Developer Jerry Trooien in tax trouble

Developer Jerry Trooien
Developer Jerry Trooien's proposed $1 billion Bridges of St. Paul project never got off the ground, and now he is facing $2 million in delinquent property taxes.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

A prominent St. Paul developer is on the hook for millions of dollars in delinquent property taxes, according to two metro counties.

Jerry Trooien is best known for a mega-project that died on the vine. His plans for The Bridges of St. Paul, a $1 billion retail and housing development that he envisioned for the city's riverfront, were scuttled a few years ago because of a lack of community support.

But Trooien's most recent problems involve more than a dozen parcels in Ramsey and Washington counties under the control of his company, the JLT Group. The firm is responsible for about $2.2. million in back taxes, interest and fines on those properties.

According to a recently published list of delinquent taxes in Ramsey County, JLT is listed as the taxpayer of record for a commercial property in the St. Paul suburb of Roseville. About $1 million is owed in delinquent taxes on that office complex alone, making it one of the largest sums owed to the county for an individual property. The property is valued at $28 million.

Trooien's company has paid the tax bill for this property in recent years, although for 2008 it was five months late.

Still, Mark Oswald, the director of property records and revenue for Ramsey County, says he has no reason to believe Trooien's group will be forced to give up its property.

"Having someone be delinquent in their taxes is not anywhere near having a conversation about forfeiture," said Oswald. "He has a history of making his payments, so there would be no reason at this point to be concerned about it. We believe he will pay it."

Oswald says it typically takes five or six years of non-payment before a property owner must forfeit.

In Washington County, records show Trooien's company is responsible for $822,000 in delinquent taxes and penalties. All of those properties are located in the suburb of Woodbury, where JLT has built a Sheraton hotel and opened an upscale Mediterranean restaurant.

JLT is appealing the value of some of the properties and has made late payments in the past, said Kevin Corbid, director of property records and taxpayer services for Washington County.

Trooien did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Known for his brash style and larger-than-life dreams for his hometown, Trooien has kept a low profile in recent years. But he was nearly inescapable in 2006, when he held community meetings and took out full-page newspaper ads promoting The Bridges of St. Paul project. It would have brought shops, a hotel and condos to a stretch of land across the river from downtown.

But many residents said the project was out of scale with the West Side neighborhood. After Trooien lost a key zoning fight in 2007 that ultimately killed the Bridges, he told reporters that he still thought his proposal was the best for the riverfront.

"I have zero anger, I have zero malice, I have zero bitterness. It's not unexpected," Trooien said at the time. "But ultimately this town -- which I live in, which I was born and raised in -- if it doesn't want an accountability about what they say and what they do, this city and all of us in it, will get what we deserve."

But Trooien's opponents believe they did him a favor. They say his plans to build 1,000 new condos -- in what later emerged as a foreclosure crisis -- would have been an even more fatal blow to his portfolio. At the time, Trooien was asking the city for $125 million in tax-increment financing.

Cecile Bedor, St. Paul's director of planning and economic development, says the city has terminated a development agreement with JLT Group over a parcel on the West Side, because the company failed to begin construction of new housing as of January 2009. But Bedor says JLT Group is challenging the city in court.

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