Local projects have legs at Capitol

MARSHALL – Months before shovels will pierce the dirt on a pair of major economic development projects in Marshall – the regional amateur sports facility and expansion at the MERIT Center – supporters of both continue to work with local politicians and are taking advantage of opportunities to sell their projects at the Capitol.

Stan Brewers, MERIT Center Committee chairman, got a chance to speak with Gov. Mark Dayton’s policy adviser, and Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, recently. Swedzinski in the House and Dahms in the Senate are the authors of the bills involving the Marshall projects.

“We got to give them our spiel about the MERIT Center, and it went very well,” said Brewers, who testified in front of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee. “One of the things they told us was at this point nobody knows if there will be any bonding this year. But everything went really well for us.”

There is no certainty that there will be a bonding bill this year, but Dayton is set to release a $750 million bonding proposal next week that reportedly includes civic center expansions in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. Brewers is hopeful the Marshall projects will fit into that proposal somewhere but knows there are no guarantees.

The last bonding bill totaled $496 million.

A driving track at the MERIT Center – estimated to cost about $7 million – which could be used for a variety of training purposes, along with the sports complex, are both affected by a .5 percent general sales tax and a 1.5 percent food, beverage and lodging tax that passed on the Marshall ballot Nov. 6. The measures for the MERIT Center and sports complex passed by 60 and 62 percent, respectively. The two local sales taxes would help pay for capital and operating expenses for the track and all or part of the costs of the new facilities at the sports complex. The sales tax applies to retail sales in the city of Marshall and does not apply to sales of motor vehicles.

The .5 percent sales tax will go into effect April 1, the lodging tax on June 1, and the 1.5 percent food and beverage tax on July 1.

Brewers, who could be looked at as a crusader of sorts for having pushed for widespread expansion at the MERIT Center since 2005, said his seven-minute testimony included a logistical spin in that Marshall’s distance from other driving courses is currently working against the region’s common drivers and emergency personnel. He testified that courses similar to the one being built in Marshall are too far away to be used by people in this region and mentioned how cost effective it will be to have a training course in Marshall.

“What I try to do is tug on their heartstrings a little bit,” he said. “This would allow us to be able to run our young drivers through there; nobody else does that, and that will help them get actually hands-on training.

“The other part is the local sheriffs’ and fire departments – right now they don’t send them to the Twin Cities because it costs so much,” he added. “If they can send them here, they don’t have to practice in the parking lot at SMSU. They can do driving simulations. The closest ones to us are in Sioux City, Iowa, and St. Cloud. We would be able to do that, along with the 55-Alive (driving) program.”

The MERIT Center project already has secured $1 million in state funding.

Supporters of the $12.9 million, 80,000 square-foot sports complex have twice been denied $4 million financial requests from the state and also failed in September in an attempt to snatch up some money from the Department of Employment and Economic Development, which was put in charge of distributing $47.5 million to projects around the state. They’ve continued to remain optimistic, however, especially given that those requests came prior to the project securing local financial support. That optimism was buoyed in November when the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission moved the Marshall complex to the top of its bonding recommendation list for 2013.

“The bonding money is very important to our projects,” Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said. “We will complete the projects without it; there are always compromises and challenges, but we are confident we’ll be able to move forward with both with the understanding there might need to be concessions made depending on whether state funding comes through or not.”

Martig, along with Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes and Minnesota Amateur Sports Commissioner Paul Erickson, traveled to the Capitol on Thursday and made their pitch to Dayton staff and the House Capital Investment Committee.

“It went very well,” Martig said. “This is by far the best we’ve been positioned with the sports center. We are the number one priority of the state sports commission and most of the discussion in the committee focused on our projects.”

Marshall City Council members voted last month to approve the Bossardt Corporation of Bloomington as construction manager for the two projects, pending a review of the contract.