I grew up in Excelsior, Minnesota. Even so, I’ve been writing this blog for just over a year and have not yet dedicated a post specifically to any Excelsior going-on. For those not familiar with the town, it is an increasingly anomalous holdover in the American townscape and its past is a storied one. Excelsior was once a regional and even national attraction for summer vacationers back when electric streetcars were common – you know, like 110 years ago. Although the town is settled just 17 miles west of Minneapolis on the southwest shore of Lake Minnetonka, it began as an indisputably remote resort town. Edina, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka were all blips in the landscape on the train ride from the Twin Cities. Excelsior is now lodged firmly in Suburbia, but has remained mostly true to its roots. The town is an authentic Mainstreet USA sort of place and although many small and historic cabin homes have become teardowns, McMansions are still rare within the city limits.
There is a large piece of prime real estate in town; extremely valuable real estate that is sitting vacant across the street from Excelsior Bay. It is nestled between the end of Water Street, Excelsior’s main business strip and its thriving commercial core, and the foot of the town’s large and charming charter boat pier. This spot has been an empty grass lot ever since a 1970′s-era strip mall building was torn down a few years ago. The owner of the property refused to renew the leases of the “Pizza Hut building” in hopes of eventually landing a far more lucrative development. It was shortly after demolition that the idea of a hotel started to be murmured about town.
There are two warring forces in Excelsior: the development-minded and the preservation-minded. Although most Excelsiorites are decent and reasonable people, the flying accusations would give Congress a run for its money. The development-minded paint the other side as progress-stifling NIMBY’s while the preservation-minded mark the other side as Starbucks-courting yuppies. As is true with most controversies, the epithets are (mostly) false and the best solution can be found somewhere in the middle.
Geographically, Excelsior is a very small town. It inhabits only 0.63 square miles of land, and its population has dwindled from 2,397 in 2008 to 2,188 in 2011. The aggravation caused by Excelsior’s small tax base is made even worse by resentments toward adjacent townships. The residents of these more suburban-style cities benefit from Excelsior’s amenities and attractions without paying in for their upkeep, while their governing bodies barely provide as much as a real sidewalk or two in their own municipalities. Excelsior’s small size makes it difficult to compete in the terms that have become common in the American landscape: its 0.63 square miles of land can not contain enough Olive Gardens and Walgreens to meet its expenses while these same attractions can be found anywhere else that one may wish to drive to. Excelsior must carefully manage its resources, and its most valuable resource is authenticity.