Sports center in Senate bonding bill

MARSHALL – Not only was Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes’ sports analogy concerning state funding for the regional amateur sports center appropriate Monday, it also underscores the city’s guarded optimism toward the project, even on the day another big step had been taken in the financing of the massive $12.9 million project.

Supporters of the regional amateur sports center in Marshall hit the trifecta Monday when the Minnesota Senate joined the House and Gov. Mark Dayton in recommending the state honor the city’s request for funding for the facility.

The Senate allocated $4.298 million for the building in its much-anticipated bonding bill. The sports center had already been given the green light in the House’s proposal and Gov. Mark Dayton’s capital investment recommendations.

“Yes it’s good news,” Byrnes said, “on the other hand, it’s like being on third base – there’s a good chance of scoring, but there’s also a chance of getting picked off.”

The total of the Senate bonding bill is $1.165 billion – $846 million in General Obligation bonds, plus an additional $200 million in one-time cash from the state’s budget surplus.

Funding for expansion at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training (MERIT) Center – including the addition of a driving track that supporters say could serve the entire region if not the state – was not included in the Senate’s proposal.

Republican votes in both the House and Senate will be needed by majority Democrats to meet a three-fifths passing threshold on the borrowing plan. The separate but connected cash bill requires only a simple majority.

The Senate also approved $13 million for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System that will bring water from the Missouri River to certain areas of southwest Minnesota; Dayton had authorized more than $20 million toward that project.

More than $298 million will go to the University of Minnesota and MnSCU systems, $40 million each to the local road improvement fund and the local bridge replacement program and $47.610 million to the Public Facilities Authority to fund clean water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

The city has tried multiple times to secure state bonding for the sports center but before this year had come up empty.

Already, the city is realizing revenue from voter-approved local sales taxes, but state funding would buy the cherry on top, or, in this case, important amenities like a second sheet of ice.

According to the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission website, the facility is planned to be 78,200 sq. ft. with two sheets of ice. There will be 1,200 seating in the main arena, 200 in the building housing the secondary sheet. The facility has the capacity for wrestling, basketball, and volleyball and also for special events including expos.

Marshall put three local sales taxes into effect in 2013: a one-half percent general sales tax, a 1.5 percent lodging tax and a 1.5 percent tax on prepared food and beverages. The taxes are meant to generate capital and operating revenue for the sports center, as well as expansion to the MERIT Center.

“It’s certainly good news that the regional amateur sports complex is included in the Senate and House bills; obviously there’s some difference between the House and Senate bills, and that will need to get reconciled in conference committee,” said Byrnes. “Whether or not there will be a supplemental bill that will use reserve funds for capital projects will also likely be negotiated.”

District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms said the sports center project had plenty of momentum coming into this year’s session, including community support through the voter-approved taxes and the backing of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, which had bumped it up to No. 1 on its to-do list. “This is the fourth year I’ve carried this bill, so it’s been through the process several times,” said Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. “Many times bonding doesn’t happen that first year or two, it takes several runs at it.”

As far as the MERIT Center, Byrnes said it’s not over until it’s over.

“If we don’t get it, we’ll proceed likely on a phased approach and be back again in two years for the request to complete the project,” he said.

“We’re going to keep pushing for the MERIT Center,” Dahms said.

The largest single item is $126 million to finish the Capitol renovation; the Senate’s plan would pay for that in cash. After the House and Senate approve their respective bills, a conference committee is likely to be needed to reconcile the approaches.