Star Trib: Downtown East Gets Go-Ahead

The following item by David Chanen was published in the December 21, 2013 edition of the Star Tribune:

Downtown East gets go-ahead
Judge’s denial of temporary restraining order for park means that Minneapolis development project can move ahead without delay.

A Hennepin County judge denied a request Friday for a temporary restraining order against the $400 million downtown Minneapolis development near the future Minnesota Vikings stadium.

It was the last legal challenge in a lawsuit filed last week against the city and its Park Board by two former mayoral candidates and a former City Council president. At issue was whether the council has the right to establish and develop a park in an area a little more than 4 acres bordered by Park and 5th avenues and 5th and 4th streets.

In his ruling, Judge Mel Dickstein found that the council has the authority to buy the land for the park in the Downtown East project. However, he also said the city charter gives the Park Board and not the city the authority to run parks.

As long as the city and Park Board continue to work cooperatively, Dickstein said, there wasn’t a compelling reason to issue a restraining order. “Since the request for injunctive relief is an extraordinary legal remedy which should not be lightly granted, the request for a temporary restraining order should be denied,” he wrote.

Park Board President John Erwin and city attorney Susan Segal said they were pleased with the ruling, which allows the development project to move forward without delay.

The suit challenged the way the Downtown East project is being financed, a plan that involves the city issuing up to $65 million in bonds to help pay for a parking ramp and the park. The project, which will be developed by Ryan Cos., also will include two office towers owned by Wells Fargo & Co., apartments and retail shops

The area slated for redevelopment is currently owned by the Star Tribune. The newspaper’s headquarters will be demolished to make way for the park.

Before Friday’s ruling, Dickstein had thrown out four of the five counts in the suit, which was brought by former City Council President Paul Ostrow, software executive and city Audit Committee member Stephanie Woodruff and Planning Commission member Dan Cohen. Cohen and Woodruff ran for mayor this year.

Although Dickstein declined the restraining order, Woodruff said the judge left open the remedy of future injunctive relief if the city doesn’t act in accordance with the ruling.

She has been critical of the city’s handling of the project, saying there has been a lack of transparency and public input. Segal said there have been meetings with neighborhood associations, public presentations to the City Council and numerous media reports.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing construction of the $1 billion Vikings stadium, said she was pleased by the ruling and “thankful that there is nothing that is going to stop this part of the project.”

She added, “This development is as important [as] or maybe more important than the stadium. It’s $400 million in investment and 5,000 jobs.”

The office towers will link the stadium to the downtown office and retail neighborhood by skyway, a key selling point for the city and stadium authority in their efforts to attract national sporting events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA men’s basketball Final Four to the new stadium. Both championships are played in cold-weather months.

Rick Collins, vice president for development for Ryan Cos., called the ruling “another important step” in moving forward on a project that promises to reshape the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis for generations.