Town's loss of restaurant via eminent domain is neighboring city's gain

money-down-drain.jpgAlthough Minnesota passed eminent domain reform legislation in 2006, several projects that were already in progress were grandfathered into the law, making it possible for eminent domain to be used in those redevelopment projects. One of those projects is in Eagan, a suburb of St. Paul.

Last month, a Dakota County district judge ruled that Eagan would be able to use eminent domain for its Cedar Grove redevelopment. The ruling mean that five businesses in the city American Accounts, Competition Engines, Larson’s Auto, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, and U-Haul would be forced to sell to the city.

Since the ruling, Eagan has deposited money for the businesses relocation even though the city has not received the estimated values for the properties from court-ordered appraisers. Nevertheless, most of the businesses don’t want the city’s money. Lawyers for three of the businesses went back to court to object to the city’s deposit.

Jamal Ansari, the owner of Mediterranean Cruise Cafe has had it with Eagan officials–he’s moving out of the city and taking his popular business with him despite city officials’ supposed appreciation for his business:

“We do value his restaurant and have always considered him an asset,” said Tom Hedges, Eagan city administrator, adding that Eagan’s economic development director has spent a “tremendous amount of time” trying to relocate Ansari’s cafe. “We hope that he’ll stay,” Hedges said.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Ansari, who opened his restaurant 28 years ago after emigrating from Jerusalem.

“If we don’t feel welcome, why stay?” Ansari said in an interview at his cafe, acclaimed not only for ethnic cuisine but also as the metro’s biggest venue for belly-dancers.

In fact, the mayor of neighboring Burnsville invited Ansari to set up shop next to that city’s new performing arts center. The plan for the restaurant calls for a larger space and the possibility for twice as many employees.

The contrast between officials’ words and their actions is pretty stark: We love your business so much, we condemned it. I guess they were jealous.

It should be kept in mind, of course, that Eagan officials hope to increase its tax base and jobs with its new redevelopment. They just lost a popular restaurant with 35 employees. Meanwhile, Burnsville just got a popular restaurant whose latest incarnation will no doubt increase the tax base and add jobs. I guess things haven’t quite work out as planned.