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With roads in mind, Magnus authors bill for casino complex at Block E

May 5, 2011
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

In an attempt to raise much-needed money for the state's ailing infrastructure, District 22 Sen. Doug Magnus on Wednesday said he's authoring a bill in support of future redevelopment in a downtown area of Minneapolis known as Block E.

Block E is the area near Target Center and Target Field, homes of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins, respectively. The end result would be a gambling and entertainment hub in downtown Minneapolis that the developers, Alatus LLC, say would draw tourists from across the Upper Midwest.

Alatus said the state would run the casino, which it says could create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in sales. It would be built without public funding and would require a minimum private investment of $200 million.

Magnus' reasoning behind stepping up as lead author of a bill that would directly affect the metro area is that he thinks it would generate a strong source of revenue that would be used for the state's roads and bridges which, he said, are reaching a desperate state.

"I would like to use the majority of the money we would get - projected to be about $125 million a year - to support statewide infrastructure," he said. "Our infrastructure - our roads and bridges, and other areas - are falling behind."

Magnus, R-Slayton, said for many roads around the state, patchwork repairs aren't cutting it any longer. He's learned in meetings with the Minnesota Department of Transportation that the state has gone almost exclusively to preservation of deteriorating roads and are falling behind on that effort.

"If you put an inch of tar on a road that's falling apart, that's not gonna work," he said.

Magnus, a Republican, said he supports Gov. Mark Dayton's "Better Roads for a Better Minnesota" initiative that will devote $398 million to roads in Minnesota. The Better Roads funding is in addition to the $980 million MnDOT has committed through June 30, 2014 (FY 2015) for improving pavements. The four-year program, aimed at improving existing highways determined to be in "poor" condition, will result in approximately 9,900 direct and indirect, private sector jobs across Minnesota, a news release from Dayton's office said.

"I agree with the governor - he came up with the idea to speed up about $400 million in infrastructure financing; the problem is, what do you do after that?" Magnus said. "If my plan would come though, this money would come in right when we need it. The Block E project will benefit Minneapolis and I needed to find a way to get the benefit of it across the state."

State performance measures show that about 750 miles of trunk highway in Minnesota are classified as "poor" condition. Without additional investment, the number of miles in "poor" condition is estimated to increase to 1,900 by the year 2020, Dayton's office said.

Magnus has similar concerns about roads in the state, noting that federal transportation funding has been delayed and stimulus funds have been spent.

"We've got to find a way to keep our infrastructure up, and I don't see much of an appetite here to increase the gas tax," Magnus said. "I'm trying to find some infrastructure money."

Magnus said while there has been some concerns expressed about how a new casino in Minneapolis would affect Mystic Lake Casino in Shakopee, he doesn't foresee it affecting business at outstate casinos.

The plan to redevelop the downtown area is likely to face some hurdles, however. The Republican-controlled Legislature is divided on expanding gaming and American Indian tribes currently hold exclusive rights to casino gambling in Minnesota.

Block E has been developed into a downtown entertainment center and parking ramp on the 600 block on the west side of Hennepin Avenue. The entertainment venue includes two levels of restaurant, retail, and entertainment tenants, once anchored by Sega GameWorks and Bellanotte, both of which have closed. It also houses the 21-story full-service Graves 601 Hotel with 256 rooms, the Cosmos restaurant, and a 15-screen cinema with 3,600 seats. A Hooters restaurant, Applebee's, Borders, and the club Escape Ultra Lounge have also closed their doors.



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