The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 13, 2012

Dayton defends decisions on bonding projects


Associated Press

— Gov. Mark Dayton handed state construction dollars to a minor-league St. Paul ballpark and projects in Duluth and Wadena on Thursday, passing over civic centers in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud after the Republican-controlled Legislature punted on choosing among the regional projects.

The $25 million for the St. Paul Saints ballpark makes it the second stadium the Democratic governor has launched in less than four months.

Back in May, Dayton signed legislation to build a $975 million Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. That's also when lawmakers approved a bonding bill with a $47.5 million pot for regional projects and authority for the Dayton administration to evaluate and pick winners. Local governments submitted 90 applications totaling $288 million, guaranteeing a list of disappointed losers.

Among them were Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who said it was "extremely disappointing" that a $25 million expansion of the Mayo Civic Center was left out.

"We were ready to go in a month or two," Brede said. "We could have had shovels in the ground."

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, also wasn't pleased. He defended the process used to pick the projects, but said he didn't like the way Dayton's administration ranked them.

Senjem, who heads the Senate bonding committee, said the Senate included the Mayo Civic Center in its original bonding proposal during the legislative session, but the project came out when it didn't make it into a smaller House version. Dayton included the project in his much larger bonding proposal.

"This program was our attempt to give these kind of projects a second chance," Senjem said of the civic centers, adding that it was "unimaginable" that the Saints ballpark was chosen over the Mayo Civic Center.

Dayton put the responsibility for the Rochester project's shutout on Senjem, saying as the Senate's top leader and head of the Capital Investment Committee, Senjem should have been able to get the project through the Legislature.

"Anyone in that position has the ability, if he's willing, to get a project in his own home city with the active support of the governor," Dayton said at a Capitol news conference.

Dayton said he chose "strictly by the book" based on rankings from the Department of Employment and Economic Development. But he diverted from the scores to give $2 million to a proposed light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, drawing praise from chambers of commerce in the southwestern suburbs. He also pared down final awards from requested amounts for all the winners, cutting $2 million from the Saints' $27 million request.

Duluth will get $8.5 million for an office building and parking ramp, Wadena $4.2 million to rebuild a wellness center destroyed by a tornado, and Litchfield $2.3 million to fund sewer lines for a cheese plant expansion.

Dayton's administration estimated all the funded projects together would put 2,000 people to work.

Saints owner and president Mike Veeck said he was "thrilled" and "so appreciative."

The $54 million Saints stadium will be built in the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul, near the end of a light-rail line that will run to Target Field, the Twins' home in Minneapolis. The ballpark is slated to open in 2015.

Veeck said the scrappy minor-league team will keep ticket prices affordable and maintain a goofy, fun-filled atmosphere.

"This is a ballpark for everybody that everybody can afford," he said. "I hope people go, 'Oh gosh, I can get into the bathroom now and I can get a hot dog in less than three innings.'"

Dayton said he viewed both the Saints and Vikings projects as boosts for the construction industry and revitalization for downtown areas. But the governor who served as chief cheerleader for the Vikings stadium wouldn't say whether he would be at the new Saints ballpark on opening day.

"This is not about sports. This is about the people of Minnesota and what's best for our state," Dayton said.

Other projects that made the cut:

—$1.9 million to build a recycling plant serving Redwood and Renville counties.

—$1.5 million for water and sewer lines to a business park in Lonsdale.

—$1.1 million to expand a wastewater treatment plant in Hector so a kosher and halal beef processor in Buffalo Lake can expand.

—$763,000 for a business incubator in Hutchinson.