The city of Minneapolis recently lost a long-serving project manager and behind-the-scenes dealmaker. Chuck Lutz, deputy director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department, retired in mid-July after 43 years with the city.
Commercial real estate developers and pros knew Lutz as the guy who crunched numbers and hammered out details of a deal behind the scenes. Someone else could hold the press conference or cut the ribbon.
Lutz never wanted the top job at the agency, previously known as the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA). But he was tapped several times as the agency’s interim leader.
“I’ve been interim director four times,” Lutz told Twin Cities Business. “Various mayors asked me if I wanted the job. I always said no.”
Lutz started with the city as an intern with the city’s Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) department in the summer of 1976. He first joined the MCDA in 1986 and spent five years with the agency before moving to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority in 1991. He rejoined the MCDA in the summer of 2000 and was named deputy director in 2002. The MCDA became CPED in 2003 as part of an agency reorganization
Over the years, Lutz worked on many of the biggest deals in town.
“I did the original Target Center deal back in the late ‘80s,” said Lutz. “It basically was a TIF [tax increment financing] deal.”
Beyond the TIF subsidy, Target Center was privately built. But the city bought the arena in 1995 as part of a deal to bail out the struggling owners.
“I was involved in the first incarnation of Block E that never got off the ground,” said Lutz in reference to a redevelopment plan by Calhoun Square developer Ray Harris. “No one could figure out what to do with the Shubert Theater.”
The block had been cleared except for the vintage Shubert, which dated to 1910. The city ultimately spent nearly $5 million to move it one block north in 1999 where it eventually became The Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts. Lutz was not involved with the city’s purchase of Target Center or the relocation of the Shubert because he was at the Public Housing Authority for the bulk of the ‘90s.
But over the years, one project stands out.
“The most complex project I ever worked on was the Downtown East development by far, just because of the sheer number of people involved,” said Lutz.
For the Downtown East project Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. US Inc. acquired five blocks of land from the Star Tribune for a redevelopment anchored by two office buildings for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Co. The project also included a hotel, apartments, new green space for downtown Minneapolis and a parking ramp to serve both the office buildings and the adjacent US Bank Stadium. At the end of the day, total project costs for Downtown East topped $500 million.
“In the case of Downtown East our major role was to do financing for a parking ramp,” said Lutz.
The Economic Development & Regulatory Services Committee of the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution honoring Lutz for his service on Tuesday. Former Mayor R.T. Rybak, former council president Barb Johnson, and current Mayor Jacob Frey were all on hand for the passage of the resolution.
“I first met R.T. Rybak when he was a reporter,” said Lutz recalling Rybak’s days with the Star Tribune. “He was covering development.”
The resolution noted: “Chuck Lutz is the first and only Deputy Director the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development has ever had. In this role, he has managed complex, transformative, highly visible, and sometimes controversial development projects for the City.”
Lutz always had a mind for the details. Over the years, he recalled working under nine different MCDA/CPED directors, seven mayors and 57 council members. But Lutz isn’t completely retired. He has a contract with the city to continue to work on select projects.
Current CPED director David Frank praised Lutz for his determination and attention to detail.
“Chuck has an amazing history and an amazing memory for that history,” said Frank.
Frank said that under his new contract Lutz will continue some projects that he was already working on but will also be “working on specific projects as requested.”
Frank recalled a comment made on Tuesday during the ceremony for the passage of the resolution honoring Lutz: “If there’s a big and visible and probably controversial project and you’re not sure who’s working on it, the answer is Chuck Lutz.”