Developer Jerry Trooien has spent years, and millions of dollars, trying to convince residents and city officials to support his 32-acre Italian-style development called The Bridges of St. Paul. His request for approval from the full City Council was his last shot.
The Bridges proposal had already been turned down by the city's zoning committee and planning commission.
Trooien maintained his development would be good for St. Paul.
"I'm not some out-of-towner coming in here trying to strip this city. We're not bluffing, we're not posturing," Trooien told the council. "You have the responsibility -- and everyone in this room does -- that says there's a bigger, better, accomplishable, financible plan. It is your responsibility that if this doesn't work, to show us what can work."
The Bridges project has been planned for the Mississippi riverfront directly across from downtown St. Paul. It would include more than 1,000 housing units, a 250-room Westin Hotel, nearly 400,000 square feet of retail space, a movie theater, two glass enclosed botanical gardens, and 2,000 public parking spaces.
Trooien was asking for the city to provide $125 million in tax breaks under a Tax Increment Financing District, or TIF.
Supporters and critics of the Bridges proposal packed the council chambers. Before the vote, each side got a chance to state its case.
Jaye Rykunyk, state director for the hotel and restaurant workers union, spoke in support of the Bridges project. She says it would provide good jobs and be a boost for St. Paul night life.
"It's the opportunity for the workers in my industry to say, 'Go across the river when you're staying at the St. Paul Hotel, go across the river when you're staying at the Crowne Plaza,'" said Rykunyk. "You don't have to go to Bloomington, you don't have to go to Minneapolis, you can stay here in St. Paul in our city. It's our town and it's our opportunity."
Those who are against the project say it does not conform to the city's planning guidelines for riverfront development. Critics say the buildings in the project are too high and would adversely impact views. They also say the project would be an excessive burden on the parks system, traffic, and public safety.
Patrick Seeb, executive director of the St. Paul Riverfront Corp., a nonprofit development organization, urged council members to uphold the city's comprehensive planning guidelines.
"You are being asked to waiver for a project with questionable merit and huge financial risk for the city and its taxpayers," said Seeb. "We urge you to take action and deny the request before you, and send this pro-development message -- St. Paul is eager to work with developers who are willing to come to the table in good faith, engage in meaningful collaboration in the spirit of partnership."
After the council vote, Trooien said he has thoroughly studied the riverfront site, and believes the Bridges is the best possible proposal. He says he's always been open to collaboration, but so far, nobody has brought him a viable option he can work with.
"Maybe at the end of the day, people are suggesting they want development on the riverfront. At least they think they do, but maybe they truly don't. I don't know. That's also a possibility," said Trooien.
Despite the council's lack of support for the current Bridges proposal, Supporters and critics alike say they respect Trooien's energy, financial prowess, and commitment to St. Paul. And council members and the mayor are loathe to alienate him.
For his part, Trooien says the vote was not unexpected and he feels "no malice and zero anger about it." Trooien said he feels his work on promoting the Bridges of St. Paul has been a "public service," and hinted that he may make a run for political office.
In a statement, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he supports the council's vote. And, he says he plans to meet with developer Trooien to discuss next steps in light of the council's decision.