A Hennepin County judge heard arguments Thursday morning regarding a last-minute legal challenge to the $400 million proposal to reshape land adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.
The lawsuit, seeking an injunction, comes just a day before the City Council is slated to vote on the development -- one of the largest in city history. Plaintiffs claim, in part, that the city is violating spending limits in the Vikings stadium legislation by spending up to $65 million on a new parking ramp and a public park.
It remained unclear Thursday morning when the judge might rule. City attorney Susan Segal said the judge indicated he would wait until the city council had voted, and possibly issue a ruling next week. Segal and her deputy stressed that any delay will sink the project.
Representatives of the city, developer Ryan Cos and the Star Tribune, which owns the land, gathered in a courtroom before judge Mel Dickstein Thursday. They were joined by the three plaintiffs: former city council president Paul Ostrow, software executive Stephanie Woodruff and planning commission member Dan Cohen. Cohen and Woodruff ran for mayor earlier this year, and Ostrow was Woodruff's campaign manager.
A central claim of the lawsuit is that by committing millions to a parking ramp required by the stadium legislation, the city is violating a $150 million stadium spending cap outlined in that bill.
Ostrow, who is also an Anoka county prosecutor, noted that the stadium bill explicitly includes parking in the definition of stadium costs. The bill requires 2,000 stalls of parking near the stadium, most of which is satisfied by the new parking ramp.
"This is critical because the cap on the state and city contributions was a very significant and integral part of this legislation," Ostrow said.
Ryan Cos. has proposed building more than 1.1 million square feet of office space, in addition to apartments and retail on the lots now owned by the Star Tribune.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder argued that the parking ramp and park are necessary for that deal to happen. He said they were unrelated to the stadium legislation, despite satisfying the parking requirement.
"This is not a stadium deal. This is not a stadium parking lot, per se," Ginder said. He added: "I suggest the court does not need to look at the stadium legislation at all."
Ostrow argued that the team should be covering costs beyond what was already allocated from the public for the stadium. "The obligation to build this ramp is clearly and unambiguously the responsibility of the Minnesota Vikings," he said.
The mayor's office has pointed to another section of the stadium legislation legislation, which says the "city may make expenditures or grants for other costs incidental and necessary to further the purposes of this" legislation.
Ostrow and plaintiffs also challenged whether the city has the ability to develop a park under its charter, and whether it was appropriately using port authority powers to execute the deal. The use of port authority powers to issue the bonds reduces the number of votes necessary and bypasses the city's semi-independent board of estimate and taxation.
"There are rights that are lost, procedures that are bypassed by using the port authority," Ostrow said.
Ginder and city attorney Susan Segal stressed that the deal will crumble if there is any delay. Ryan Cos. has a purchase agreement to buy the land from the Star Tribune that expires on Dec. 27. Presumed tenant Wells Fargo has not yet made its final commitment to buy the buildings.
"This is a $400 million project. The ramifications not only to the city, but the parties that have worked for years on this, are huge," Ginder said.
They also argued that the deal was not yet ripe for consideration since the council has not yet voted. That vote is expected at the last council meeting of the year, which will occur this Friday. Seven new council members will be sworn in on Jan. 6.
Segal added, "The whole thing can and may well fall apart because of delay."
There's a leadership contest brewing for chair of the Minneapolis school board now that Tracine Asberry and Richard Mammen have announced they'll seek the post.
Current Chair Alberto Monserrate said he'll not seek a third year as chair.
Asberry, a former teacher, is completing her first year on the board. Monserrate was elected chair in his second year on the board, but that was after serving as vice chair and coming in with a crop of four new board members. She has been outspoken in advocating for more changes in district policies to promote better racial equity
Mammen is completing his third year on the board, and was elected city-wide, while Asberry was elected from a southwest Minneapolis district. Mammen is a longtime youth worker who lists himself as co-president of a nonprofit called Change Inc.
The initial betting is on Mammen, who claims he has the votes, to prevail. He's a lifelong Minneapolitan with wide contacts in the government and nonprofit sectors. Asberry has been a teacher in Minneapolis, an adjunct college instructorm and holds a doctorate in pedagogy.
Mammen declared his intent to become chair when he was elected in 2010, and had spoken with seven board members before publicly declaring his candidacy on Tuesday. Asberry's announcement surprised her coleagues.
The job of chair involves helping to shape its announal calendar and monthly agendas, chairing board meetings (a task that limits participation in substantive debates), and representing the board in public and in responding to correspondence addressed to all board members. As the owner of a media company, he's also been responsive to news reporters. Asberry hasn't returned reporter calls.
In the only other contested post, Rebecca Gagnon is seeking a second year as treasurer, while Carla Bates, whom Gagnon defeated for the job a year ago, also is seeking it.
A former Minneapolis mayoral candidate was the subject of a brief FBI investigation in early 2013 that concluded with no findings of wrongdoing, according to documents presented to the City Council.
The City Council’s budget committee will weigh Wednesday whether to reimburse outgoing Council Member Don Samuels for $9,083 in attorney’s fees relating to the investigation, which had not been previously revealed publicly.
The probe focused on a complaint that Samuels had a conflict of interest in his roles as a city council member and co-founder of the Peace Foundation, a precursor to the Northside Achievement Zone. Samuels’ wife Sondra is the CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone.
Samuels said the FBI interviewed him for several hours during the campaign.
“After an initial inquiry, the Department of Justice concluded that a full investigation was not warranted and the matter was officially closed on January 28, 2013,” said the request for reimbursement, prepared by the city attorney’s office.
Samuels said Tuesday that he does not know who filed the complaint, nor its exact allegations. He believes it was politically motivated, however.
The two-term North Side representative placed third in the mayoral race, which concluded this November.
“I just waited until the campaign was over because I thought that one of the intended purposes might be influencing the mayor’s race,” Samuels said. “And any addressing of it at all, even to say the case was closed and there was no cause, would kind of be a political challenge in a campaign.”
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger represented Samuels in communications with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office. He said Tuesday that the process lasted less than six weeks and they never learned the exact allegations.
Kyle Loven, a spokesman for the FBI, said department policy prevents him from commenting on the case.
Samuels' successor, Blong Yang, will be sworn in on Jan. 6. Samuels has not decided what he will do next.
Below is a letter concluding the investigation:
A 15-year-old proposal to build a golf-focused athletic facility atop a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp received an initial green light from the City Council Tuesday.
The privately funded plan involves covering two ramps adjacent to Target Center (right) and using the space for athletic facilities, a driving range, a running track and a club house. It is expected to cost upwards of $70 million.
The city's transportation and public works committee on Tuesday approved allowing staff to execute an agreement with Downtown Rooftop Golf, LLC to lease the air space above the ramp.
One of the ramps is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, while another, the Hawthorne Transportation Center, is owned by the city.
El Tinklenberg, a former state transportation commissioner who is a consultant on the project, said the proposal will include indoor putting areas, simulators and conference facilities. A staff report said it would also include a performance area.
Tinklenberg said construction will likely take about 18 months, and if all goes as plan they hope to begin in 2015.
"The proposed location in the airspace above the two ramps will take advantage of the significant amount of space available there and the connections from the ramps to the downtown skyway system, a variety of transportation modes and local facilities (e.g., Target Center, Target Field and Interchange)," staff wrote in their description of the project.
Here is what the site looks like now:
A plan to reconstruct Minnehaha Avenue moved forward at City Hall with some new amenities for bicyclists, though not the protected bike lanes some had requested.
The $14 million plan would improve Minnehaha Avenue from Lake Street to 46th Street South. The changes include a new buffer between bike lanes and traffic, shorter pedestrian crossings and slightly narrower lanes for driving and parking.
Bicycling advocates had hoped for a protected bike lane seperated completely from traffic, known as a cycle track. But Hennepin County, the lead agency on the project, opted against it.
The city's transportation and public works committee signed off on the plan Tuesday morning. The city will pay $4 million for the project, while Hennepin County will kick in $9.8 million.
Council Member Gary Schiff highlighted the new, 1.5-foot buffer between the bike lanes and traffic. The width of the bike lane itself will remain the same.
'It is much better than any of the bike lanes we've seen before in South Minneapolis because of that buffer," Schiff said.
Committee Chair Sandy Colvin Roy said the project illustrating the increasing demands on engineers to build roads that accomodate different modes of transportation.
"We are challenging engineers now to create transportation corridors that are more complicated than, 'How do we move the most cars the fastest,' which was the prevailing goal for many years," Colvin Roy said.
Construction is expected to begin in Spring 2015 and finish in 2016.
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