Wells Fargo & Co. confirmed Thursday that it will locate much of its Twin Cities workforce in office towers that are part of an expansive $400 million mixed-use development in downtown Minneapolis.

The San Francisco-based financial giant said that 5,000 employees will occupy 1.1 million square feet in two 17-story office towers slated for largely vacant land near the Metrodome. Wells Fargo is one of the state's largest corporate employers, with about 7,000 employees working in 14 buildings in downtown Minneapolis, and 20,000 employees statewide.

Wells Fargo will own the buildings, which will be skyway-connected to downtown's central core and span just over 1 million square feet of space.

"The investment in this project — more than $300 million — represents our continued commitment to downtown Minneapolis and to the state of Minnesota," said Dave Kvamme, CEO of Wells Fargo Minnesota. "Minnesota is such an important state to us, we're really excited about building property that we actually own — we'll have a real permanent place to call home."

The Downtown East project is being developed by Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. on five blocks of land now owned by the Star Tribune. It also includes up to 400 residential units, retail shops and restaurants, a parking ramp, and a park — in an area of eastern downtown that will soon be home to a new $1 billion Vikings stadium.

It has long been rumored that Wells Fargo would be an important partner in the project, but the company did not confirm its participation until Thursday.

"It was a complex deal; we've been working very closely with Ryan for the last 14 months or so," Kvamme said. "It was really their negotiation between all the parties and we had not come to an agreement until we signed the documents with Ryan [on Wednesday]."

Mayor R.T. Rybak called Thursday's news "a huge moment for the city. It's one of the, if not the largest, office relocations in city's history and will transform a part of town that has been stagnant."

The Metrodome was completed in April 1982 at a cost of $55 million — $133 million in today's dollars. But the land surrounding the structure has eluded any meaningful development in the decades since, even as the nearby Washington Avenue corridor and the Mill District flourished. Much of the city's development efforts at the time were steered toward the downtown core, said Steve Cramer, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, who formerly led the city's development agency.

"At the end of the day, it was a question of the market not valuing that location sufficiently to allow development to happen," he said.

Rybak said Wells Fargo was scouting the suburbs for land that could be used as a new campus for employees, but he helped to convince bank officials that the stretch in the eastern portion of downtown would prove a good match.

The city has agreed to borrow up to $65 million to build an adjacent parking ramp that will be used by Wells Fargo employees, the public and stadium-goers, plus the nearly two-block public park.

"The commitment from Wells Fargo is a critical step in moving the Downtown East project forward," said Rick Collins, vice president of development for Ryan. "We are one step closer on a project that will bring renewed energy and ongoing development momentum to the surrounding area."

The Star Tribune is expected to close on the land deal Dec. 27. A groundbreaking for the Wells Fargo towers, between S. 3rd and 4th Streets and Park and 5th Avenues, is scheduled for April, with the first portion of the project completed in the fourth quarter of 2015.

"From activating the downtown east area, connecting it to the [downtown] core, adding housing, jobs, there are many positive attributes," Cramer said.

He admitted that moving Wells Fargo from various sites downtown to the new project "creates an absorption issue for the existing core," meaning there may be more space available than renters in the short term. Wells Fargo said the new site will bring more employees together at one location and "provide potential expansion."

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752