Minneapolis to sell municipal ramps

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City’s windfall could mean job loss for ramp employees.

In an attempt to improve the cash position of the city’s parking fund by generating $800,000 annually in new property tax revenue for the city, the Minneapolis City Council voted Friday, July 20 to sell-off eight of the municipal parking ramps it owns, to three different parties, for a total of more than $88 million.

While the sale may be a windfall for the city, and the increased revenue may shore up a parking fund that currently sits at negative $12 million, it may not be so fruitful for current ramp employees who might lose their jobs. With its July 20 decision, the City Council did approve some measures to mitigate the job loss or assist those who are laid off.

The transactions approved include the sale of Riverfront Municipal Ramp, 212 9th Ave. S, to the Guthrie Theater Foundation and the St. Anthony Municipal Ramp, 212 9th Ave. S, to St. Anthony Ramp LLC. The six ramps sold to Alatus Partners LLC include the Seven Corners Ramp in Cedar Riverside and the Downtown East Ramp, located near the Metrodome.

The Council’s unanimous vote to approve the transactions came more than a week after a Public Works evaluation team made a formal recommendation to sell the ramps.

“This would substantially improve the position [of the parking fund],” Patrick Born, the city’s finance officer told Community Development and Transportation and Public Works Committee members, at a public hearing on the issue, July 12.

Not everyone in the Public Works evaluation team was in consensus about the recommendation. Jon Wertjes, director of traffic and parking services, said at the hearing he did not support the recommendation, although he would not say why publicly.

The city initially invested in Minneapolis parking ramps years ago to lure development projects, accommodate downtown workers and attract cars to the area, said Ward 12 Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee.

Affected attendants

At the July 12 public hearing, local labor advocates expressed concern about the current ramp employees — some of whom are unionized — that would lose their jobs as a result of the sale.

Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union, urged the council committee members to “protect [the] current living standards of people working in the ramps” by stipulating that potential buyers retain their predecessor’s employees for at least six months after purchasing the ramps.

“They’ll be dismissed, unless you do something about this,” McCarthy said, referring to the parking attendants working in the affected ramps, a portion of whom are unionized under Teamsters Local 120.

Making a worker retention provision a condition of sale would be a significant enough change economically, that it would almost certainly “cancel the sale of these ramps,” Born said.

Bob Lux, who represents Alatus Partners LLC, the largest buyer in the deal, confirmed Born’s predictions, saying there would be “no deal” between the city and Alatus if such a condition were thrown in.

Lux said Alatus Partners LLC will hire Standard Parking, which currently runs about 40 area ramps, as the new operator the six ramps they purchased. Standard Parking will go through its own process of hiring workers for the ramps, Lux said, which is why a worker retention provision didn’t work with their proposal.

Lux also said that the ramps Alatus purchased will be automated to improve efficiency, which might make some attendant jobs obsolete.

Abdullahi Musa, one of the workers who could face termination under the sale agreement, told the joint committee on July 12 that he came to the United States from Ethiopia in 1999 with his wife and 11 children seeking a better life for his family.

Musa, who lives in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, began working as a ramp attendant in 2002 and has maintained the position for the last five years. He said under his union contract he receives “decent wages” and benefits such as a 401(k). Musa said he was afraid of losing the job and benefits he had “worked so hard for.

“I am here to ask [the council] to take direct action to protect my job [and] secure my family’s future,” he told the committee members.

Katie Walloch, campaign coordinator for Change to Win Minnesota, which represents Minnesotan workers in the service sector, said many of the attendant positions are staffed by new Americans, who are often the bread winners for their families. Walloch said the loss of the attendant positions could force some families to rely on public assistance and advised the joint committees to “ensure these jobs are not lost overnight.”

At the public hearing, Walloch estimated close to 200 ramp employees, between the eight ramps, would lose their jobs if the sale went through. The Star Tribune reported the figure as closer to 60 or 70 workers.

The fact that loss of jobs had not been factored into the evaluation team’s nine month review process angered Ward 10 Council Member Ralph Remington.

“So people’s lives weren’t figured into [the proposals] in any way, shape or form?” Remington asked Born.

Born said his team was responsible for minimizing conditions in the proposed agreements to maximize the price the city would get from the sales.

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon asked Lux if he didn’t agree to a six month worker retention program, what kind of notice time he thought was appropriate to give workers who would be laid off. Lux responded, saying the deal was contingent on there being no worker transition period.

With the July 20 approval of the sales, the City Council also approved a resolution “encouraging the purchasers of the ramps to coordinate with the City and Union representatives to discuss strategies for the possible retention of existing parking ramp employees,” states a press release from the city. Buyers of seven of the eight ramps have committed to hold job fairs and retain some of the current ramp employees, and the City’s Minneapolis Employment and Training Program will provide assistance to any laid-off workers.

City Council President Barbara Johnson pledged to “[work] directly with the new owners of these ramps to find ways to keep as many of them on the job as possible.”

Development, housing part of the deal

Owners of at least three of the ramps have agreed to build new developments at or near the ramps — a mixed-use development near the Downtown East ramp that could include housing, retail, office space, or a hotel; and housing and possibly steet-level retail adjacent to the St. Anthony Ramp and Seven Corners ramps.

Each development would be required to obtain LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a high standard for environmental sustainability. The release states that these developments will create new housing and jobs in the city.

Jeremy Stratton contributed to this article.