Heavy Hitter

The governor and the developer: A love story

The second Pawlenty surprise: the Northstar commuter rail line, which would connect rural Big Lake with a terminal in Minneapolis not far from Lambrecht's property.

As a state senator, Pawlenty led the fight against the commuter rail line. He began to soften his stance during his 2002 run for governor. Even so, many did not expect the governor to include Northstar in his bonding bill request for 2004. When Northstar was defeated in the Republican House, Pawlenty unilaterally allocated $2.5 million from a Met Council transit fund to leverage $10 million in federal monies for Northstar, prompting complaints from right-wing Republicans that he was executing an "end-run" around the will of the Legislature. At Pawlenty's behest, state bonding for Northstar was passed in 2005, money that was vital in ensuring that plans for the commuter line will go forward. Asked about his financial and personal relationship with the governor, Lambrecht responds that he is just one of 150 investors in the downtown parcel. Pawlenty's position on stadium funding, he asserts, is too ambiguous to imply favoritism.

As for Northstar, "It is absurd to suggest that the governor changed his position on transit because of me," Lambrecht says. "To do that, you would have to ignore the success of light rail, the overwhelming public support for transit among Minnesotans, and the national support of the Republican Party and the president for mass transit."

Jane Sherman

Whatever Pawlenty's motivation, it's hard to argue that his position switch on Northstar has dramatically enhanced the value of Lambrecht's property downtown. In June, the Houston-based Hines Interests--which ranks as the largest private landlord in downtown Minneapolis--took over management of the downtown parcel for an ambitious housing project that doesn't require a stadium. Indeed, as Hines VP of operations Bill Chopp told the Strib, "The site's primary focus is as a transit-oriented destination. The stadium is number two." Even absent the ballpark, Hines claimed it will build up to 3,000 housing units worth $800 million at and around the site. And, according to the Strib, Lambrecht's group will continue to hold an ownership stake in the project.

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