Thin parcel on 4th Street tucked next to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority's parking ramp

Ryan Cos. is now considering building condos and an automated parking system, rarely seen in Middle America, on a previously contentious thin parcel abutting the Viking Stadium parking ramp.

Automated parking systems are vertical solutions for small spaces. The system relies on car elevators, lifts or conveyor belts to mechanically park vehicles in stalls stacked one top of one another.

The narrow strip of land where Ryan is considering using the concept was the source of an unexpected fight for development rights between the Minneapolis-based firm and the Minnesota Vikings last fall. The key site is located between Park and Chicago avenues just across 4th Street from the light-rail stop and kitty-corner from the new Vikings Stadium.

Ryan's original plan to build a 25-story hotel and residential tower on the site fell through partly because of the location's parking problem. The site's notably small footprint makes underground parking impossible.

Now, the developer is crunching the numbers on its options, including either for-sale or for-rent units and a vertical parking structure, emphasizing just how challenging the site is for development.

Automated parking is a design solution adopted in densely populated regions across the globe and starting to pop up in U.S. coastal cities, like New York and Los Angeles.

“The site is thin and that’s why it isn’t straightforward,” said Tony Barranco, Ryan's vice president of development. "You can't throw density up without parking."

But, he added, "We are looking at all options, including automated parking. But I will also say those are really darn expensive.”

Ryan is trying to strike the financial balance of tall vs. low, parking vs. none, while also navigating political expectations on the site.

The developer had originally hoped to use some of the 1,600 stalls in the parking ramp -- which Ryan is building and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) owns -- for a complicated 25-story hotel and residential tower. 

Once the MSFA and Vikings rejected Ryan's request to share some of the parking stalls, the developer's hotel deal fell through, ultimately leading to a drop in Ryan's purchase price offer from $5.6 million to $3 million. The Vikings then offered the city $8 million for the land and development rights, which the Minneapolis City Council ultimately rejected to avoid competitively bidding the parcel and further delaying development.

“Right or wrong, we now know the ramp is meant to accommodate the needs of the stadium. That is water under the bridge. We wish it would’ve had a little more flexibility, but we are now working under these constraints,” Barranco said.

As a result, Ryan -- the developer of the five-block Downtown East project that includes the two 17-story Wells Fargo towers, rental apartments, retail and the recently announced Radisson Red hotel -- must meet certain city deadlines.

“While I am optimistic about this condo deal, we can still take the land back," said Jacob Frey, Minneapolis City Councilman for the neighborhood.  

One deadline passed last week. Ryan had until May 15 to notify the city if it intended to build an extra level of parking on top of the MSFA ramp. Ryan chose not to. 

Now, Dec. 31 is the developer's next key deadline. Ryan has until the end of the year to submit a plan that meets the city's approval. If the city did take back development rights, it would have to reimburse Ryan up to $1.6 million for money the company has already invested into the parking ramp and site. So far, Ryan has spent $1.8 million on the block.

“All of these steps have just taken so long because they are between the city, the Authority, and sometimes the team," Barranco said.  “We are working on it, but we are trying to balance it with other things.”

Thin parcel on 4th Street kitty-corner from Vikings new stadium where Ryan Cos. is considering condos and automated parking system

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