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Minneapolis wants to swap a downtown parking ramp for a new city office building, joining the rapid redevelopment of Downtown East.

The City Council this month approved a $500,000 contract with design firm Perkins+Will to determine how to consolidate the city’s scattered downtown employees into a new building near City Hall. That would replace the city-owned Government Center parking ramp, which stands on 5th Street, across from the Armory.

About half the city’s 1,472 downtown employees now work outside of City Hall in a variety of city-owned or leased spaces. Yet the largest of those properties, the 1957 Public Service Center behind City Hall, hasn’t had major renovations in years following a 1999 City Council directive.

“The work conditions are pretty horrendous for a lot of people there,” said Mark Ruff, the city’s chief financial officer.

In addition to updating aging spaces, Ruff said the new building will allow employees to work closer together in a more modern setting. That’s particularly important as the city attracts talent to replace retiring employees, he said.

The city previously hired a consultant to analyze real estate options. That study found that the public safety operations should be moved out of City Hall, and that renovating the city’s existing buildings — while possible — would require years of staff relocations. It also examined the viability of leasing or buying other buildings downtown.

A committee reviewing the options chose the parking ramp site in part because it would allow for city ownership, design and potential branding of the building, as well as being skyway connected and welcoming to the public. Among the downsides is the likely drop in parking revenue, profits that nearly reached $1.6 million at that ramp in 2013.

The price tag of the new building still hasn’t been determined, and some costs may be defrayed by the sale and redevelopment of the city’s two existing office buildings — the Public Service Center and City of Lakes building. Ruff said he anticipates the city will seek an architecture firm to design the building in spring 2017.

In the meantime, Perkins+Will will design the building’s inner structure and evaluate moving downtown’s fire station there.

“Think about it like Legos,” Ruff said. “They’re doing the inside Legos, stacking the different kind of Legos that relate to the different departments and how many people they’re going to have there.”

The Government Center parking ramp, built in 1974, has 1,300 stalls and is among the more profitable in the city’s portfolio. Most of the stalls won’t be replaced in the new building.

“Right now it’s not anticipated that there’s going to be a huge number of paid parking stalls on that site,” Ruff said.

If the project moves forward, demolition of the ramp wouldn’t occur until after the 2018 Super Bowl. Staff could move into the new building as soon as 2020.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper