MARSHALL - The pie that is the $47.5 million economic development fund - a windfall given by the Legislature to the Department of Employment and Economic Development to spread out among proposed projects in numerous Minnesota cities - has been sliced into its first pieces, and proponents of a proposed regional amateur sports facility in Marshall got pretty much what they expected.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development trimmed the list of projects vying for state funding to a chosen few this week. Marshall, which requested funding for a proposed $12.9 million regional amateur sports complex and MERIT Center expansion, had plenty of competition as 90 groups submitted applications with an overall total exceeding $288 million. That competition apparently was too much to overcome, as Marshall was one of 53 projects removed from the list of requests after an initial screening.
DEED considered a number of criteria when going over applications, such as job creation and retention and how a project will affect the local tax base.
Roger Madison, co-chairman of the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, said the group didn't enter this phase of the process with particularly high hopes, fully aware of the myriad requests that came in from all corners of the state. And he pointed out Tuesday that in no way does Marshall not making the list kill the project.
"We put the project into the mix, but it came out the way we expected," Madison said. "This process remains a political process and it reinforces that what we need to do is determine our own future. We're not going to lean on a process that favors other parts of the state, which is the way it has turned out the last number of years. We need to do these things on our own in order to have long-term success."
The city of Marshall had requested $4 million in bonding dollars for the proposed sports complex and $2.5 million for MERIT center expansion. The scaled-back $496 million bonding bill signed this year by Gov. Mark Dayton left both off the list.
DEED's list is nothing more than a recommendation, and Dayton is expected to make final decisions later this week.
Regardless of what happens at the state level in terms of funding, the fate of the local projects rests more on the November election when Marshall residents will vote on local sales taxes that would go toward the proposed sports facility and MERIT center expansion. The taxes would help pay for the construction and operating expenses of the sports center, as well as a driving track at the MERIT Center.
Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig was told by a DEED official that Marshall basically got left out because it lacked a formal funding commitment for its projects. Otherwise, Martig felt Marshall stacked up well with other cities that made the cut. He said he received the same kind of feedback from legislators during session.
"When I submitted the application, I knew that was our one weakness," he said. "I was cautiously optimistic, but that was cause for concern. I think we would've fared very well with the other projects if we had that vote behind us."
Martig is confident that if the local sales tax option is approved by the voters in November that Marshall will be rewarded with bonding dollars from the Legislature in the future, as both projects have made multiple rounds at the Capitol.
"Certainly it would've been nice to go into the vote and design work knowing we have some grant money behind us, but on the other hand grant funds are extremely competitive," he said. "It's disappointing, but it's a long road. This is not a setback that's going to kill the project; it's just another challenge we have to work with."
Stan Brewers, MERIT Center board chairman, expressed disappointment Tuesday that the training facility was left off the list.
"Of all the projects ours should've got a high ranking because ours is not just a public safety facility, it's also an industrial training facility," he said. "It has as much to do with industrial training as it does with emergency management."
The MERIT Center, which has served various personnel from all over the state, is currently sitting on $1 million it received from the state in 2010, and Brewers said the November vote is crucial for the facility in meeting its expansion goals.
"If the vote doesn't go through, the question is, 'What do we do with that $1 million?'" he said. "And knowing we have that vote sitting there, the Legislature is much more inclined to give us money in the future."
The city of Cottonwood's $600,000 request for a fire hall/ambulance garage also didn't make the list of finalists. A $2.256 million Redwood/Renville Solid Waste request for a material recovery facility ranked fourth out of 13 southern Minnesota proposals, scoring 85 out of a possible 100 points, and a $585,000 request from the city of Canby for soil correction and utility and street improvements ranked 13th, scoring 27 points.
In all, 37 projects made the list of finalists. St. Paul's request of $27 million for a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints ranked first among 12 metro-area projects. The largest project to make the list from the southern section of the state was Litchfield's $2.5 million wastewater infrastructure project.