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ST. PAUL, MN-The city has agreed to buy one of the key blocks Downtown in order to clear the way for new development that could include a hotel and — reportedly — a headquarters building for Minnesota Public Radio, the largest local public radio station in the country.

The city would pay $2.55 million for the old Wabasha Court building and its site at Sixth and Wabasha streets. The 54,000-sf building has been largely vacant over the last several years, and will likely be torn down to make way for new development. The owners of the site, Sherman Rutzick and Rollie Stinski, havesigned a non-binding letter of intent to sell it.

“We are moving forward with deliberate speed,” says Brian Sweeney, the city’s director of planning and economic development.

Sweeney calls it one of the more blighted properties near the Central Business District – and one deserving of attention. That section of Wabasha Street is near the Dayton’s (soon to be called Marshall Field’s) department store and Lawson Commons, home to Lawson Software. If the agreement does not produce a sale, city officials say they may pursue the site through condemnation proceedings.

Although Minnesota Public Radio, which has outgrown its building in Downtown, has confirmed it is looking at moving, officials there decline to talk about specific sites.

Meanwhile, among the hotel chains interested in the block is Courtyard by Marriott. Housing developers are also looking at the site.

The city also is interested in acquiring the Grace Building, which occupies the other half of the block between Sixth Street and Seventh Place. Sweeney says negotiations continue with the Geller family, owners of that building and the Victory Ramp. The city would demolish both buildings to make way for new development.

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