ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Promoters of civic center expansions, a light-rail line, a minor-league ballpark and other local facilities are vying for a piece of a $47.5 million business development fund created by lawmakers who left those projects out of this year’s state construction package.
The fund has become the only way to get state dollars for projects that otherwise would have to get in line again when next year’s Legislature convenes.
Officials at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development were set to sift through about 90 proposals that came in by the deadline on Monday — far more requests than there is money to go around. The list includes a $27 million pitch to build a new St. Paul Saints ballpark in downtown St. Paul, a $25 million proposal to expand the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester and a request for up to $14 million to help develop a light-rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.
Local projects have become an increasingly difficult sell at the Capitol, as Republicans have balked at paying for anything that could be seen as an earmark. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, blocked several civic center expansions in state bonding bills. In the past two years, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has tried without success to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to support the local projects. This year’s compromise was to create the fund and let state bureaucrats dole out the dollars.
Each applicant is now trying to persuade state officials that their project would be the best use of limited resources.
“I can’t imagine that any of them are going to have the same statewide impact,” said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who delivered the Mayo Civic Center proposal in person last Friday.
Brede said the expansion, if funded, would allow the civic center to attract national and international medical specialty conferences that otherwise would meet in other states or countries. Construction could begin immediately. If the project is delayed again, he said changes in construction codes could mean that the expansion plans would have to be redone, potentially adding $10 million to the overall cost.
“We realize that the competition will be pretty intense and we’re asking for more than half of the money that’s available,” Brede said.
The business community in the southwestern Twin Cities is lining up behind the Metropolitan Council’s attempt to win money for the $1.25 billion Southwest light rail line linking Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis. The application seeks up to $14 million from the state fund to cover engineering costs through mid-2014, arguing it would go toward a $125 million state share expected to draw $1.125 billion in federal and local money.
“As far as we know, this is the highest return on investment of any project available for state bonding,” said Bruce Nustad, president of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.
The proposed $54 million St. Paul Saints ballpark in downtown St. Paul also is in the mix. City backers said the facility would draw fans of both minor-league baseball and amateur games to an underused part of the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul, while opening up development possibilities in an industrial area around Midway Stadium, the team’s current home.
“It’s a regional facility that will serve the needs of athletes throughout the state of Minnesota, and it will generate a huge economic impact for the city,” said Joe Campbell, a spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
The number of applications by the deadline wasn’t exact because some may be duplicates, DEED spokesman Monte Hanson said. He said the agency got about 30 applications on Monday, more than expected. The agency hoped to post the full list of applicants Tuesday.
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