In 2000, a group of citizens and civic leaders met to begin what would become a decade-long discussion about a new vision for the site of the renowned boat manufacturer Johnson Boatworks. The city-dubbed Marina Triangle—or Village on the Water—had been hotly debated for years prior to a proposal by the Lander Group finally winning approval to develop the one-and-a-half-acre site. But while the development group was eager to begin the transformation, they realized disagreement on whether the site should include housing, retail, commercial space or a combination of all three still lingered. “We realized conversation still needed to happen,” says Michael Lander, an award-winning property developer with more than 40 years of experience in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
It took until September 2011 for the parties to reach agreement. Lander and his team of architects, builders and landscape specialists then were given the green light to proceed with a plan to meld public spaces and private living, along with adequate parking, utilizing every square inch of space between Highway 61 and the marina. “We were asked to put a lot of things in a small site,” Lander says.
In the fall of 2013, with the existing buildings demolished, the evolution of the property finally began in earnest. The concept for the building’s design was inspired by the original Johnson Boatworks structure. “Much depended on the conditions in the building; unique corners, the natural function of laying out the building,” Lander says. The main structure includes 85 nonsmoking, pet-friendly units with more than 30 floor plans. Each unit comes with underground parking, with 114 public parking spots available to accommodate retail, restaurant and/or marina parking.
“The public parking is protected from weather but is not a ramp, and all parking spaces are unseen from the street but easily accessible,” Lander says. There is space left available for a restaurant or an office, as well as a 2,400-square-foot public community room and porch, which opens onto a public green at the center of the site for live concerts or private events. A separate gathering room is available to residents only. The plan also offers two public restrooms, convenient for those enjoying the boardwalk or 400-slip marina.
Architects worked on creating living units that would appeal to millennials and baby boomers alike, taking full advantage of the natural light and lake views the site provides. Banks of windows, 9-foot ceilings, hardwood/laminate floors and open kitchen space with center island prep/conversation space are just a few of the features designers created to place a finger on the pulse of current trends. “We wanted a fresh feel, not traditional and not contemporary, that would take advantage of the unique corners of the building,” Lander says.
Housing options also include an already-leased Flagship Collection: five larger two-story units, which have their own access and prime lake views. Melissa Hawn, husband Dave, and daughter Lauren lived in a single-family home in Woodbury for the past 19 years, but moved into one of the Flagship units on April 1. “We really wanted to downsize. My husband was traveling more and we didn’t want the maintenance,” says Melissa. “We can see the water from everywhere in our unit. We are Minnesotans and don’t see ourselves ever living away from the water. We absolutely love the community of White Bear Lake; it feels like home to us.”
Lander defines this new rental community, Boatworks Commons, as ideal for the “pre-kid, post-kid” demographic, a vital mix of young professionals and empty-nesters. Many retirement-age couples “are looking for a new lifestyle, but not yet ready to make a long-term commitment,” Lander says.
Empty-nesters downsizing have access to ample storage for the items they can’t part with, but with the added benefit of less maintenance. Marie Ryan toured her unit when it was still in the construction phase. “I walked in and said, ‘This is fantastic!’” says Ryan.
“I love the water and walk down every night and people-watch.” While she no longer has to deal with home maintenance, old habits die hard. “I don’t have any flowers to take care of, so I come down and weed.”
Ryan has close ties to the site, as her daughter Angie is married to Jason Brown, a fourth-generation descendent of the founders of Johnson Boatworks. After the city purchased the site in 1998, Jason and Angie Brown renamed the business White Bear Boatworks, and in 2009, moved the business to Hoffman Road on Little Goose Lake.
With close to 80 percent of the 85 units leased, plus all of the Flagship Collection units, it seems the delicate balance of private and public space has proven to be a success. The city even revamped the boardwalk and provided ample seating at the water’s edge to accommodate foot traffic and great views of the lake.
For Lander, the architects, builders, designers and city leaders, the long-standing dialogue produced a space where the best urban design concepts all work in harmony with one another. “It is very exciting—exciting that the citizens can come and enjoy it,” says Lander. “The joining of public and private spaces was the most interesting, satisfying and challenging aspect. We are helping to fulfill the community’s original vision; we followed the city’s lead. It is appealing to us and satisfying to deliver.”