Congestion, parking among long list of concerns aired at public forum
A swarm of agitated speakers made itself explicitly clear at Monday’s meeting of the Economic Development Authority: residents who live on Forest Lake strongly oppose the idea of a downtown marina.
Nearly two dozen citizens turned out for a public forum and nearly all who spoke did so in opposition to the proposal which has two private businesses competing to build a 24-slip facility off Lakeside Memorial Park.
Discussion took up the entire 90 minutes available before that night’s Forest Lake City Council meeting and forced the tabling of other items on the EDA’s agenda. The seven-member board spent the first 55 minutes listening to residents sound off about concerns including parking, lake congestion and aesthetics.
After the dust settled, the board moved to have the park board lend a recommendation at its Aug. 20 meeting and then have the issue come back to the EDA and city council on Aug. 27.
Rocking the Boat
Public input centered on a laundry list of worries.
Tom Toth of Woodland Drive said he has seen lakes up north that lost their appeal as more and more shoreline was claimed by docks. Gerry Haiden, who lives on SE 1st St., felt a marina would only add to a level of fishing density that is already too high. Craig Schmidt of North Shore Trail said that theft has become common around the lake and that a marina would be a likely target.
Other speakers identified the potential marina tenants as a main point of concern.
“I do agree that the lake is a resource and we should, as a city, maximize its use, but I’m concerned about the transient nature of some of the new users and how much they would actually care [about the lake],” said Barry Rudman of Harrow Avenue.
Out-of-towners would not treat the lake with the same respect as locals, Harrow Avenue resident Rob Rudman argued.
“More people out there that have no vested interest in the area?” he said. “Do you know how much stuff can be left by those kinds of people?”
Residents were skeptical of the proposed venture’s economic potential and some suggested the city is drifting towards an identity crisis.
“This is not Minnetonka, this is Forest Lake,” said Rob Anderson of South Shore Drive.
There was also the sentiment that lakeside residents should have a say in what happens on the water.
“I can just see a lot of riffraff coming with that and I just don’t see how it’s valuable to any of us that pay tax money to live on [the lake],” said North Shore Trail resident Joe Kramer. “…It doesn’t make any sense. I pay good money to stay on the lake and 25 boats that don’t pay that money, I don’t see them being on the lake. They’re not doing any benefit to me.”
Jim DuFour, a Forest Lake councilman, was the lone marina proponent to speak during the public forum.
“We’re talking 24 boats,” he said. “You can go around the lake and probably count, what? Fifteen-hundred, 3,000 boats around the lake now?
“I see it as helping our friends and neighbors out that live in town that want to be on the lake but unfortunately can’t live on the lake.”
A Development Effort
EDA President Chris Johnson, mayor of Forest Lake, voiced support for a marina and several EDA members indicated a willingness to at least give strong consideration to one.
“We’re trying to draw in housing in the downtown corridor so that we can start to redevelop and revitalize that area. Housing, by all studies, that’s what starts revitalization,” Johnson said. “I do think it makes sense as a long-term amenity for the city just like our airport and I see it as a piece that would become part of the character of the downtown.”
Blake Roberts, a past president and current board member of the Forest Lake Lake Association, talked of how successful a marina has been in White Bear Lake.
“They built a beautiful marina right downtown that drives people to town. They have great shops. I think that’s what we’re charged as a committee to do – economic development – and this is just one piece,” he said. “Something like this, if it is done right, I think will be an asset to the community and the lake and Forest Lake as a whole.”
Roberts, a local business owner, also noted that adding to the city’s business tax base can only help reduce the tax burden to residents.
Mark Finnemann said the board is not a “devious group” but simply one trying to fulfill its duty by fostering development.
“There is a domino proposition here,” he said. “Even though downtown has some issues relative to parking and otherwise, as soon as downtown vitality comes, we’re going to have that issue regardless. One thing leads us to more economic vitality, leads us to creating more parking, leads us down the line somewhere to where this starts to work.”
As for the actual project, the EDA appears to have moved from its original concept of a public marina to a model featuring a privately run facility that kicks back to the city a percentage of its annual revenues.
The city received two responses to its recent request for proposals.
One company, White Bear Boat Works, operates the city-owned marina in White Bear Lake. The other, Your Boat Club, has marinas at seven lakes throughout the state. They submitted similar proposals in regards to dock design and basic services but the companies have significant differences.
White Bear Boat Works is a sailboat dealership and fiberglass repair facility that offers parts and services for both sailboats and powerboats. Services run from painting and shrink-wrapping to boat rescue and recovery.
Your Boat Club has a membership base of about 1,000 clients who can use boats from any of the club’s facilities in half-day increments. The Minneapolis business proposes to use half of the marina’s 24 slips for its club while the other 12 would be rented out to the public.
White Bear Boat Works proposes to give the city 12 percent of rental revenues. Its rental rate would be $1,600 for Forest Lake residents and $1,800 for others. The marina would operate from May 15 to Oct. 15.
Your Boat Club proposes paying $10,000 in the first year and paying a set rate per leased slip in subsequent years. Its rental rate would be $2,095 for Forest Lake residents and $2,295 for others. The marina would run from May 1 to Oct. 15.
Both companies have interest in renting out kayaks, paddleboats, canoes and the like. They also each expressed a willingness to work with the city regarding specific amenities and design concepts.
The city would provide winter storage for the dock, but the companies would be responsible for installation, removal and transportation.