St. Paul developer withdraws "Bridges" projectby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
Jerry Trooien, the St. Paul developer who hopes to build a massive retail and residential project on the Mississippi River, has withdrawn his application to rezone the area.
Trooien says he believes it's the best way to quell the controversy the project has created. The move is seen as a victory for city officials and neighborhood groups who have raised concerns about the plan.
St. Paul, Minn. — Trooien's vision is styled as an Italian village on the Mississippi. The Bridges proposal includes 1,200 residential units, and about 365,000 square feet of retail space, but also a theme park, movie theater, and a 32-story Westin Hotel.
"We believe the Bridges plan beautifies and enhances the river. It makes the river more intimate by framing the river properly. And the second thing it does is brings the center, making it more the center of the city rather than the back door of the city," Trooien said.
But many vocal opponents don't share Trooien's vision. They say the developer's current site plan doesn't conform to city policy for the riverfront which doesn't allow buildings higher than five stories. Also, the Bridges would have more than 2,000 parking spaces, fueling concerns about increased traffic congestion in the area.
And critics recently found support at the city. St. Paul's planning commission rejected Trooien's application to rezone the area and remove building height restrictions.
The commission's decision made prospects dim for the zoning application at the City Council, which has the final decision.
Trooien denies he withdrew the application because of the lack of political support. He says people shouldn't read too much into his decision. He says the main point is he's willing to sit down with his critics.
"I'm an excrutiatingly good listener," he said on Wednesday. "I'm not afraid to listen again to any and all viewpoints about the best way to develop the riverfront. We'll have at it again. Hallelujah! And it's with that openness that we go into it."
Trooien also says nobody should expect he's going to rip up his plans and start over. He says this wrinkle won't effect his agreements with retail partners. And he continues to reserve condominiums with buyers, although nothing is set until he receives city approval.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has always applauded Trooien's big vision for the river and his enthusiasm. But Trooien's acrimonious relationship with several community groups has cost him the support of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Coleman hailed Trooien's decision to withdraw his zoning application and collaborate with the community.
"I am very anxious to sit down and work with the developer, work with the community, bring all people to the table to make this vision happen, and to do it in a way that does St. Paul proud. That protects the financial interests of the city of St. Paul, but also protects the broader interest of the fact that the Mississippi River is the lifeblood of this city," Coleman said.
Neighborhood and environmental groups also welcomed Trooien's change in direction.
Carlos Garcia Velasco of the West Side Citizens Organization says he's glad the city is endorsing and supporting this new collaborative approach.
"What they're encouraging is something that we've been willing to do all along to sit as a stakeholder, but in a genuine process. Not being pitched a proposal but saying, hey what are we thinking and how will our feedback help influence what the final finished development looks like," Velasco said.
Velasco and others who have been the thorn in Trooien's side over the Bridges consider this latest step as a victory. All parties say they want to see development on the river, it's just a matter of how to do it.
It's not clear when Trooien will bring a new plan for city officials to consider.
- All Things Considered, 11/01/2006, 5:19 p.m.