Minneapolis isn't much of a port town these days, but its port authority is about to get a revival.
City officials are trying to use the state-authorized authority to issue approximately $65 million in general obligation debt for a parking lot and park adjacent to the new Vikings stadium. Council President Barb Johnson said one major reason to do it is to bypass the semi-independent Board of Estimate and Taxation, which usually approves borrowing tied to the full faith and credit of the city.
Mayor R.T. Rybak is no fan of the board, which he sits on. He supported a 2009 effort to do away with the six-member body, which also includes two council representatives, a park board representative and two elected citizens.
"It’s really, 'Let’s find another way so we don’t have to use the Board of Estimate," said Bob Fine, the park board representative. "This is the reason for the Board of Estimate. That’s what it is, it’s a check on the city.”
The city's port authority, intended to spur development in industrial districts, has been used just twice in recent history. The city used it to issue $25 million in bonds to rebuild the city's downtown bus terminal in 1997. It used it again to issue $33 million in debt for a parking lot adjacent to the Guthrie Theater.
The city's chief financial officer Kevin Carpenter said in addition to retaining control from the Board of Estimate, the port authority gives them flexibility to add parcels to the deal later on. It also reduces the number of council votes needed to issue general obligation bonds from nine to seven.
Carol Becker, an elected citizen member of the board, noted that the Vikings stadium deal also bypassed the board since the bonds were issued by the state. She expects it's not the last time the board will be bypassed.
“There are supposed to be checks and balances," Becker said. "Is going around those checks and balances a little sleazy? Yea, it’s kind of sleazy. But are they able to do it? Yea. That’s politics I guess.”
Johnson said in an e-mail late last week that they may also use the port authority to redevelop the Upper Harbor, the name given to the city's aging port.
In St. Paul, a thriving port town, the Port Authority is a separate body with mayor-appointed commissioners. The City of St. Paul has to go to the Legislature for the authority to borrow money, in lieu of a Board of Estimate, however.
In order to use the port authority, Minneapolis officials are attempting to create an "industrial development district" around the future development. They argue that the land meets two qualifications of a "marginal property" under the law:
"1) faulty planning causing deterioration, disuse or economic dislocation; and 2) lack of use or improper use of areas, resulting in stagnant or unproductive land that could contribute to public health, safety and welfare."