Reporting Pat Kessler
ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a $775-million package of construction projects Tuesday, calling it a jobs bill that will create almost 22,000 new jobs.
It includes funding for the next leg of light rail in the western suburbs from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, money for civic center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud and millions of dollars for a new sports facility.
But it’s not the Vikings.
The St. Paul Saints want to move to the front of the line for a ballpark.
The century old team is ready to move out of its tiny home near the Fairgrounds at Midway Stadium, and into new digs, downtown.
For the last 20 years, the St. Paul Saints played in the worn out Midway park with portable toilets and lawnmower sheds for concession stands.
But now the team is making a pitch for a modern ballpark in downtown St. Paul.
“It was built for not a whole lot of money 30 years ago, on a dump, and we’ve used it, frankly, I think more than it was ever intended to be used,” said Tom Whaley, executive vice president of the St. Paul Saints. “We’ve gotten the most we can out of that building but it’s really getting to a point now where the building is not going to be usable any more.”
The Saints have been a Capital City fixture for most of the last 100 years, drawing large crowds and future major leaguers, like Roy Campenalla.
The crowds are still there, but it’s getting harder to accommodate them.
The Saints park costs around $50 million — $27 million from the state, and the rest from the team and the city.
Gov. Dayton is backing the downtown project, in part, because of what he learned from his family’s department stores.
“I learned from my fathers and my uncles, who were pretty successful job creators in Minnesota, the importance of focusing on downtowns and constantly pushing to revitalize them because otherwise you end up with a donut effect,” Dayton said.
If it’s approved, the Minnesota Twins would be on the Minneapolis west end of the light rail line, and the Saints on the St. Paul east end. Each filling a different niche.
“We think its a really good option where you can come out and for 20, 30, 40 bucks, bring your kid to a game, have good seats, have a hot dog, grab a beer,” Whaley said. “And you’re not going to break the bank.”
The governor got a lukewarm reception for much of this construction projects bill, which is called “the bonding bill.”
Republicans who control the House and Senate say the state should only borrow money for infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.