Our view: Wayzata’s ‘Lake Effect’ may be tilting at railroad tracks

It is true that sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Wayzata is in that situation in many respects.

It is a beautiful community with a good number of thriving businesses. Major development is under way on the site of the former Bay Center. And now a program spawned by the city, dubbed “The Lake Effect,” is taking a closer look at how Wayzata can have more appeal to more people and thus boost its tax base.

Those who live in the city or nearby and those who visit regularly have already discovered its charm. Now the idea is to take it to the next level.

The visioning process can be an exciting time as folks are encouraged to dream big, the sky is the limit, money is no object. Of course, everyone in the room knows that at some point resources at hand will limit the vision. It’s a fact of life.

Most of what has been talked about thus far represents a good balance of dreaming and reality. Such things as more “affordable” restaurants are mostly a factor of the free market.
Wayzata has traditionally been a high rent zone. When restaurateurs have to pay high rents, they must charge more to allow their business to be profitable. Maybe there is a way to subsidize rents, who knows.

From all indications, it seems the bugaboo in this plan will be the presence of the railroad. The tracks divide Wayzata’s main street from the lakeshore.

Clearly, the tracks are not going anywhere any time soon. Railroads in the United States are nearly sovereign nations and have been since their evolution in the 1800s. And you thought corporate welfare was a recent development. Hardly.

The city’s most capable contract planners who are guiding this process have said the key is to “reimagine” the railroad, taking a cue from John Lennon. However, no matter how great the collective imagination, those two steel planks with the large pieces of wood beneath them will not simply vanish if you close your eyes and wish upon a star.

No matter how the railroad is imagined, the fact remains that were someone to be struck by an oncoming train, they would be dead — for real. Short of a tunnel under the tracks or an overhead walkway, there doesn’t seem to be a practical way to address this stretch of Wayzata’s waterfront.

It’s not practical to move the tracks. While the tracks have made sure a portion of the lakeshore remains public, it is also a barrier to progress on the tourism front. Railroads have been abandoning tracks over the years, and perhaps they could be given an incentive to halt the use of the track for Wayzata’s sake.

The railroad tracks issue should not derail (pun intended) Wayzata’s effort to become “the gateway to Lake Minnetonka.” It’s an exciting work in progress for a city that has been through some tough times in the past few years.

Kudos to the city council and the new city manager Heidi Nelson for getting this project on track.