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Mpls. City Council approves massive Downtown East project

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It's unanimous. The Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to approve a $400 million project to transform the eastern part of downtown.

The Star Tribune reports the project calls for two Wells Fargo office towers, two blocks of public park, parking ramps, apartments and retail space to be built adjacent to the new Vikings stadium. Most of that property is owned by the Star Tribune and covered by surface parking lots.

Before the vote, Mayor R.T. Rybak said, "I love a lot of things in this city, but I don't love vacant parking lots in places where there could be vitality."

The Downtown East project is not without opposition, but is proving a lot more popular than the stadium project.

"This is the type of development that happens once in a political generation," said Council Member Gary Schiff, the most vocal stadium opponent on the council. "And it only happens because the timing comes together with the financing. This is being financed right."

MPR News reports Ryan Companies will develop the project, with the biggest chunk of financing -- about $300 million -- to be paid by Wells Fargo, which will own the office towers. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will contribute $16 million to build a parking ramp next to the new stadium, and $10 million for skyways.

The Minneapolis Port Authority will sell $65 million in bonds to pay the city's share, which will help finance the parking ramp and buy land for the new park. The money is expected to be repaid by revenue from the parking ramp.

Total cost to the public is an estimated $84 million.

The Pioneer Press reports the council also voted Friday to approve the demolition of the Star Tribune headquarters.

Controversy remains about rooftop signs on the office towers, which are currently prohibited by local ordinance. Council member Lisa Goodman is expected to introduce an ordinance next week that would allow them.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks a temporary restraining order to stop the city's involvement in the project. Filed by two former council members, it argues the city should not have to pay for the parking ramp.

The land deals for the project are scheduled to close Dec. 27.

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