The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 10, 2012

Mankato civic center expansion gets unfavorable DEED ranking

MANKATO — Boosters of Mankato’s oft-sought and oft-rejected civic center expansion are headed for disappointment once again unless Gov. Mark Dayton decides to overrule the scoring system of his state economic development agency.

The civic center project’s request for a $14.5 million slice of a $47.5 million state funding pie was deemed the 17th most worthy application, tied with proposed street improvements in Winona. The state received 90 applications in all for the capital project grants made available by the Legislature as an alternative to earmarking the money legislatively.

While 17th out of 90 might sound like a relatively strong showing, the 16 projects scoring higher than Mankato have cumulative requests of just under $100 million — more than double the available funding. The top six scorers total more than $45 million in requested funding, nearly matching the total pool.

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges called the scoring system “arbitrary” and said he was baffled by the local project’s comparatively low score for “project readiness” and its ranking beneath similar civic center projects in St. Cloud and Rochester.

The expansion of the Verizon Wireless Center has been a priority of the Mankato City Council, local lawmakers, Minnesota State University hockey boosters and many business leaders but has repeatedly failed to win funding through the traditional legislative bonding process. Some years it was left out of the bonding bill approved by the Legislature. Other years it was vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, even while other civic centers in Minnesota received millions of dollars.

This year, lawmakers punted the chore of picking winners and losers to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, setting up the $47.5 million pool and assigning DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips to divvy up the money.

It was clear from the beginning there would be many more losers than winners as the 90 applicants asked for a combined $288.4 million — six dollars in requests for every dollar available.

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