The following article by Jim Anderson was published in the January 19, 2014 issue of the Star Tribune:
Lawsuit challenging Downtown East Minneapolis park is dropped
This rendering shows the proposed Downtown East development in Minneapolis
A trio of veteran activists has dropped a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis that had threatened to derail or delay its plans to create a park tied to a $400 million development project near the new Vikings stadium site.
Stephanie Woodruff, Paul Ostrow and Dan Cohen, who had challenged the City Council’s authority to buy, own and operate parkland in the city, dismissed their court action as of Saturday. The suit had asserted that only the Park and Recreation Board had the power to create and operate city parks.
A ruling Friday by Hennepin County District Judge Mel Dickstein requiring them to post a $10 million surety bond to keep the suit moving proved insurmountable, Ostrow said, and appeal options were ruled out.
But Ostrow, a former Minneapolis City Council president who is an Anoka County prosecutor, said the group’s concerns about transparency in the process and financing issues raised by the lawsuit have not faded.
“The next step is not for us, but it’s really for the people of the city,” he said. “Are they concerned about these issues? … It’s kind of in the court of public opinion now.”
They are asking that the City Council, when it meets Thursday, consider changes in the development deal and the issuing of up to $65 million in bonds for the park, which is part of the Downtown East development and will be located on land now owned by the Star Tribune, along with a parking ramp.
The nearly two-square-block park is the centerpiece of the project proposed by Ryan Cos. that includes two office towers for Wells Fargo & Co., up to 400 apartments, retail shops and restaurants. The land deal with the Star Tribune is set to close on Friday.
In a letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council members notifying them of its lawsuit withdrawal, the three reiterated issues they said still could be addressed by changes in the development agreement.
Among their concerns about a lack of transparency, “perhaps most disturbing is the issuance of taxpayer supported general obligation bonds for the purchase of [the Star Tribune] property without any independent appraisal of the value of the land. The purchase price for the land is $38 million — more than double its current assessed value of approximately $17 million.”