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Unanimous City Council clears the way for Downtown East project

“If I curled up in a fetal position every time somebody filed a suit … we would not have gotten much done,” Minneapolis Mayor Rybak said of a legal challenge.

Mayor R.T. Rybak: “We are about to transform a part of Minneapolis that has long been overdue for great change.”
Ryan Cos.

On Thursday, Minneapolis was arguing in court that the city was acting within the letter of the law in the planned development district adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.

Today, it followed through, with the City Council voting unanimously to move ahead with the project.

“If I curled up in a fetal position every time somebody filed a suit against the City of Minneapolis, we would not have gotten much done,” Mayor R. T. Rybak told reporters after the council vote.

“We’re extremely confident of our position — this will get built,” he said. “We are about to transform a part of Minneapolis that has long been overdue for great change.”

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“This has been very transparent, and we’re confident that ultimately the judge will see it that way,” said Rick Collins, vice president of development for the Ryan Cos. which is the developer for the five-block area known as Downtown East.

Update: Friday afternoon a Hennepin County judge rejected much of the legal challenge.

Hennepin County Judge Mel I. Dickstein is expected to rule on the matter early next week.

The lawsuit has been brought forward by two former mayoral candidates, Dan Cohen and Stephanie Woodruff, and former City Council President Paul Ostrow.

They argue that the city is exceeding a $150 million spending limit imposed by the stadium legislation. They also believe that the city wrongly declared the land to be “marginal” and that it does not have power to operate a park.

Attorneys for the city argue that the Downtown East development is separate from the stadium and that city money spent there should not be counted as a stadium contribution.

They also say that most of the land is currently used for parking lots and that the city also operates several parks independent of the Park Board.

A plan for the city to sell the air rights about the city-built parking lot was not part of the lawsuit.

Rybak said he will be meeting with a potential developer immediately and has another meeting scheduled for Monday with a second interested developer.

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“If we sell development rights, it’s gravy, and we want to use that gravy to help make the park better,” the mayor said.

There will be enough money in the development package to purchase the park land and prepare it for use with about $500,000 left over. The Minnesota Vikings have also donated $1 million for park development.

“In my mind, this is one of the greatest development sites we’ve had in the city,” said Rybak, noting that varying views from a building above the parking ramp would include the Mississippi River, the new stadium or the downtown skyline. There also will be access to light rail lines across the street.

“If I wasn’t an almost-broke former mayor, I’d go bidding on it myself,” he said.

Collins said the parking ramp itself would be equal to about six stories of a residential building and that the air rights could easily accommodate a building of six stories of office, hotel or residential space.

The project includes two mixed-use buildings that could become office space for 5,000 Wells Fargo workers. The plan also includes a city-built parking ramp, the park and skyways connecting ramps to the mixed-use buildings and the stadium.

Wells Fargo is expected to sign an agreement next week with the developer for the two buildings.

“We will certainly not wait until the judge rules,” said Brent Hanson, vice president of Wells Fargo Corporate Properties Group. He said most of the workers in the new facilities would be re-located from other sites.

The company has about 1.5 million square feet of office space in the suburbs and multiple locations downtown. “We’re not leaving Wells Fargo Center.”

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The project faces some quickly nearing deadlines.

Dec. 27 is the expiration date on the purchase agreement between Ryan Cos. and the Star Tribune, which currently owns the land. That is also the date when negotiations would end with Wells Fargo if no agreement has been reached.

“That is what we call our last contingency date, and if we don’t succeed in doing away with all the potential contingencies that have to be dealt with, we have all agreed that we have to re-examine,” Collins said.

If the project moves forward, he said, a groundbreaking is scheduled for April, ith the buildings opening in two phases. The first would take place by the end of 2015, with the second opening in early 2016.