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Billion-dollar question

PINE ISLAND — It was 3 p.m. and Abraham Algadi was getting nervous.

The Pine Island city administrator had just checked with the city's bank, only to learn to his consternation that a $1.1 million transfer promised by Tower Investments, the developer behind a 2,300-acre bioscience park in Pine Island, had yet to arrive.

Beginning to panic, Algadi began working the phones and eventually reached Tower senior vice president Alex Marks by cell phone on a golf course.

"I got a dilemma," Algadi recalled telling Marks in a conversation that took place in early 2008.

The city was set to award a contract for infrastructure development at Elk Run at a council meeting that night, Algadi told Marks. But he would be unable to move forward with the project unless the city had the money in the bank. Expressing dismay at the delay, Marks promised to get back with Algadi. Within minutes, a Tower financial officer was on the line, taking down Algadi's wiring instructions. By 9 a.m. the next day, the money was in the bank.


Algadi related the story of this drama recently to illustrate a point: Towers' commitment to an economic development project that has inspired breathless comparisons to some of the top bioscience parks in the United States.

"They understood the urgency and the fact that they wanted to keep their word," Algadi said.

Now that proposed development is entering a new, critical phase with Tower and bioscience venture capitalist G. Steven Burrill facing another show-me-the-money moment.

Call it the billion-dollar question.

Meeting benchmarks

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say they are poised to begin construction on a $35 million interchange at County Road 12 as early as this spring, a linchpin seen as integral to opening up access to the development area.

But as part of that arrangement, MnDOT officials say that before they can proceed with the interchange, they need proof that Tower and the city are meeting benchmarks that Elk Run is indeed progressing toward the job-creating goals that have been promised. One agreed-upon milestone is that ground-breaking begin this spring on a 40,000-square-foot building.

The other is some proof of the existence of $1 billion capital fund that Burrill has pledged to pour into the development. So far, they haven't seen that proof.


"I cannot say that the billion-dollar fund exists," said Khani Sahebjam, MnDOT deputy commissioner and chief engineer. "The commitment by Tower Development is there to do this project, but I don't know if there's a billion dollars in place."

The money's there

Sahebjam said he was ready to take the next "small step" in preparing for the interchange's construction. Such a step could include "short-listing" or narrowing the number of eligible construction firms or designing, but "that doesn't mean construction is going to start."

"It is a baby step," Sahebjam said.

On Friday, Burrill said there was an "in excess of a billion" dollars in Burrill capital funds, suggesting that there was no lack of funding available for the Elk Run, even though it would come from his own financial resources.

"This project is not contingent on raising a billion-dollar fund," Burrill said. "It's a nice-to-have. It's not a have-to-have. We've got capital in Burrill and the appetite to do things."

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