Big win for sports center

MARSHALL – The end-of-session clock ticking loudly in the background, the Minnesota Senate on Friday passed a construction bill that includes $846 million in General Obligation bonds, plus an additional $200 million in one-time cash from the state’s budget surplus for further investments in infrastructure projects across the state. The bill includes $4.298 million for Marshall’s regional amateur sports complex.

The bonding bill vote was 47-17, which exceeded the required three-fifths majority.

A separate $200 million cash package for public infrastructure projects passed 44-19.

The House passed both measures earlier Friday morning.

The bill also dedicates $22 million for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, which has lacked the federal support needed to complete the project.

The $4 million for the sports complex has been long-sought by city leaders who have waited years for state bonding support. Not having the state in its corner would’ve meant a scaled-back version of the project. For example, without state support, the facility would have one sheet of ice instead of the two project backers planned for.

Paul Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, said it’s not uncommon for projects to have to go to the well time and time again to secure state bonding dollars.

“The speedskating facility in Roseville took eight legislative sessions, the national volleyball center in Rochester took four,” he said. “It’s really an accelerated schedule if you get your funding on your second try. The people in Marshall put together a quality proposal, which made it much easier for our agency to sell it.”

Revenue from voter-approved local sales taxes has been coming in since last year. Marshall put three voter-approved 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, which was not granted its $2.5 million request this year but does have $1 million in state money in the bank that will be used to get the project started.

Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission co-chairman Roger Madison said inclusion in this year’s bonding bill is a culmination of a six-year process that started with a strong partnership with the MASC.

“You just can’t overlook that partnership we developed a long time ago,” he said. “Most of what gets done in the world is through relationships. A lot of credit goes to Harry Weilage for continuing to grow that relationship, along with the people at the Schwan Food Company who originally set up that relationship. And we’ve had a lot of volunteers who have done the work over the last six years to get to where we’re at.”

Madison also credited District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski for their support in St. Paul.

“They stood beside us through this and took some political risk,” Madison said. “It didn’t pass last year, but they were on our team, and that’s a huge reason why it’s in the bill this year.”

According to the SMASC website, the sports complex 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.

Legislators have cited community support through the voter-approved taxes and the backing of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission as key reasons why the sports complex project made the House, Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton’s list of recommendations for bonding this year.

“Our agency made the case to the governor and Legislature for regionalism – that not all investments should be in Minneapolis or St. Paul, that each region should play a role in sports tourism,” Erickson said. “I think that argument has been successful.”

The largest single item in the bill is $126 million to complete Capitol renovation. The smallest: $78,000 for work on a historic bridge in Hanover.

Other highlights of the bill:

$240 million in higher education projects for the University of Minnesota and MnSCU

More than $100 million for roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure

$100 million for housing

$22 million for Lewis & Clark Regional Water System

The Associated Press contributed to this article.