Lawsuit seeks temporary halt to stadium-area development

Published 10:16 am Thursday, December 12, 2013

By Nick Woltman

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

MINNEAPOLIS — Just as the Minneapolis City Council is gearing up to vote on whether to sign off on the $400 million Downtown East development, a lawsuit is threatening to tie its hands.

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An injunction request filed Wednesday by Stephanie Woodruff — a former Minneapolis mayoral candidate and the vice chairwoman of the city’s Audit Committee — and two former city officials seeks to halt temporarily any action on the development by the city council, which is expected to take it up Friday.

“We just think they’re moving too fast,” Woodruff said of the council. “This is a complicated deal. Let’s take our time to make sure our financial interests are protected. Stop long enough to make sure we’re adhering to the law.”

Woodruff’s filing alleges the city’s plan to issue up to $65 million in municipal bonds to finance a share of the development, which would be adjacent to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, violates the state legislation that governs the stadium’s public funding.

The stadium bill capped the city’s monetary contribution to “stadium infrastructure” at $150 million. Woodruff says that the proposed development’s 4.2-acre park and parking ramp qualify under the law’s definition of “stadium infrastructure,” and that their cost would put the city’s expenditure beyond that $150 million cap.

However, City Attorney Susan Segal doesn’t see it that way. According to the project’s terms, the bonds the city intends to issue would be repaid with revenue from the new parking ramp and a second existing parking ramp.

Therefore, Segal says, the city is merely financing the development and not funding it with city money.

“It’s money flowing through City Hall, rather than flowing from City Hall to the stadium,” Segal said.

Segal said such an arrangement is allowed under state law.

Woodruff’s filing also alleges that only the city’s park board, rather than the city council, has the authority to establish a public park. It also alleges that the city, which plans to use its powers under the Port Authority Act to issue the $65 million in bonds, would exceed those powers in doing so.

An emergency hearing on the lawsuit is set for Thursday morning. Segal said that though the court could issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the city council from taking further action on the project, the city will argue against doing so.

Mayor R.T. Rybak previously has said that getting the council’s approval by its Dec. 13 meeting — its last of the current term before a new crop of council members is sworn in — is crucial to the project’s success.

Woodruff insists that she and the suit’s other two plaintiffs do not want to kill the project, only to delay it long enough for the public to scrutinize it further.

Segal said she doesn’t expect the court to intervene.

“The city is on solid legal ground,” she said. “We’re very confident in the city’s position and that there’s no basis for the court to interfere.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services