One of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the rapidly growing city of Minneapolis, Downtown East offers easy access to a wide variety of popular dining and entertainment destinations. But the area directly surrounding the site of the new Minnesota Vikings Stadium had long been overlooked, resulting in a sea of surface lots and underutilized real estate. In the hands of Ryan Companies, what was once a neglected space has now taken on new purpose as a vibrant extension of the downtown core.
A once-in-a-century, $588 million, five-block redevelopment project, Downtown East is completely reshaping the Minneapolis urban landscape by bridging the central downtown area to the new U.S. Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota, the Mill District and the Elliot Park neighborhood. The project includes 1.2 million square feet of office space in two 17-story towers owned by Wells Fargo, the four-story, multi-tenant Millwright building, a three-building, 200-unit residential complex named EDITION, a 4.2 acre public greenspace known as The Commons, a Radisson RED hotel, a set of four sky bridges and internal skyways connecting the US Bank Stadium to Downtown East and the core skyway system of downtown Minneapolis, a six-level parking ramp owned by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and 26,000 square feet of retail space.
Downtown East represents the largest redevelopment project the City of Minneapolis has seen in decades. Ryan had the vision to see incredible potential in an area where previously there had been very little success. A combination of sophistication, savvy and social capital allowed Ryan to pull off what was, in the end a highly complex development project with very intricate financing. Our collaborative, inclusive spirit guided the project from start to finish and resulted in a game-changing development the citizens of Minnesota can be proud of, while allowing for the aggressive schedule that would get the initial phase of the project completed in less than three years and in time for the 2016 football season.
The area that would become Downtown East was sorely in need of refreshing—it was hardly in a position to begin attracting the major funding it would need for its grand turnaround. But Ryan believed that the area held serious potential; now it was our job to help investors see that same vision.
The solution was in a 4.2-acre urban park that would come to be known as The Commons and would form the centerpiece of the development’s design. The Mayor of Minneapolis had a lead on Wells Fargo, knowing they were considering campus expansion. While they had been looking at suburban options, after connecting with Ryan and seeing our plans for the area’s transformation, the downtown space was looking more and more attractive. The Commons greenspace was the linchpin that secured their commitment.
With its easy access to a number of parking and public transportation options, including both the Blue and Green Light Rail Transit lines; close proximity to dining, shopping and entertainment; and its location directly next to the biggest park in downtown, Downtown East is the perfect location for Wells Fargo as it looks to attract and retain the growing millennial workforce. The new campus offers indoor bike storage, lockers and showers to encourage alternative commuting options for team members and help decrease energy use and automobile pollution. The towers also connect Wells Fargo employees to the eight-mile Minneapolis Skyway System and the Downtown East rail station.
While private investment in the office, retail and multifamily space was secured, $84 million was needed for the parking garage, urban park and skyway connections. When it was determined that tax-increment financing (TIF) would not be an option for this project, Ryan sought another solution. Vikings stadium legislation provided $26.6 million to be invested by the MSFA in the new parking garage and skyway connections between the stadium and downtown. However, additional funding was needed for a portion of the parking garage as well as the urban park.
City investment in the ramp wasn’t an option, but Ryan had another idea: monetize the value of additional parking revenues generated in the existing and to-be-constructed MSFA-owned parking garages. Ryan proposed making annual payments to the city for a minimum of ten years in sufficient amount to pay the city’s bond debt service. The Minneapolis City Council approved Ryan’s proposed funding plan and Ryan took on the risk.
The parking ramp, financed by the city and the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, was an integral component of the development. Football fans and visitors will use the ramp on game days and weekends; it will be available to office workers during the week.
In an area once known for vast surface parking lots, perhaps the most significant change to Downtown East is the introduction of The Commons. A new 4.2 acre, two-block park that injects a vibrant shot of greenspace into the urban landscape, The Commons functions as a community hub and a physical and visual connection between the downtown core and the Vikings Stadium.
Nearly every neighborhood in Minneapolis has a park within blocks – except downtown. The Commons is the first in the area and a sorely needed public amenity. Owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the park will be devoted to Vikings-related activities on game days, but will be available to downtown residents, workers and visitors every other day of the year. From outdoor recreation and group exercise to food truck dining and a summertime “splash pad,” The Commons offers something for everybody.