Steamboat Minnehaha Update (February 17, 2020)

Photo courtesy of Jim Douglas

Dear Minnehaha supporters:

Regretfully, the Museum of Lake Minnetonka Board of Directors is forced to cancel the 2020 sailing season for the steamboat Minnehaha, which has been a summer fixture on Lake Minnetonka for the past 24 years. It is particularly disappointing to have to cancel what would have been Minnehaha’s 25th anniversary season. The reason for the cancellation is the loss of access to the only boat launch ramp on the lake that can accommodate the very unique requirements of the steamboat.

When asked to comment, MLM president Jeff Schott stated: “The launch requirements for Minnehaha given its length, weight, and the fact that it’s wood, which requires up to 24 hours to stabilize once launched, make it arguably the most challenging boat on Lake Minnetonka to launch. There is only one boat ramp on the lake that meets our launch requirements and we’ve been fortunate to have use of that ramp for the past 24 years. The property is being sold and the launch site will not be available in 2020 and beyond. Given the prohibitive logistics of modifying another ramp and transporting the boat to it, there are unfortunately no viable options to get the boat in the water this year.”

When asked what steps the MLM Board of Directors are taking to finding a new, permanent home for the boat, board member Tom McCarthy stated: “The Board’s top priority is to find a permanent home and launch site for the boat so it can remain an ongoing part of Lake Minnetonka’s history for generations to come. We have been and continue to be in discussion with a number of communities on the lake and have identified multiple locations that initially appear to be viable solutions. We are moving quickly to assess each option, with the goal of identifying the permanent home site by the end of this summer. At that point, site development will begin along with a fundraising campaign for the new facility. While we are saddened to miss this season, creating a long-term permanent solution for the boat is critically important for Minnehaha’s long-term survival and viability.”

The Minnehaha volunteers and organization have been very gratified by the outpouring of support from local residents, government, and civic groups. We plan to work closely with these stakeholders to find the best solution.

The MLM wants to clearly state that this is not the end for Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka. This summer will allow extra long-term maintenance to be done so that when the boat is back in service it will be in the best condition it’s been in since its relaunch 24 years ago.

As new information on a permanent home becomes available, the board will provide updates.

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Minnehaha’s Status

How has the Board been approaching this?

  • Since receiving notification that we could no longer use the old launch site, the Board has aggressively pursued both short and long-term solutions simultaneously: short-term to determine if and how we could get the boat into the water until a new permanent home is available; long-term to locate and secure a site with lake access and space for a permanent home.

Will Minnehaha be in the water for the 2020 season?

  • Regrettably, the Board has now deemed it necessary to cancel the 2020 sailing season. Despite exhaustive efforts exploring all short-term scenarios to launch the boat, the logistics have proven insurmountable.

What is the plan for 2020 now that we cannot get in the water?

  • Multiple things will take place. First and foremost, the Board will not cease efforts to secure a new home. We have a short list of viable sites and are working to complete site selection. As soon as we have news, we will share with the membership and public.
  • In regard to finances, the MLM has adequate resources to cover its operating expenses in the short-term. Our leases on the barn, home dock, office, et cetera, are not at risk.
  • In regard to maintenance, there is significant work that needs to be done that could not be accomplished this winter due to a lack of time. Those projects will be tackled so we are fully ready to go back in the water as soon as we are able.
  • In regard to volunteer training, we have wanted to expand our training efforts and we’ll certainly take advantage of the off time to do that.
  • Lastly, the off time will allow us to focus more on fundraising. As soon as we are able, a capital campaign will be launched so we can make a new home a reality.

Are we concerned we might lose volunteers by not being able to get in the water?

  • Absolutely. The life blood of any nonprofit is its volunteers and this is especially true for the MLM. It is critical that our members see and understand the progress we are making to solve these challenges, even if the process is slow and not totally apparent. Ultimately, we believe the MLM’s future will be in a better place as a result of this journey. While we recognize we may have some attrition, we will continue efforts to recruit new volunteers.

What about the search for a permanent home?

  • Purchasing a site to use only two days a year is not practical. Our budget cannot absorb paying lakeshore property taxes. Therefore, our strategy is to secure a partnership with a public entity that can accommodate a home for Minnehaha on publicly-owned property where it is free from property taxes, et cetera.

Why has it taken years to find a permanent home?

  • Beyond the sheer complexity of finding a site that can work, the need for a city partnership entails a willingness of two parties to come to an agreement. Previously, local cities had little incentive to act on our quest for a permanent home as there was no perceived threat that would keep Minnehaha from operating as usual. The current situation, however, has brought a new awareness and urgency to everyone at the table. From that perspective, we believe our civic partners now have a better appreciation of our needs and limitations.

What public entities are the MLM talking to and what is the status?

  • The Board has met with Excelsior, Wayzata, Mound, Spring Park, Tonka Bay, Hennepin County, and Three Rivers Park District. This process began with exploring potential sites to determine specific sites that are viable.

Isn’t Excelsior the ideal home?

  • We believe Minnehaha embraces all of what’s best about Excelsior. Excelsior has a shared appreciation of our historical roots; Excelsior was the homeport of the streetcar boats from 1906 to 1926 and has been our homeport for the past 24 years; Excelsior serves as the hub of the South Lake Minnetonka community; our riders value the small town charm of Excelsior and actively support local restaurants and businesses.
  • Working together, we believe we can augment the City’s efforts to realize its long-term vision for rejuvenating the Commons. Excelsior’s mayor has been highly supportive and is working as the lead point between the City and the MLM. We have engaged with the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce, Community for the Commons (C4C), and Excelsior Rotary. We have been invited to present our case to the Excelsior City Council on March 2.

Is there opportunity within the Commons?

  • Since 2015, C4C (a grass roots initiative of local residents concerned about the state of the Commons and its future) has been developing a Master Plan for the Commons. We believe a new home for Minnehaha could bring added benefits to this initiative making it a win-win for all involved.

Is Wayzata a potential home?

  • We believe Wayzata could be a good fit if a location can be found.

Is the Upper Lake a consideration?

  • Yes, both as a launch site and permanent home. With the Upper Lake as a winter home, we could still keep our home dock on the Lower Lake so cruises could continue to tour the Lower Lake during the summer.

Is it true that Gabriel Jabbour is working with the Board?

  • Yes, Gabriel Jabbour has been highly engaged and is playing a central role. Gabe owns the Shorewood Marina (our old ramp) and other marinas on the lake. Gabe has always been and remains a great Minnehaha supporter. He formerly served as the MLM’s vice president and helped lead the creation of the MLM when it was formed in 2004. He has generously granted us use of his Shorewood property to launch and haul-out for many years. He understands our needs and wants to help us secure a solution.
  • While access to the old launch site is no longer an option, Gabe has been at our side through every step of our search for a permanent home. He has accompanied board members as we inspected various sites and lobbied mayors and councils to advocate the strategy of a municipal/public partnership. His influence continues to be a great asset to us in this process.

I may know someone with connections that could help or be a potential donor. Who do I talk to?

  • Contact MLM vice president Jim Zimmerman. He is the Board’s point person and will relay information as appropriate.

What specifically has the MLM Board of Directors investigated to solve this situation?

  • The Board has reviewed all existing ramps to confirm that none are currently capable of accommodating Minnehaha;
  • engaged with lake community influencers, including the mayors and city managers of Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Mound, Wayzata, Shorewood, as well as historical societies and chambers of commerce;
  • connected with the Minnesota DNR, Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, and Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and determined all would need to participate in the permitting process to construct a new ramp or modify an existing one;
  • investigated local points in Excelsior where the boat could possibly gain access;
  • investigated alternative means of moving the boat, including new trailers, professional boat transporters, building movers, mobile cranes, et cetera;
  • investigated temporary ramps such as pre-cast concrete slabs and inflatable pontoons/air bags;
  • begun laying the groundwork for a capital campaign. 1) We have adopted a new Mission, Vision, and Values statement to clearly articulate what we do and why. 2) We are updating our financial reporting systems. 3) We are updating our website. 4) The MLM is working towards nominating Minnehaha for the National Register of Historic Places and has submitted an application for a state grant to fund the costs of the process. If listed in the NRHP, the MLM will be qualified to apply for preservation grants to cover future rehabilitation work, et cetera. (Note: Grants administered by the Minnesota Historical Society cannot be used to construct a new, permanent home.)

What are the plans for a capital fundraising effort?

  • Most certainly, we will need to raise funds and you can be sure the entire membership and the public will be asked to help in that endeavor. However, we will not initiate a capital fundraising campaign until we have a specific plan with a clear request. Donors rightfully expect a clear understanding of exactly what they are contributing to.

Why all the secrecy?

  • While Minnehaha is a beloved community icon, the reality is that the MLM is entirely dependent on factors beyond the control of the Board. As the Board works to secure a solution for a new home, it is imperative that the MLM operate with a single voice as we are engaged in complicated and delicate discussions. Until an agreement is in place, it is counter-productive for the MLM to engage in speculation that could muddy the waters. We sincerely hope you understand and respect our request to ensure the MLM has a single point of communication.

Your Board of Directors,

  • Jeff Schott, President
  • Jim Zimmerman, Vice President
  • Dave Rye, Treasurer
  • Tom McCarthy, Secretary
  • Jeff Lambert
  • Bruce Warner

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