Ryan Cos. and the Star Tribune have agreed to an exclusive negotiation period to work out a development deal for the newspaper's downtown property.

Rick Collins, vice president of development for the Minneapolis-based developer, said Tuesday that Ryan may be interested in purchasing four of five blocks owned by the newspaper, all of which will be near the planned $975 million Vikings stadium and the Downtown East/Metrodome light-rail station.

A fifth block near the stadium is being eyed for purchase by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is spearheading development of the new football stadium.

Ryan is looking at "multiple development scenarios" for the land, Collins said, declining to comment further.

The "right of exclusive negotiation agreement" struck between the two means the Star Tribune will not negotiate with other prospective buyers for an unspecified time. This gives Ryan a chance to put a deal together. Collins would not say what the timeline is for the project, or whether any partners had expressed interest in a deal so far.

Star Tribune spokesman Steve Yaeger declined to comment on the agreement.

The Star Tribune owns five blocks on the eastern edge of downtown, which contain three buildings, including the Star Tribune's headquarters, as well as several surface parking lots.

According to Hennepin County property records, the four blocks covered by the Ryan agreement have a value for taxation of about $18 million. The fifth parcel owned by the newspaper across from the light-rail station that is slated to be part of the stadium development is valued at about $3.3 million for tax purposes.

Ryan has a long history of developing projects in downtown Minneapolis. Currently, it is building a high-profile $70 million luxury apartment project at the corner of Hennepin and Washington Avenues that is anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store.

A previous deal calling for the Vikings to buy four of the Star Tribune blocks for $45 million fell apart in 2007. The team, citing turmoil in the credit markets, backed out of the deal.

But now that the new 65,000-seat stadium is expected to open in 2016, development scenarios have been mulled by developers and city officials for the largely vacant swath of land linking downtown, Elliot Park and the Mill District, as well as the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus.

Since opening in 1982, the Metrodome has failed to attract much meaningful development, but now there is little land left for downtown expansion. In addition, the Central Corridor light-rail line is slated to begin service in 2014, with the Metrodome stop serving as the interchange for St. Paul travelers riding to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.

The Downtown Council's 2025 plan calls for leveraging the Central Corridor train service to create a stronger link between the University of Minnesota and downtown, as well as a "major new residential district" near the Metrodome. (The plan had advocated for a Vikings stadium closer to Target Field, however.)

The Star Tribune has confirmed that the land is for sale. Last spring, the newspaper hired Russ Nelson, a broker with Minneapolis-based Nelson, Tietz & Hoye, to handle real estate dealings regarding the downtown land.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752