Judge dismisses final part of legal challenge to stadium district project

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Hennepin County District Court Judge Mel Dickstein has thrown out a final count of the five-part legal challenge to a $400 million Downtown East development on the Star Tribune property in downtown Minneapolis.

Judge Dickstein this afternoon denied a request for a temporary restraining order by mayoral candidates Stephanie Woodruff and Dan Cohen and former Minneapolis city council president Paul Ostrow. That's on top of four counts of their complaint he turned down last week.

The city council approved the deal last Friday, and Wells Fargo signed off on the deal to become the main tenant yesterday.

Basically, the judge said that it's too early to decide the dispute over who owns the proposed park land in the project. The property is expected to belong to the Star Tribune through next week, and isn't scheduled to be turned into a park for another two years:

"The acquisition of the park at issue is not scheduled to occur until 2016. And responsibility for the design and operation of the park remains unsettled. Since the request for injunctive relief is an extraordinary legal remedy which should not be lightly granted, the request for a Temporary Restraining Order should be denied.

If the City continues to work with the Park Board, and the Park Board eventually takes over operation and control of the Downtown East Park, there is no apparent reason for the Court to intercede—only time will tell whether Plaintiffs or the Park Board have good reason to seek injunctive relief."

That question was at the heart of a hearing on the matter held in Judge Dickstein's courtroom on Wednesday. Opponents said that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board alone had the jurisdiction to operate park land in the city.

The judge appeared to agree with them on that point: "Nowhere in the Charter will one find the specific authority to devise, maintain and adopt parks except in those enabling provisions that give the power to the Park Board," Judge Dickstein wrote in his order. But he decided the issue simply wasn't ripe.

The judge's ruling does present an interesting conundrum: there are some park-like places that the city of Minneapolis owns and operates now, including Peavey Plaza and Gold Medal Park.

Minneapolis' city attorney said she doesn't think Judge Dickstein's order will impact those two areas. "There's a lot of green space that the city owns, operates and maintains," Susan Segal said in an interview after the ruling. "The city and the park board have been working together for decades, and I think the judge expects that they'll continue to do so."

The park board president agreed. In a statement, John Erwin said he welcomed the judge's ruling, and that the board "looks forward to working collaboratively with the Mayor, the City Council and the other parties involved in the Ryan project in bringing a new and dynamic park presence to Downtown East."

Here's what the project opponents had to say about the matter in a statement issued this afternoon:

"The Plaintiffs were compelled to bring this lawsuit because we believed basic democratic rights and protections guaranteed citizens of Minneapolis were not being vindicated. Those rights are fundamental and are a part of the budgeting and priority setting process required by the ordinances and policies of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

We are hopeful that as a consequence of this decision, the City Council and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board will delay any action that would commit public resources to the proposed park until the critical rights of citizens are vindicated. Those rights include the citizen participation process, long term planning, land valuation protections and priority setting.

Since the Court's ruling makes it clear that "the Yard" cannot be used or operated as a park without the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board owning, operating and maintaining the park, it would be reckless to proceed with an expenditure of $20 Million from the Minneapolis taxpayers without the formal approval of the project and its long term capital and maintenance needs by the MPRB.

The lack of transparency and public input on the Downtown East project has been appalling. Judge Dickstein's ruling gives the Minneapolis City Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board a chance to get it right. We will be hopeful, but also watchful."

Here's the judge's full order: