There Goes the Neighborhood

Workers, residents and employers will soon shower the Sears site with love and commerce. No, really.

Last Thursday, the Star Tribune reported that Allina Hospitals & Clinics would move into the Sears Building with an annual tax exemption of $750,000. The story, as it turned out, wasn't accurate, but the news caught many Minneapolis city leaders by surprise. Details were so hazy that by Friday morning, Chuck Lutz of the city's department of Community Planning and Economic Development was at City Hall briefing council members after the fact.

Second Ward City Council member Paul Zerby noted before the meeting: "I was a little unhappy to find out about this by picking up the newspaper."

As it stands now, Allina will pay $711,000 a year to lease 250,000 square feet of office space from Ryan Companies, the developer that is handling the $142 million renovation. Of that, 72 percent will be "captured" by the city and put back into the site through tax-increment financing (referred to as "TIF money"). Ryan will get back $484,000 annually for 20 years.

A handful of council members were on hand at Lutz's briefing to gush about the deal. "When I took office, I was very against losing TIF money," said the 11th Ward's Scott Benson, adding that in the past, it had rarely been used to refurbish "blighted" areas. "But if this isn't blighted, what is?"

In fact, several council members--along with Mayor R.T. Rybak--campaigned in part by decrying big-time TIF deals, especially those given to the Target headquarters and Block E developments downtown.

The change of heart for cutting a deal on the Sears site goes like this: For starters, Ryan has promised some 350 units of housing, which many believe will "stabilize" the neighborhood. Also, part of the Ryan plan calls for retail space. And there's talk of revenue from parking, a "global market," and a hotel on the site. (See "Wheeling and Dealing," 12/17/2003.)

Lutz says the Sears redevelopment, stalled repeatedly for 10 years, will be the second biggest redevelopment in the city, after Heritage Park on the north side. But Lutz predicts a "bigger economic impact" from the Sears project because of its commercial component. Beyond that, the refrain of city leaders backing the plan, to be finalized in April, is jobs, jobs, jobs.

But opponents couldn't help but cite the so-called 35W Access Project, a drama that has divided neighborhood activists and city leaders for years. In January, the council endorsed a preliminary version of the ever-changing plans, which will likely widen the interstate near Lake Street and add northbound and southbound ramps for motorists to enter the highway from the city's main east-west corridor.

Many believe this will ensure that 950 Allina employees will be able to zip in and out of the city without spending a dime in the long-troubled area at Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. Further, as even some council supporters privately note, most of the Allina positions are already filled. Few, if any, of those jobs will go to residents of the neighborhood.


Chief Among Us: The other big news from City Hall last week was the swearing in of new Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus. It was, of course, largely ceremonial, with some 300 onlookers gathered in the rotunda Tuesday afternoon. The chief's remarks were perfunctory, though he took great pains to thank Fourth Precinct commander Tim Dolan and Deputy Chiefs Lucy Gerold and Sharon Lubinski, all of whom were passed over for the job.

McManus also clearly wants to be seen as a cop's cop; he brought up three Minneapolis officers during his speech, who, he said, "in recent weeks have gone above and beyond the call." McManus also emphasized his commitment to being a resident of Minneapolis--the words "my new home" were italicized in a printed copy of his speech.

This is notable for two reasons. First, there have been fears that McManus is a carpetbagger, using the MPD post as a stepping stone to bigger things in his law-enforcement career. Besides that, there's been much speculation about where McManus and his family will live.

One rumor persists that McManus will find a home in ritzy Kenwood, something that would be seen as a bad PR move, betraying the belief that McManus is a no-frills guy with a keen sensitivity toward poor and minority communities. For now, McManus has been mum on his neighborhood of choice, though he admitted in a post-ceremony press conference that he's living in a rectory on the city's north side for now.

This prompted a beaming R.T. Rybak to quip that McManus was picking up extra cash working as a security guard there on Sundays. (McManus did not laugh.) Rybak is obviously full of pride over his selection of McManus: The mayor even donned an MPD cap at one point. This is a far cry from Rybak's stunted relationship with former Chief Bob Olson.

McManus is certainly politically savvy enough to keep a united front. And Rybak has been willing to let McManus have the spotlight for now. But given the mayor's penchant for publicity, it's worth watching how long the honeymoon lasts.

The new chief is fond of saying he is anxious to get to the real work ahead of him. (In fact, by Monday morning McManus was already grappling with a homicide.) One serious piece of business is the federal mediation agreement brokered late last year by Olson, community leaders, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The document is ambitious, calling for the overhaul of many policing practices and the instituting of programs that certainly will run into budget constraints.

At the press conference, I asked McManus if he had versed himself on the agreement and if he planned to follow through with it. "It's a document that stays right in the middle of my desk," McManus said, adding that he reads it repeatedly. "I want to make sure we head in the direction we're supposed to head." If budget issues come up, he said, "it's something we have to hammer out and get there."


Stadium Update: Without much fanfare, the Minneapolis City Council voted on February 13 to quickly acquire, if need be, the so-called Rapid Park site. The approval means the city can condemn the land if a proposal to build a new Twins stadium there comes to fruition. The move ensures that Investment Management Inc. could not challenge any move to purchase the land, which is valued at $12.9 million.

But the city is not allowed, by ordinance, to put more than $10 million toward any stadium. Paul Zerby voted against the proposal, fearing that Minneapolis would be on the hook to pay for it. Other council members are confident Hennepin County would ante up. (See "Will Shill for Stadium".)

But there's no reason to assume Hennepin County would do so. The board of commissioners, which narrowly approved a plan that calls for the county to cough up $308 million for a $535 million ballpark, remains divided on the stadium issue (the four men on the board are for it, the three women are against it). Earlier this month, the commissioners debated whether to even have the stadium issue in its legislative agenda. It will be, but the plan calls for the state to chip in $100 million, something Governor Tim Pawlenty has said will not happen.

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