The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 6, 2014

Our View: Chances good for Mankato civic center

Why it matters: For several years Mankato has sought state funding for a well-supported civic center expansion. Finally, it seems poised to happen.

The eighth time may be the charm.

After many years of seeking state funding for a Mankato civic center expansion and renovation, the project is poised to be approved by the Legislature and governor.

Given the history of the project it’s understandable if Mankato boosters aren’t ready to celebrate just yet.

The House earlier included the Mankato project — as well as needed projects at the Minnesota Security Hospital, South Central College and Minnesota State University — in its bonding bill.

On Monday morning local officials got the news they wanted to hear as a Senate committee announced all of the Mankato area projects were in its bonding bill as well.

In past sessions the Mankato civic center was either cut by one of the chambers or it was excised from the final bill by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports the local funding.

Still, there are plenty of dangers ahead before a state borrowing bill, including the local projects, is approved by the Legislature. The Senate’s $1.16 billion construction projects include using $200 million in cash. The House bill is slightly smaller at $975 million and uses $125 million in cash. The DFL majority in the two chambers will need to rectify those differences.

And many Republicans are wary of the price tag and of using that much cash. The GOP will have some leverage on crafting the final bill as a bonding bill needs some Republican votes in order to pass.

Overall, both the House and Senate bills strike a good balance between spending to maintain and construct state buildings, improving failing roads and bridges and civic center upgrades in regional hubs. The Senate bill also includes a major infusion of $80 million in low-income housing construction.

Even though some negotiating will be taking place, the Mankato civic center’s chances are improved by the fact that Rochester, St. Cloud and Duluth have civic center projects in the bills. Lawmakers seem to understand the value of the projects as economic development drivers for regional hubs.

Often-burned Mankato officials know it’s too early to break out the champagne, but stocking up a few bottles may be in order.

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