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Senate leaves sports complex off projects list

March 28, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - The Minnesota Senate on Wednesday delivered a third strike to Marshall's proposed $12.9 million regional amateur sport complex, leaving the project off its bonding proposal and sending sports facility supporters back to the bench.

A full Senate vote could come Friday on the Senate Capital Investment Committee's $496 million building- and infrastructure-heavy list.

Senate Capital Investment Committee member Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said the committee wanted to stay in the $5 million range when outlining its proposal.

"The sports project didn't make it in the governor's bill, or the House bill, and when that happened it was really gonna be a challenge to overcome," Magnus said. "We were in that 2.7 billion (dollar) range in requests - that's a huge amount of requests and projects."

The Senate proposal is much less than Gov. Mark Dayton's capital budget recommendations of $775 million but more than the House version of $280 million, with another $221 million spread over multiple years for Capitol renovations. The Senate alternative puts a much heavier emphasis on individual projects, including $179 million for colleges and universities and $125 million for state asset preservation. The Senate's proposal for the Capitol is much smaller compared to the House's at $25 million.

"It looks like the Senate focused on things that are just not in this category to fund this time around," said Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission co-chairman Roger Madison. "They really didn't look at a lot of projects in the outstate. There were a lot of projects like ours that didn't have the (local funding) vote in place to make sure it happened."

Fact Box

MERIT Center fails to make bonding list

By Deb Gau

MARSHALL - A request for funding for the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training Center in Marshall fared no better than the proposed regional sports complex in the Minnesota Senate's proposed bonding bill, MERIT Center Board Chairman Stan Brewers said. A request for $2.5 million to help expand the MERIT Center and build a driving track was not included in the bonding proposal released Wednesday.

Brewers said from the time he saw the Minnesota House's proposed bonding bill didn't include the MERIT Center's request, "I knew our chances were pretty slim. There are a lot of good projects out there."

But while it may be a setback, Brewers said the Legislature's decision will not keep the expansion project from moving forward.

The Legislature approved $1 million in bonding money for the MERIT Center in 2010, and the Center has received grant funding as well. The Center has finished construction of a new wind tower training prop, and the land to build a driving track has already been acquired, Brewers said. He said he's remaining optimistic that the state could still award at least part of MERIT's request in its final bonding bill.

"Until the gavel falls, it's not over," he said. "Even if we get a little bit of funding, it's better than nothing."

The driving track would be an addition to the MERIT Center that could be used for a number of training purposes, from law enforcement and emergency response training to driver's license testing, supporters say.

There will be another major milestone ahead for the MERIT Center project, Brewers said. The November vote on a Marshall city sales tax will be "extremely important for our project," as well as for the proposed sports center, he said. The local taxes would help provide funds for the project without placing the tax burden solely on Marshall property owners.

Brewers said a public information campaign on the MERIT Center expansion would be forthcoming before November.

"We really wanted to see what the Legislature was going to do first," he said.

An open house for the MERIT Center is planned for May 26.

The Senate also is putting more emphasis on individual projects, including $179 million for colleges and universities and $125 million for state asset preservation. The $179 million for colleges and universities represents the largest slice of the Senate's bonding pie at 36 percent of the total. The Senate proposal also includes $30.5 million for flood mitigation projects, $35 million for local road and bridge repairs and $20 million for wastewater infrastructure projects.

Like the Senate version, neither Dayton's bill, nor the House's, include any bonding dollars for the proposed sports facility in Marshall or expansion of the city's MERIT training center. The Southwest Minnesota Regional Amateur Sports Commission was seeking $4 million for the sports complex; $2.5 million has been requested for the MERIT Center. The $4 million is same amount the SMASC was denied in 2008. Dayton's and the Senate's capital budget recommendations include $375,000 to the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, the umbrella group for the state's seven regional amateur sports centers.

The Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission was created in 1987 by the Minnesota State Legislature to promote the economic and social benefits of sports, and Marshall's project eventually worked its way to the top of the MASC's priority list.

Neither Magnus, nor Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, would say if the lack of local funding was detrimental to the success of the sports complex project.

"I wasn't sure before how much influence that would play into it," Dahms said. "We'll continue to move this forward. We'll have a bonding cycle again and by then the city will have had the opportunity to put it in front of the citizens of Marshall for their vote, and we'll go from there."

Marshall residents will vote in November on a .5 percent local sales tax to help cover capital construction costs for both the sports facility and MERIT Center expansion and a 1.5 percent "hospitality tax" on sales of prepared food, beverages and lodging to offset operating costs of the sports center.

"I'm still optimistic about our vote and being able to pull it off," Madison said. "This doesn't create an issue for me. No question, if we would've received funding it would've made it that much easier."

"It's a good project," Dahms said. "I felt that we had as good a shot as anyone. I'm disappointed we didn't get some help here, but when you look around at where the money went, there was just not a lot for local projects."

Dahms said he'll continue to work on the project in the future if reelected and that the project could be introduced again in 2013, even though it is not a bonding year.

"We want to have a bill ready and on the table if we do bond next year,"?he said. "If not, we'll carry it over to the actual bonding year."

The Senate proposal, like Dayton's, includes $500,000 for science lab renovations at Southwest Minnesota State University, while the House version did not. The House bill includes just $56.5 million for state college and university projects, while Dayton has proposed $111.9 million in that area.

With the next bonding cycle most likely coming in 2014, Magnus said backers of the sports complex in Marshall shouldn't give up on the project despite being turned away from funding for the second time in five years.

"I would tell the Marshall people not to lose hope," he said. "Many times it takes several years to get projects done here, it's just the nature of the way things go. People here need to see them, need to know they're out there. Don't be discouraged is my advice. It's tough, but there's a lot of competition for these funds. You have to keep your foot in the door."

In the House on Wednesday, a bill appropriating $3 million from the bond proceeds fund to the Public Facilities Authority for a grant to the city of Tracy for improvements to the city's wastewater collection system and the construction of a new wastewater treatment system was introduced by Reps. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne.



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