After more than three years of negotiations, the city of Ramsey has finally obtained the last piece of land it will need for a proposed Armstrong Boulevard overpass.
On a 5-2 vote, the Ramsey City Council Feb. 26 agreed to purchase the Wiser Choice Liquor Store, the building fixtures and the land for $940,000. Councilmembers John LeTourneau and Mark Kuzma voted no.
The city also agreed to lease the building, located on the west side of Armstrong Boulevard, back to owner Jeff Wise for up to two years.
Wise will have to pay $3,550 a month plus the taxes and expenses on the property.
“It is a relief to have it finally approved,” said Wise.
“It has been an stressful and expensive process.”
While some people question why the council is buying this property now when the overpass has not been funded yet, this property is the last piece of land the city needs to have in place for the project, said Councilmember Chris Riley.
The city is actively lobbying for state and federal funding for the project, he said.
“There is a lot of momentum for the project,” Riley said.
LeTourneau said he might be the lone voice against the purchase.
There is a lot of excitement for the Highway 10/Armstrong overpass and it might be a good purchase, “but at this point I don’t think it is prudent for us,” he said.
If the overpass does not get the funding, the city will have spent money on the Wiser Choice purchase that it could have used for other things, LeTourneau said.
“I am looking at the bigger picture for the community,” he said.
If the overpass is not funded this year, it could more than 10 years before the city would get the bridge, LeTourneau said.
According to City Administrator Kurt Ulrich, the city will need all of the Wiser Choice property for the proposed overpass project.
Closing the deal
This whole purchase is “overdue. It was political,” said Wise, who was a city council member until December 2012.
The original closing date was supposed to be Feb. 18, 2012 so his business was not caught up in the Sunwood Drive reconstruction project and he could be building at the new store location during the road project, he said.
The process did not go as quickly as the city had hoped, said Ulrich.
The city is glad that the purchase transaction is completed and that it has secured the property for the overpass project, he said.
It was a complicated land transaction that took a while to complete, which included two land and business appraisals, Ulrich said.
At one time, the proposed agreement included language for Wise to purchase city land in The COR for his new store, but it was later decided to break the two apart, he said.
Wise is still negotiating the purchase of a 1.3-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Armstrong Boulevard and Sunwood Drive.
In October 2012, it looked like the sale was ready for final approval until someone brought a state statute that makes it illegal for a sitting council member to buy from or sell land to the city to the attention of the council.
When the land purchase was being handled by the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), the law was not an issue because Wise was acting as a HRA member and the state law did not apply to the HRA, only the council, Ulrich said.
Wise recused himself from any HRA or council discussions on the purchase.
But when the Wiser Choice property purchase was switched to the city council because of the Sunwood Drive re-alignment and the Armstrong Boulevard road improvement projects, the statute became an issue, Ulrich said.
The purchase was tabled Oct. 9, 2012 by the council until after Wise’s four-year term ended to avoid any legal ramifications.
Wise believes the move was political.
He has a $1,000 attorney’s opinion that says it was not a conflict for him to sell his land or purchase property from the city, he said.
Wise said he is relieved the sale is done.
Now he can negotiate like a normal developer for the purchase of city-owned land for his new liquor store, he said.
“I feel more comfortable negotiating as a non-councilmember,” Wise said.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org