Blaine is wary of using eminent domain: Minneapolis MN Star Tribune, 11/9/07

A developer with a vision for a more than $150 million sports and entertainment complex seeks the city's help to secure nearby properties

By Eric M. Hanson

The developer who wants to bring a new sports and entertainment complex to Blaine [MN] is asking for the city's help to force nearby property owners out by using eminent domain if necessary.

Developer John Donnelly told the City Council on Thursday night that his company won't be able to attract investors to the more than $150 million project without removing five light-industrial properties next to the site.

"There's a reluctance to spend that kind of money when this is on your front door," Donnelly said at the council meeting, where he discussed drawings and some details about the SportsTown USA proposal.

Donnelly Development Group, of Edina, described the project as an asset to "Blaine's identity as an amateur athletics center for the Midwest." Plans include a hotel and indoor water park, fitness center, restaurants, indoor go-carts, a lake and a public square for sports ceremonies, even indoor surfing and skydiving.

Donnelly's group asked for the city's help in getting the nearby property owners to sell, saying industrial properties would be a detriment to the visual appeal of the project.

"What you're asking is for us to condemn these [properties]," City Council Member Russ Herbst said. "I'd have to think long and hard about that."

Herbst was joined by virtually every council member in voicing concern about using eminent domain as a development tactic, although support for the project's goals and features was unanimous.

Donnelly's group is a spinoff of a previous developer that proposed a smaller version of the complex in 2005. The current project represents 30 developable acres on a larger site that encompasses 63 acres, he said.

James Determan, who owns between three to four acres of the industrial property at the heart of the issue, said he is willing to move if the price is right. So far, it hasn't been, he said.

"If they want to use eminent domain, I'll fight them to the end," he said. "I don't think it's legal to use eminent domain unless it's for a public use, and that's not a public use. It's a private development project."

Also at issue is the amount of public subsidy the developer is seeking. The group wants a property tax break that is estimated at roughly $13 million over 15 years.

Council Member Dick Swanson called that figure "awe inspiring."You're asking for the moon," Herbst said.

Still, city leaders were interested enough in the proposal to direct the city's staff to meet with the developer over the next few months to get closer on an agreement.

Minneapolis MN Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com

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