Minneapolis, stadium critics battle again in court

A Hennepin County judge is deciding whether the city of Minneapolis is overreaching its authority with plans to acquire and develop a two-block park area west of the new Vikings stadium. (City of Minneapolis image)

The city of Minneapolis defended its plans to finance a massive mixed use development and open a new park near the Vikings stadium in court today.

It was the second hearing in a lawsuit brought by former Minneapolis City Council president Paul Ostrow and mayoral contenders Dan Cohen and  Stephanie Woodruff. They’re trying to delay the city’s plans for a five-block redevelopment that includes a new parking ramp for Vikings fans near the stadium, as well as two 18-story office towers, new stores and housing.

Most of the suit was thrown out last week by Hennepin County District Court Judge Mel Dickstein. But the judge did say there was a legitimate question whether the city had the legal authority to incorporate a two-block park into the $400 million project. He listened to more than an hour of debate over the matter this afternoon.

“There are a number of examples where the city owns open space,” said city attorney Susan Segal after the hearing. Her office argued that the city has broad jurisdiction, included in long-standing authority over “public squares,” to acquire park land. The city also is arguing that state authorization to act as a port authority backs up that power.

Critics say it isn’t about the rights of the city, but of Minneapolis voters that elect the park board. “When they vote for the park board, they’re voting for the people that will run the park system,” Ostrow told the judge. “When they vote for the city council, they’re not.”

And Ostrow argued it wasn’t just semantics. He said the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has some key public processes, like citizen participation in long-term planning and capital outlays. Ostrow also told the judge that the park board typically gets two independent valuations of land it intends to acquire, to make sure it is paying a fair price. Ostrow said that the city’s plans to buy the park land from developer Ryan Companies short-circuits the process.

“We have a huge problem with the public sector taking on financial responsibilities that should be those of the private sector. That relates to paying too much for land to the private sector,” Ostrow said outside the Minneapolis courtroom. “So many of our resources in the future are going into the stadium… The question is who is minding the public store? Who’s holding the Vikings to their commitment, and who is limiting public exposure? It seems as though no one is doing that.”

The park board has joined the argument, and attorney Brian Rice argued on the board’s behalf today. “What they’re proposing certainly makes sense to the park board so far,” Rice told the judge. But he also said that the board thinks that they do in fact hold jurisdiction over park lands in the city. “If it looks like a park, acts like a park and smells like a park, it should be treated like a park,” he said.