing Mason building is a great way to keep the history of that corner as the focal point and gateway to the city. By making modifications to the rest of the property, it will get rid of some of the eye sores that have been vacant (which is bad for historical and future business) for way too long. It will create new opportunities for successful business. As a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Burnet, I feel that bringing the convenience to area residents makes it more attractive to live near this great town, thus increasing property appeal and value in a recovering market. It will bring more traffic from surrounding area residents that may not visit Excelsior on a regular basis, which is great for other area businesses. Mason Motors, a family business for 90 years in Excelsior, would not have made way for new life in the city if it wasn't a good thing for the residents and our customers, whom we thought were like family. To the council members, this is a good thing, please allow this great project. Ari Rad A Mason Motors Employee, Local Realtor and Area Resident
laura hotvet April 23, 2012 at 06:44 PM
I grew up with Red Owl at that corner. Bringing a bustling business to that end of the street will increase traffic and pedestrian flow, which last time I checked, is good for a business district. Excelsior, bring a core business to town, and you can add others from there. Don't lose this one! Laura Hotvet
Nathan Boyer June 18, 2012 at 06:38 AM
I don't feel Trader Joe's is a good fit for Excelsior for the following reasons: 1) The Company is privately owned by the founder of Aldi's, a German Grocery chain with no ties to MN or the community. 2) Traders Joe's operates on approx 80% private label and would likely exclude local suppliers. 3) The location does not fit with Trader Joe's traditional location Strategy of high visibility, high traffic areas (Excelsior Blvd uptown SLP & Maple Grove interchange of 494/649/94). For these reasons I would rather see a Lakewinds or local produce upstart in Excelsior, if a grocery store is required for the location. The Cub Foods located 1 mile down HWY 7 is sufficient for the community in my opinion.
Maria August 08, 2012 at 03:09 PM
PLEASE bring Traders Joes to Excelsior - we SO need it! I currently drive 25 minutes to the closest one and LOVE the convenience and beauty of the town Excelsior - we would be there EVERY WEEK if it came. I have talked with a minimum of 10 other families who feel the same. Cub is NOT the same - TJ's has so many organic products at decent prices (UNlike Lakewinds) that it makes it possible for us to eat healthier, more affordably. It fits perfectly with Excelsior and would definitely bring more business there, especially in the winter months. Sure, there may be traffic issues - there are at EVERY TJ store I have EVER been to (3 in this state alone) BECAUSE IT IS SUCH A GREAT STORE! People are motivated to shop there!
C&C August 15, 2012 at 07:51 PM
We were on our way to Trader Joe's FROM Excelsior this weekend when I read this article. My parents make sure to stop by the one in Maple Grove when they head back home up north. I think Trader Joe's would be the perfect store/grocer to go into the old Mason Motors location and so do many of my friends in the area. Excelsior is in need of a grocery store again and Trader Joe's would be the perfect draw for the area.
nancy August 19, 2012 at 03:08 PM
TJs coming to Excelsior is a very welcomed idea!!! We live in western town and currently drive clear into city to shop at TJs because of the quality food and fair pricing. Yes, they have private labels and yes the private owner lives in Germany but who cares if the business model is in the best interest of the consumer? Much of their food is unique, healthy and wonderful. You dont have to buy in large quantities and "stock-up" unless you want to, as many other groceries present, which makes it appealing to single people, elderly and smaller families. Bringing them to this side of the city with bring in some competitive pricing as well. Their stores are small which allows you to get in and out quickly and TJs is a great community-involved company who treats employees AND customers very well.
Maria Jette August 25, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I was just looking around to see if any news has cropped up about this grocery store project. I like Trader Joe's a lot-- fell in love with it in CA 15+ years ago, and regularly sent wheedling letters to them, begging them to come to MN! However, I don't see TJ's as a good fit for Excelsior. I'd much rather see a full grocery store, particularly the locally-owned FRESH SEASONS. There's one in Glen Lake (on Excelsior Blvd)-- a great store. I suppose it's all decided by now, but I'd be thrilled to see that business in our town. http://www.freshseasons.com/home.php
Rex Chapman August 31, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Love the speculation. TJs would likely want/need a beer/wine license to make this work, which would bring up a whole new debate within Excelsior.
mary chismar September 13, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Yuk trader joes...lakewinds or fresh seasons way better fit. Fresher meats and veggies. Trader Joes frozen junk and can foods
William Darusmont October 26, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Sorry Mary, comments on Trader Joe's are simply wrong. Unprofitable for Lakewinds and Fresh Seasons not strong enough to expand...IMHO.
Maria Jette November 06, 2012 at 01:53 AM
William, I'm not sure you can label Mary's comments as "simply wrong"-- Trader Joe's DOES trade largely in (interesting) processed foods, and I've never been impressed by their produce. I love shopping there now and then, but a regular daily grocery store it's not. I do feel that Lakewinds is already fully-extended (I'm a longtime member); but I wonder if you have any actual information about Fresh Seasons. It seems strange that there still hasn't been an announcement about the tenant, and I wonder if something fell through. I would love to see the excellent Fresh Seasons in there (as I noted in August)-- especially since it's a local company.
Richelle Hoo November 16, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Trader Joe's is not a quality store. Most of the products look like they fell off the back of the truck. Does Aldi's get TJ rejects or does TJ get Aldi's rejects. Cub Foods is only a few blocks down Hwy 7 and has a natural food's section. I do hope there is higher quality alternative or another business that will utilize the space. It does not seem there would be enough parking space and the corner of Water Street and Oak Street is already conjested. I keep hoping Excelsior will get a really great Deli or a really great healthy place for breakfast.
Kelly McNutt December 11, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Richelle Hoo: "Cub Foods is only a few blocks down Hwy 7 and has a natural food's section." Again, that's awesome for people who love to drive everywhere. The 7 & 41 Cub Foods is not only one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly places around, it's also the armpit of the Cub Foods stores that I've been to. Crap crap crap. Also, I keep hearing about congestion. Yeah. Let's bring back the vacant ghetto that Excelsior was back in the '70's. Great idea.

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