Cam Winton stood in a pothole on a fine spring day and told reporters that Minneapolis needs to take better care of the streets. Then came the news conference on a bus to prove that the city doesn’t need streetcars. That was followed by a news conference with a trash truck serving as a backdrop for a discussion about the garbage-hauling contracts.
This time Block E was his target, or backdrop, as he hosted another news conference to talk about how Minneapolis has a history of bad real-estate deals. In case you have been vacationing in Madagascar, and haven’t been to downtown Hennepin Avenue, you should know that Block E is almost empty of anything that will turn a dollar.
Other candidates for mayor send out news releases inviting reporters to the opening of their new headquarters. This is not news. Everyone who cares about the new headquarters is working for the campaign.
Reporters also get updated lists of people who are not blood relatives of the candidates but have endorsed them anyway. Occasionally this is news but only if the new endorsee had previously endorsed another candidate who is still alive and running But even that is a stretch, news-wise.
“One only needs to look across Hennepin Avenue to the almost entirely vacant Block E to know that the best laid plans and the best intentions go wrong when we don’t get the details right up front,” said Winton over the roar of bus traffic.
His point was not to blast past mistakes as much as it was to caution Minneapolis residents about what is at stake with a partnership the city is forming with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Ryan Company for development of a project called Downtown East that will abut the new Vikings Football Stadium.
Winton said he has been asking questions about the details, specifically the financial details, of the partnership for nearly two months. To that end he has met with Mayor R.T. Rybak, who he said he likes, and has corresponded at length with Chuck Lutz, who is deputy director of Community Planning and Economic Development for Minneapolis.
“We as a city should know how much we are paying before we commit to paying,” said Winton, who is finding out that “other general city financial resources” will be picking up some of the bills. He said he has asked three times for a precise explanation of the “other city financial resources,” and is still in the dark.
“I’ve been holding news conferences because I have something to say in this race,” said Winton when we talked a week ago about his campaign. “I have a point of view on the issues that are affecting our city.”
“I like my opponents, they’re good folks, but with respect I note that they all seem to want to be mayor because they want to be mayor,” he said. “They think they’d be a good mayor because they’ve been in government awhile.
“They get caught up on which insider is supporting them and which insider is supporting the other guy. That’s their game. I’m not playing that game,” said Winton, the only candidate for Mayor hosting news conferences on a regular basis. “I’m going to the voters of Minneapolis and saying here’s my point of view.”
At the Hennepin Avenue news conference his point of view was cautionary. Minneapolis taxpayers will be spending $65 million, before financing costs, to build a parking ramp and a park as part of the Downtown East development.
“We should own what we pay for,” said Winton, noting that 81 percent of the parking ramp will be paid for by the city but the city would not own the parking ramp when it is done. “Under the proposal, as it currently stands, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority would own 100 percent of the parking ramp.”
Despite his doubts about the details, or lack of details, Winton said he is in favor of the Downtown East development but is worried about what happens “when we do real-estate development on a wish and a prayer and wing it and decide to figure out the details later.”
People thought Block E was a good idea back in 2000. There was private money in the deal It was attracting upscale businesses. It got rave previews in a Star Tribune commentary on March 3, 2000, that Winton read aloud to reporters and a few real people who had stopped to see what was going on.
“Block E will be everything we’ve hoped for and will bring new visitors and energy to Hennepin Avenue,” Winton read from the commentary.
The Minneapolis City Council will vote Friday on the “conceptual” plan for Downtown East, which would send the project to staff with a mandate to work out the details before a ground breaking scheduled for April of 2014.