Meet the mediator

Updated: October 29, 2007 - 9:27 am

Downtown resident Rick Solum helped broker the deal on the stadium land sale

In the end, neither Hennepin County nor the stadium site owners chose the fiercely contested price of the ballpark land — Rick Solum, a retired judge and a new resident of the Carlyle who mediated the dispute, proposed it for them.

Solum said that after a 10-hour session and another full week of private negotiations, the two sides agreed that Solum should choose the land value. If either party balked at the settlement, they would go to trial in November.

"It had to be a number that neither one liked," Solum said of the $28.25 million land price he chose.

Tacked on to the settlement is the interest that accrued during condemnation proceedings. The total settlement is $28.9 million. In addition, Hines Interests was granted air rights and access to "Dock Street," a private road that will be used for ballpark deliveries. The parking space in front of the Ford Centre between 3rd Avenue, I-94 and 5th Street is a candidate for redevelopment, and access surrounding that site was negotiated as part of the settlement deal.

Solum said no one deserves criticism for the drawn-out dispute.

"I don’t think the county board was trying to lowball or take the land for an unfair price, and I don’t think the landowners were trying to be greedy and take more than they deserved," he said.

Solum said competent appraisers simply disagreed about the development prospects for the parking lot.

Appraisers must assume that no ballpark is coming and must appraise the land based on its "highest and best use." The landowners’ appraisers said the construction boom in the North Loop neighborhood would undoubtedly spread into the parking lot site and transform it into housing and commercial space. The county’s appraisers said that given the slowing condo market, Rapid Park would continue to operate as a profitable parking lot.

Negotiations helped closed the gap so that the landowners wanted a total of $40 million and the county wanted to give them $19 million–$20 million.

"Nobody will ever know for sure what’s right," Solum said. "We can’t divine the future, so we’re guessing today about highest and best use. It’s all a very intangible concept that nobody can really be sure of."

Solum said he tried to persuade both sides that going to trial was too big a risk to take. The county could ring up a huge legal bill at trial, and the landowners could lose their right to have the county cover all court costs (the settlement currently includes the landowners’ legal fees).

Solum gave the parties a week to mull over his proposal, and on the day of the deadline, Solum was crossing his fingers and keeping a close eye on his Blackberry. A few hours short of the deadline, they agreed to take the settlement, and a Hennepin County judge worked late on Friday to finalize the deal.

Solum said he didn’t know much about the land dispute, aside from what he read in the paper, before taking on the case. He was acquainted with lawyers on both sides of the dispute, and they asked him to intercede.

Solum has a long history Downtown. He moved to The Towers on the riverfront in the late 1970s.

"It was the only residential building along 1st Street at that time," Solum said. People didn’t venture down to the riverfront much back then, he said.

When The Towers was converted to condominiums, Solum was the first president of the condo association. He lived Downtown until his first child came in 1981, and then moved to South Minneapolis near Lake Harriet. He and his wife moved back to the river in May, now that their boys are grown.

Solum said he is still getting accustomed to the Carlyle. Only a quarter of the building was occupied when he moved in, but occupancy has grown since then. The elevators are busier and the hallways are livelier, Solum said.

"Being Downtown near the river and walking to work is great," Solum said. "There are an awful lot of new residents here."

Solum’s label as "retired" seems to be stretching it a bit. He retired from Hennepin County District Court in 1998, and returned to the Dorsey & Whitney law firm where he had previously been a trial lawyer. He worked there until 2005, and then he started handling mediation and arbitration cases.

Solum’s high-profile cases include the contract buyout dispute between the University of Minnesota and basketball Coach Clem Haskins, which was mediated until 2 a.m., until the parties asked Solum to determine the settlement. The governor asked Solum to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that the head of the Department of Labor and Industry had not provided workers’ compensation insurance, and Solum also mediated the condemnation of the Pantages Theatre.

Solum serves on several Downtown-area boards including the Greater Minneapolis YMCA, the Citizens Council on Crime and Justice, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. He has also been active in a group opposed to The Wave, a condo development proposed on the riverbank in front of
RiverWest.

"It keeps you going," he said.

The extent of ballpark infrastructure that the county can afford will soon come into focus. The county has a $15 million contribution from the Minnesota Twins and about $4 million in contingency funding to help pay for the ballpark’s infrastructure, which includes trees and lighting.

Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or mbruch@mnpubs.com.