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Vikings challenge developer for chance to build tower near stadium

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An artist rendering of the new Vikings stadium
An artist rendering of the new Vikings stadium.
Courtesy photo

The Minnesota Vikings are challenging one of the state's largest real estate development companies for the right to build an apartment tower near the team's new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

  The project was the subject of a heated meeting at Minneapolis City Hall today, and involves a complex web of interests including the Vikings, Ryan Companies, the city and the State of Minnesota.

  MPR News reporter Curtis Gilbert was at the meeting and explains the tangled property dispute.

  There's a lot of construction going on right now on the east side of downtown Minneapolis. Where does this project fit in?

  It fits on a little strip of city-owned land on the corner of 4th Street and Park Avenue, next to the site for a parking ramp that Ryan Companies is building to serve the new Vikings Stadium. Ryan is doing a lot of building in that area as part of a major, five-block development that also includes a new city park and an office tower for Wells Fargo. 

Minneapolis officials want more apartments built there as the city wants to grow its population and revitalize the Downtown East area. So the city put the project up for bid, and earlier this year selected a proposal from Ryan Companies to build an apartment and hotel there — essentially adding on to the development underway by Ryan. But now that add-on is in doubt.

  What happened?

  Radisson hotels bailed on the project. That makes it simply an apartment tower, and because of those changes Ryan officials say the company cannot pay the city as much as it originally offered. So instead of $5.6 million, the company likely will offer about $3 million under the best-case scenario for the city. Lisa Goodman, the powerful chair of the City's Community Development Committee was clearly frustrated about the changes from Ryan Companies.

"How can you not describe this as anything other than a bait and switch?" Goodman asked the company's representatives. "I just don't understand how you can't acknowledge we showed you this really, really fabulous shiny thing with a lot of money, and now we're not going to do that."

  Goodman said she could accept less money, but what really concerns her is that Ryan can't guarantee it will actually build the building — so the deal is more an option to buy than a real purchase agreement. Under its new proposal, Ryan would have seven years to build the tower. Vikings officials said they can offer the city a better deal.

  What are the Vikings offering?

  Well the team is not guaranteeing it will build, either. Vikings officials want to pursue a smaller apartment tower, but they are offering the city a lot more money: $4.6 million dollars up front with no options or contingencies. Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley took the unusual step of showing up at the public hearing on the Ryan proposal to pitch his team's counter offer.

  "We're motivated to make sure this project happens," Bagley said, "that this exciting vision, this doorstep to our new stadium and this opportunity for our city gets done."

  Vikings officials are worried about construction delays, and they also want to make sure Minneapolis has enough money to fully develop the park that's part of that five-block Ryan development. But the team also faced some skeptical questions from the city council.

  How come?

  Council Member Jacob Frey said the Vikings organization is one of the main reasons why Ryan's bid has faced so many problems. Frey chastised Vikings officials for resisting Ryan's proposal to add 200 parking spaces to the parking ramp for the people who live in the apartments over concern that it would slow down fans ability to exit — or egress — from the ramp.

  "I mean of those 200 spots, the number who would actually be leaving during the second half of the game — I would be blown away if it would be more than like 10," Frey said. "And if you count the numbers on that, we're talking about 38 seconds — 38 seconds that would be added to the egress on game days. The fact that we wouldn't agree to an additional 38 seconds to allow additional density, tax revenue generation for the city and eyes on the park. That kills me!"

  Frey also called it "fishy" that the Vikings organization is now coming forward at the last minute with its own proposal.

  Sounds like city officials aren't happy with Ryan Companies or the Vikings. So what happens now?

  Preliminary construction on the parking ramp is already underway, and it needs more than $1 million worth of enhancements if there is to be an apartment tower next to it. So city officials will need to decide fairly soon what they want to do.