Drive along the river in Lake City, and you'll see a beautiful marina, public parks, a long pier and beaches bordering Lake Pepin.
But for the mayor and other city leaders in Lake City, good isn't good enough. They want more.
During a bonding tour for state lawmakers in September, Lake City Mayor Mark Nichols told the group at the Lake City Marina that the city has long been seen as a summer and fall getaway, but is working to become a four-season destination.
"I came here in 2016," said Mark Sievert, Lake City's city administrator. "The summer before in 2015, they had a big-tent meeting where they invited a lot of people to come in and talk about the waterfront. They wanted to see some revitalization, develop more to offer in terms of recreational amenities."
All along the Mississippi River, cities are looking at riverfront downtowns and devising ways to revitalize those old areas, turning them into hubs of activity among refurbished and rehabilitated old buildings.
Peter Shortridge and his partners hope to close on a late 1800s building at 102 Walnut St. sometime in December and begin working on refurbishing the building for move-in by 2019. It would be the third building remodeled and rebuilt by Latsch Building Partnership LLC.
Shortridge said developer Michael Gostomski, a founder of Fastenal Company, has looked to help revitalize Winona's downtown one old building at a time.
"His vision has been to help invigorate and invest in dowtown," said Shortridge, the general manager of Latsch Building Partnership. "We're afraid Winona would become that community where the money went away for the winter."
Instead, as Winona works on redeveloping its downtown, people have shown a commitment to participate in the city culturally throughout the year, he said.
The 102 Walnut building is following on the heels of the company's completion of the Latsch Building, located diagonally across the street.
"The Latsch was our first deep dive on redevelopment," Shortridge said.
Home to commercial and retail space, the 1960s building required $4 million in construction costs. Fortunately, the development company picked up about $1.5 million in tax credits on the job. With so many hoops to jump through for redevelopment — the Latsch Building is on both the national and local list of historic places — the credits on such projects are a must to make funding possible for redevelopment, Shortridge said.
Cities often talk about redevelopment, said Lucy McMartin, director of community development for the City of Winona. But getting that investment in older downtowns doesn't just happen. It takes planning ahead, a unified vision and a city willing to invest in itself to attract private dollars.
In Winona's case, the city's investment in Levee Park, with its developed trails, green space and pedestrian mall and signature gateway that are being built, that has helped draw investors willing to build new or redevelop old buildings, she said.
A good example is the 60 Main project, a mixed-use hotel, residential and retail property being proposed by Sherman Development of Minneapolis.
The mixed-use theme is common in Winona. Shortridge said the 102 Walnut Building will have commercial, retail and even 10 apartments priced in the "not student housing" but affordable level.
All this is designed to make Winona's downtown a year-round, day and night hub for the city. Designed is the key word. In 2016, the development of Levee Park and the refurbishing of the Masonic Temple as a theater were part of an overall plan to create a more active downtown.
"Our goal is to have live events downtown every day," said Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi. "That's how you have that vibrancy downtown."
While Winona is on its way to redeveloping its downtown, Lake City has rolled out its plans and is hoping to start rolling up its sleeves. The city worked with Stantec, an engineering and planning company, to develop a list of possible ideas to take its lakefront along Lake Pepin from good to amazing.
Admittedly, Sievert said, some of the ideas are grandiose.
"It's pretty broad, and it's pretty grand," he said. Sievert likened the master plan to a parade of homes tour. Not everyone can afford the details incorporated in the million-dollar homes on the tours, but those details provide inspiration for affordable options. "Is it too much for what we can bite off?"
The plan includes affordable projects such as trails connecting the various waterfront zones of the city and a bandshell along the lake to more aspirational features such as a pair of pedestrian bridges that rise over the harbor with room for sailboats to slide underneath.
Sievert said the city council will likely start at Hok Si La Park, making the park more accessible and giving it more amenities for use. The park will have its own master plan, making it eligible for the state's Legacy Grant funding.
Sievert said the city's plans for the waterfront have already met with positive responses from developers looking to put their own money into the downtown area.
"The developer (of Block 13) has publicly stated the Stantec plan would be very beneficial to his development," Sievert said.
With a captive audience of boaters at the Marina during the summer, businesses in downtown are looking for amenities that will attract those non-boaters. "Whether it's the residents or the tourists, we need more opportunities to draw people down there," he said.
Down the river in Wabasha, the city might not have a specific plan solely for its downtown and riverfront, but, said City Administrator Chad Springer, the city's comprehensive plan is guiding the mayor and council to make the river a focus of its development.
Of course, right on the river, Wabasha benefits from the National Eagle Center, a tourism destination that is in the process of growing and making the downtown even more accessible for residents and tourists.
It's a recipe that has worked before for the city.
"The city of Wabasha has a history of that," said Springer, referring back to the initial investment of city, state and private money that built the facility. Now, as the Eagle Center plans to expand into the undeveloped green space to its north, the city is there to make the most of the deal.
While the Eagle Center expands into some of the space, the rest of the green space will be developed. The city is also planning to build dock space to accommodate visiting paddle wheelers and other large private boats.
The ongoing dredging issue in Wabasha may lead to a commercial port on the north end of town.
"That opens up a lot of different angles when you have a major highway, a railroad and a port on the river all within a half mile of each other," Springer said.
And as Lake City, Red Wing and Winona develop new riverfront projects around his town, Springer said it's less about competition and more about synergy.
"Every project these cities are putting together will benefit one another either directly or indirectly," he said.