It now appears almost certain that a new luxury hotel will be built in downtown Excelsior. It would be the city’s largest single building and be located within sight of Lake Minnetonka.
After years of false starts, plans for a hotel on Water Street were re-energized with a fury last summer when the Excelsior City Council approved concept plans for a new building with 58 rooms, restaurant, retail space and ballroom on the top level.
The project drew opposition both from some nearby residents and the city’s own Heritage Preservation Committee—which recently adopted a resolution against building a hotel on the proposed site.
But the city council took action on three separate items Tuesday evening (attached to this post) that clear the last major obstacles standing in the way of construction.
- Proposed Excelsior Hotel Scores Victory as City Council Approves Concept Plan
- Will a New Hotel be Built in Downtown Excelsior?
Excelsior Mayor Mark Gaylord, who was sworn in as mayor just last month but as a member of the city’s planning commission supported the hotel project, said Wednesday the hotel would be a key piece in re-establishing Excelsior’s historic reputation as a destination city.
“This puts the hotel to the last stage, which is the final plan review,” Mayor Gaylord said—adding final schematics could reach the city council by summer, with ground breaking taking place thereafter. “The hotel brings a lot of credibility to the town as a destination. Excelsior has its roots in being a destination city with hotels in the past, and this will help return us to that.“
The Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce praised the city council’s decision to proceed with the hotel project, highlighting the need for lodging on the south side of Lake Minnetonka and anticipated job creation.
“The Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce has supported the concept of a hotel ever since such proposals were put forth,” Laura Hotvet, the chamber’s executive director, said. “We believe there is an unmet lodging need in the local area, and further believe that an operating hotel would provide not only ongoing employment, but a short-term benefit associated with the construction activity.”
Hotvet went on to stress the chamber supports the hotel proposal currently being considered, so long as it is designed and constructed in a manner consistent with the area’s unique historic character.
While the city council voted 5-0 to both green light the hotel’s design standards and grant a planned unit development, not all local residents are in favor of a luxury hotel—or at least not the one being proposed.
Excelsior’s Heritage Preservation Committee (HPC) recommended back in November that the city council reject the hotel project as presented because it would disrupt the historic district’s character and consistency.
Mayor Gaylord and other supporters countered by saying the site is the largest commercial lot in the historic district, and large buildings—including another hotel—have occupied the prized corner in decades past.
The only resolution of three passed this week that did not gather unanimous city council support was the unusual move of formally overturning the HPC’s recommendation. Council member Jennifer Caron dissented.
In addition to the HPC, several dozen local residents organized a campaign aimed at blocking construction of a new hotel, and about 50 signed an online petition in opposition to the plans being considered by the city.
Paul Johnson was one of them.
“I always support tasteful renewal of our downtown, but this project has some warts that were never addressed,” Johnson said. “We shouldn't be too quick to celebrate the first-ever overruling of the HPC's thoughtful decision. The HPC has helped shaped that Excelsior that we all know and love. Why, now, ignore the HPC for this one project? This sets a dangerous precedent that could result in a very suburban look for Excelsior's future.”
Johnson went on to warn that the hotel would turn into a “condo” if it fails, pointing to the Whitney Hotel in Minneapolis and several other boutique hotels as cautionary tales.
“I think it is safe to say this design and mass would never have been approved as a condo proposal,” Johnson said.
In addition to the hotel, a two-deck parking facility, restaurant and retail space are also being proposed. The four-story hotel will consist of 58 rooms and feature a ballroom on the roof level. The parcel—located on the southwest quadrant of Water Street and Lake Street—is currently vacant. It housed a Pizza Hut until 2005. That building was abandoned, declared hazardous by the city several years ago and demolished.