Sports, MERIT Center focus of council meeting

MARSHALL – The city of Marshall took a few more steps Wednesday toward starting construction of an amateur sports center and expansions at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training Center. Members of the Marshall City Council met in a special meeting concerning several items to do with the process.

Council members approved purchase agreements for land the sports center will be built on, conditional use permits for both the sports center and MERIT Center projects and resolutions of support for state bonding dollars for the projects. However, council member Glenn Bayerkohler voiced concerns that using state bonding money would give the projects a higher price tag than what was promised to voters.

First on the agenda Wednesday was an agreement to officially accept the donation of land from the Schwan Food Co. for construction of the amateur sports facility and overflow parking. Schwan had announced the gift of the land, located near Marshall High School, in February 2012. Council members unanimously approved the donation agreement but were more divided on whether to go ahead with another agreement – one that would buy an additional plot of land from Schwan for construction of softball diamonds.

Bayerkohler said he was concerned that buying and developing the land would mean additional costs on top of the sports center construction. Or, he asked, would building the fields mean less funding for the sports center facility? Council member Jennie Hulsizer also asked what new ball fields would mean for the existing city softball complex along Channel Parkway.

“There’s no rush to do anything with those fields,” said Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig. However, he said, the complex may slowly be phased out. Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage said the existing softball complex was considered outdated, and the city’s tournament affiliates have said they would not bring more tournaments to that complex.

Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes and council member John DeCramer added that the city already has an offer from a willing seller for the land. Council members voted 5-2 in favor of the agreement, with Bayerkohler and Hulsizer casting the votes against.

Bayerkohler also spoke out against two proposed resolutions offering support for additional state bonding dollars for the MERIT Center and amateur sports center. The city will be requesting a total of $6.8 million for the two projects in the next state bonding bill, he said.

“If they give us that money, what are we going to do?” Bayerkohler said. Would the money be spent as part of the projects’ estimated budgets, or in addition to them?

Bayerkohler said the brochures for last year’s local sales tax vote promised a $12.9 million cost for the sports center, and a $7 million cost for the MERIT Center expansions.

“I just want to make sure we’re straight on what we tell the voters, and what we tell the Legislature,” Bayerkohler said. “Promises made should be promises kept.”

Roger Madison, chairman of the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, said the initial budget estimates of $12.9 million for the sports center included $4 million in state bonding money.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of two resolutions, one supporting bonding money for the sports center, and one supporting bonding for the MERIT Center. Both times, Bayerkohler cast the dissenting vote.

At the close of the meeting, Madison said he wanted to recognize everyone who has helped support the sports center and MERIT Center projects.

“I want to thank the council members for the actions they’ve taken today,” Madison said. He also thanked the Schwan Food Co. for its support and gift of land and area legislators Gary Dahms and Chris Swedzinski for their support at the state Capitol.