The Minnesota River flooding in downtown Chaska has crested and soon the Highway 41 bridge will be open. Everything will soon be back to normal.
What lessons can we learn from this event?
- People will park and walk downtown: For all the conversation bemoaning lack of downtown parking options, the flood proved that people will park and walk more than a block if the draw is compelling enough. People were parking on residential streets (even over by my house) to walk up the levy to see the river, then across the bridge, then back again. Nobody complained about lack of parking to go see the river. I don’t want to get all “Field of Dreams” on you, but building an attractive business climate is more important than building accessible parking lots.
- Downtown restaurants benefit from pedestrian traffic: Tommy’s Malt Shop has been packed for more than a week. Perhaps one of the only businesses to benefit from Highway 41’s closure, the restaurant’s location nestled next to the closed bridge perfectly poised it to fill the hungry bellies of the river gawkers. Although their normal customer flow may have been down, I expect Dunn Bros. benefited from some tourist traffic, too.
- Low speeds on Hwy 41 make for happy families: It sure was quiet downtown without those semi-trucks, but you know what else? I didn’t have to cling to my three year-old’s hand for fear he would be sucked off the sidewalk into the street with traffic whizzing by at 40+ mph. Where are those “Your Speed Is…” blinking signs that were promised and the 2nd Street stoplight? A slower downtown is a happy — and walkable — downtown.
- River development will always be less than ideal due to the difference between “normal” and “flood stage”: Unlike Saint Anthony, Stillwater and San Antonio, our piece of riverside fluctuates too greatly to build a romantic riverwalk lined with businesses and street vendors. Best Western’s small patio overlook built high atop the levy is the only — and most strategic — place for business to meet the river. Sad, but true.
- The community cares about downtown and will come together to protect it: Despite the misnomer that folks “up the hill” never come downtown, they do. There are critical businesses downtown that compel essential traffic (dentist, optomistrist, butcher shop, grocery, coffee shop, burger joint, movie theater, banking, insurance, city hall, DMV), but we need a constant drum beat of reasons other than natural disasters to spark incidental traffic and help keep antique shops, art galleries, restaurants and gift shops buzzing. River City Days only happens once a year, you know.
What lessons did you learn? What do we do now?