A prominent St. Paul property owner has won a round in his legal fight to buy a troubled city-built downtown parking ramp.
Wells Fargo, the trustee that oversees the Capital City Plaza Parking Ramp, has been poised to sell it to a Chicago developer. John Rupp, whose portfolio includes the University Club, St. Paul Athletic Club and W.A. Frost & Co., has spent more than a year in court arguing that an agreement with the St. Paul Port Authority gives him the right to buy the property.
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed a Hennepin County District Court decision and said more evidence is needed to make a decision about the ramp’s future — a decision that could conclude in Rupp’s favor.
The ramp, at 50 E. 4th St. in downtown St. Paul, originally belonged to the Port Authority. But it lost money from the time it opened, and the agency eventually defaulted on the bonds used to build it.
Rupp previously owned the land where the ramp was built and had an option to purchase and right of first refusal agreement with the Port Authority. After Wells Fargo took over as the trustee representing the bondholders, it put the ramp up for sale and in 2017 accepted a $14.2 million bid from Chicago developer John Thomas and his company, Jet Park LLC. Thomas later lowered his offer to $12 million, citing the ramp’s poor financial performance and need for repairs.
Rupp has argued that his agreement with the agency still stands. The appeals court said additional information — including Jet Park’s bid — will show whether that’s the case.
“While the facts may turn out differently after full discovery and associated proceedings, the facts alleged in the petition could support a determination that the Port Authority received a bona fide offer from an unrelated third party to purchase the property which the Port Authority either accepted or intended to accept, thus triggering [Rupp’s] rights under the Option and First Refusal Agreement,” the court said.
Rupp’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, and a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo declined to comment.
Andrea Novak, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority, said the agency is not involved in the court case.
“There literally is no impact to the St. Paul Port Authority when it comes to the particular question about the legal case,” she said.
The Port Authority frequently has a hand in St. Paul development projects. In 2000, it issued nearly $24 million in revenue bonds and loaned the proceeds to its nonprofit arm, Capital City Properties, to pay for land acquisition and construction of the 954-space ramp. The ramp opened in 2001, and the port defaulted on the bond debt in 2009.
Agency officials have said Wells Fargo has control of the next owner of the parking ramp, and that they had no say in the decision to accept Jet Park’s bid.
Thomas, who owns Ecolab University Center a few blocks from the ramp, has a criminal history in New York and Illinois and spent more than a decade as an FBI informant on Chicago corruption cases. He did not respond to a request for comment.