Armchair Marketing Chaska

5 Lessons from the Chaska Flood

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?


  1. I think you’re right, in that we need a compelling draw to bring people downtown. My family lives up on the hill, and during the school year, we are downtown at the most twice a month, usually going to the library. The bank has a branch at the Commons, and it’s more convenient to go there on the way to and from work or school. Rainbow is easier to shop at than Coopers (although we still sneak in there for our late night shopping), and Lion’s Park is much nicer than Firemen’s park for playing for the kids.

    What DOES bring us downtown? The beach in the summer. Friday night concerts in the park (summer again). The library. The one liquor store in town that sells non-alcoholic wine. That’s about it.

    I don’t have a solution, necessarily. I can’t think of what we could put into the old Building Center or downtown that would pull my family there more often especially during the winter months. Maybe a skating rink around the gazebo in City Square Park? :-)

  2. Great post. I think your number three above really is the main reason we rarely do more downtown than park and run into one dedicated stop. 41 is just too dangerous. There should be lights on every intersection, including 1st Street. Police should sit at 1st and wait and if a car is going 32 MPH they should ticket them. They should send people across the crosswalks and repeatedly ticket every single car that doesn’t stop. The police would stay busy all day and the amount of revenue would be unending. Crosswalks should be repainted and have bright green “PED XING” signs with blinking lights.

    Supposedly, someday, they’ll build an 8 lane highway over our ballpark. But until that day, simple steps could be taken to make it feel safer for pedestrians downtown. There are certain stretches of road all over the Twin Cities where you just know not to go a mile over the posted limit, and downtown Chaska should be one of those places. In my thousands of trips up and down 41 I’ve never once seen a car pulled over for speed, or for ignoring pedestrians in the crosswalks, and I see those violations happening daily.

    Clearly a lot could be done to make downtown more of a destination. Making pedestrians feel safe might be an easy place to start.

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