MARSHALL - The proposed regional amateur sports complex in Marshall has had the funding door shut in its face more than once but supporters could find some help through a special grant program through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.
But the competition for regular bonding dollars will be nothing compared to the fight for a piece of the $47.5 million pie - money set aside in the bonding bill for special projects throughout the state.
The city of Marshall wasn't the only city shot down in this year's omnibus bonding bill. St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato and St. Paul were also left on the outside looking in for money to move ahead with their respective projects. Groups from cities looking for funding in DEED's matching grant program will enter a competitive bid process for the money.
"When you're up against Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud, the Twin Cities region on being able to have comparable economic development numbers to be stimulated, we might have a harder time to compete," Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said. "There has been some indication some agreements are already in place; I hope that's not the case.
"I believe our projects can be competitive," he added. "It's definitely important to this part of the state, which continually sees a lack of investment from the state compared to other areas."
Marshall was once again looking for $4 million in bonding for its $12.9 million amateur sports facility. The MERIT training center made its own bonding pitch to the Legislature this year, asking for $2.5 million for expansion, including the construction of a 2 1/2-mile driving course.
The Legislature approved $300,000 in bonding for the MERIT Center in 2008 and $1 million of a $2.14 million request in 2010. That same year the MERIT Center received a $100,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation for an ethanol prop.
Stan Brewers, board chairman of the MERIT Center, said he hadn't heard about the DEED option until Friday and said "if there's a chance we can apply for any of that, trust me, I will push to have that done. We will be putting our hat in for that money - the full $2.5 million. Sen. (Gary) Dahms felt both our projects fit in very well with the criteria needed.
"It's exciting news," he added. "Never say never."
Martig said the Marshall projects fit in with the overall criteria for gaining funding, namely economic development and job creation.
"Southwest Minnesota didn't have much in the capital bonding bill, which was supposed to be a jobs creation bill, and I think these projects provide that economic development to Lyon County and southwest Minnesota," he said.
"I certainly think these facilities will create jobs, no question about that," District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said. "Part of it, too, is the services these projects would provide, especially the MERIT Center."
Dahms doesn't see a situation arising where just one or two projects will get all the spoils from the DEED program; he also said the fact that Marshall's requests are comparatively lower than those from other cities bodes well for the city.
"I consider $4 million a reasonable request versus some that came in much higher," he said.
Getting assistance from the state is just half the financial battle project organizers of both projects face. They're also looking locally for financial help that would come from sales taxes. Residents of Marshall will vote in November on an increase in local sales taxes to help pay for the projects. The two proposed local sales taxes are a .5 percent general sales tax and a 1.5 percent "hospitality tax" on food and lodgings which would pay for the construction and operation of the sports complex.
The campaign to educate the public and city leaders and get supporters on board will continue next week with representatives from both projects hosting a meeting from 5-6:30 p.m. Monday at the Recreation/Athletics Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"It's basically our kick-off to the campaign," Brewers said. "We want to get people aware of everything that's going on throughout the summer through newsletters, email, Facebook, whatever technology will allow us to do. We want to get as many volunteers as we can - maybe 100 people on board to start the whole thing. That would be awesome."