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City Council clears way for law firm to devise State Farm plan

Woodbury City Council members moved ahead Wednesday with an effort to help occupy the vacant State Farm Insurance building.

The body, acting in its Economic Development Authority capacity, approved up to $50,000 in funding to hire a law firm to draw up a plan to map out a strategy for the property.

City officials said that action could include a legislative proposal. Whether that tract is sought won't be known until after the firm, Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson, begins researching available options.

City Community Development Director Dwight Picha said the law firm will "very soon" begin work on four phases, the first of which will be to gather background information on potential financing options.

He said the next step would be for Faegre & Benson to present plans to city officials and to meet with State Farm, the potential developer - Wellington Management - and potentially to draft legislation.

The third phase would mean assembling a legislative strategy and meeting with lawmakers, Picha said. If efforts are successful, the law firm would then lobby legislators in the final phase.

City Administrator Clint Gridley said the city has agreed to pay the firm according to phases, not hours, at a maximum of $50,000.

The firm's representation presents an apparently coincidental - but acceptable, city officials believe - connection: Picha said Faegre & Benson also represents Wellington in its real estate dealings with State Farm; Wellington last year placed a purchase option on the State Farm property and now plans to redevelop the site for mixed uses, including commercial retail and housing.

Picha said attorneys working for the city and those representing Wellington are in different departments and represent their respective clients without conflict.

City Attorney Mark Vierling said that creates a legal "firewall" where lawyers within the firm are prevented from sharing information on the State Farm matter.

See the Woodbury Bulletin's Feb. 2 print edition for more on this story.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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