If a recovery rolls along one shovelful at a time, Brooklyn Center may be well on its way.

As heavy machinery hummed in the background Tuesday, dignitaries wielding golden shovels broke ground for a new FBI field office in the northern suburb. The $61 million project will give Brooklyn Center and the region a shot in the arm in a year that earlier saw the closing of the Brookdale shopping center after a long and painful decline.

The FBI complex is one of 35 new field offices the agency initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It is on track to be the 23rd completed when it opens in January 2012.

Tuesday's ceremony, attended by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents Brooklyn Center in Congress, touted the project as an example of interagency cooperation and of success after a difficult financial market nearly killed it.

The FBI and the city each had something the other needed. The agency had congressional approval to seek out a new location; the city had land, 8 1/2 acres at the intersection of Interstate 694 and Minnesota Hwy. 100, a site that formerly housed a Days Inn motel. The city provided the parcel, worth about $3 million, looking at the jobs and potential economic development benefits it will generate.

Mayor Tim Willson noted that the complex will be next to another 5 acres available for redevelopment and said he views the project as a potential catalyst for investment all over the city.

In the short term, it will create more than 700 construction jobs for the region, according to the federal government. Additionally, because the three-building complex will be privately owned, by Las Vegas developer Molasky Group, it will remain on the city's tax rolls, supporting such things as schools, police and roads. It will be among the city's top 10 property-tax generators, said Gary Eitel, Brooklyn Center's business and development director.

The FBI has agreed to a 20-year lease, with annual rent of $6.4 million.

The complex was designed by HGA Architects and Engineers and will be built by Kraus-Anderson Cos., both based in Minneapolis. It will include a five-story office building, a 200-car parking structure, and an annex for maintenance and repairs of the agency's vehicle fleet.

It will have more than 150,000 square feet, about twice the space the FBI has had since 1991, when it moved into its current location at 111 Washington Av. in downtown Minneapolis. While agency spokesman Steve Warfield confirmed that the FBI in Minneapolis has grown in recent years, the agency does not disclose numbers of agents and staff.

A new FBI trend

The complex also will reflect a new trend -- adopted after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- to get FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies out of multi-tenant buildings, said Patrick G. Findlay, the FBI's assistant director for facilities and logistics. Another security feature is a pullout entry where visitors will be screened before going inside. In addition, the building will be made with blast-proof glass, a reinforced structure, and a closed circuit-television security system. And right out of a secret-agent screenplay, the office areas are designed with Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF), private conference spaces with radio frequency shielding, to prevent transmissions in or out.

Brooklyn Center's Eitel said that once the FBI complex is occupied, the boost to local businesses by lunch and coffee crowds may multiply and spread.

"It creates that ripple effect, and also creates new economic opportunities for more restaurants, for more businesses, and it can have a snowballing effect because this building now will be occupied," he said.

Eitel describes himself as a glass-half-full guy. He calls the Brookdale site a redevelopment opportunity, for example, and points to the city's new Embassy Suites hotel and an overhaul of Luther Brookdale Chevrolet as examples of recent development successes.

With the FBI project starting, he says: "I'd say we need a bigger glass. That's all the optimism I have. This is big."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409