Duluth faces stiff competition for public works moneyST. PAUL — More Minnesota communities will be disappointed than happy as state officials look to divide $47.5 million for public works projects.
By: Don Davis, Forum Communications
ST. PAUL — More Minnesota communities will be disappointed than happy as state officials look to divide $47.5 million for public works projects.
Duluth alone is seeking projects that would eat up about a third of the state grant program set up by the Legislature this session. The city requested $10 million for a parking ramp at the base of a proposed 15-story downtown office building and nearly $6 million for renovation of Wade Stadium in West Duluth.
The three biggest project requests are $27 million for a minor league baseball park in St. Paul, $25 million for a Rochester civic center addition and $25 million for redesigning the downtown Minneapolis mall. Any two of them would exceed the money available.
In all, the Department of Employment and Economic Development received 90 requests worth $288.4 million — more than six times the amount of money legislators gave for projects.
The next job for the state is to make sure projects qualify for the money. Many of the projects, such as those to improve sewer systems, probably would not produce the economic development the program requires, DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips said.
Legislators gave Phillips nearly a dozen criteria to consider. Phillips said his staff will score each project based on those criteria. If some projects are close in scores, he will look at other criteria, such as geographic balance.
The commissioner said economic development is his top priority, and projects ready for construction should get preference.
“We want this money to go to work as quickly as possible,” Phillips said.
When it was announced two weeks ago, Duluth Mayor Don Ness said the city’s downtown parking ramp project would be a good candidate for the program. It would leverage $60 million in private investment for an office building that already has commitments for three-quarters of its space, and demolition work on the site could begin this fall.
The Wade Stadium project, renovating a historic public facility to improve its usefulness, also has been described as a “strong contender.” The city requested $5.8 million of the $11.6 million projected cost.
The grant program is a result of the public works bonding bill of almost $500 million legislators approved in May. Included in the measure was the $47.5 million in unallocated funds. It is the first time lawmakers told the administration to decide how to spend general bonding money.
Once Phillips’ staff ranks the projects and he goes over them, Dayton will provide as much input “as he wants,” the commissioner added.
A Dayton spokeswoman said his office has been contacted by many of the project applicants, but the governor and Phillips have yet to discuss how they will make the final decision.
While some of the projects were ones passed over by legislators’ when they approved the larger bonding bill, many are new that the state has not vetted, Phillips said.
Here are area projects the state will consider:
A complete list of applicants is available at www.PositivelyMinnesota.com/capitalgrants.