ST. CLOUD, Minn. — For the past three decades, while St. Cloud-area residents attended plays, baseball games or beer tours, Tony Goddard has been working behind the scenes.

His first role in the area was in economic development. Then, he served as the director of the Paramount. Most recently, he was St. Cloud's director of community services and facilities. He recently retired from that position; his last day was Dec. 31.

"(It) is a pretty boring and bureaucratic name but I like to call it the department of fun," said Goddard, 70. "It's all of the things that the city does that are amenities, essentially."

That means none of the things Goddard oversaw are core functions of government like providing sewer and water service, street repair, or fire and police protection.

"But it's the things that make the quality of life here better," he told the St. Cloud Times.

Since stepping into the role five years ago, Goddard has overseen River's Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex, Paramount Center for the Arts, the city's parks and recreation department, and the city's aging services department — Whitney Senior Center and RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program).

While each facility or service has its own director, Goddard acts as a liaison between them and City Hall.

"It's all of those things that make a city a good place to live, the sorts of things that we need for the next generation of kids coming up," Goddard said, "and attract and keep families here."

Goddard, who lives in Haven Township southeast of the city limits, was born in Alberta, Canada, and then moved with his family to Virginia and later Minneapolis. He graduated from Breck School then obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Minnesota.

His education charted the trajectory of his career.

"What happens when you get a geography degree is you have to kind of piece together a career," Goddard said with a laugh.

Goddard worked for the city of St. Paul in development and then in the office of St. Paul Mayor George Latimer. When Latimer decided not to run for re-election, Goddard came to St. Cloud. In 1989, he took the helm of St. Cloud Area Economic Development Partnership.

In 1997, Goddard took a job with the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, and in 1998 was named acting head of the organization. During his tenure with the chamber, Goddard continued living in Central Minnesota, as his wife worked for the county and they raised their children in the area.

From 2004 to 2014, Goddard was the executive director of the Paramount Arts Resource Trust, the nonprofit manager of the theater. In 2013, he took on the additional role of assisting implementation of recommendations made in a study of how the convention center operates.

That turned into the full-time job of community services and facilities director in January 2015.

Goddard has also worked as a nonprofit consultant, dean of the Center for Innovation and Economic Development at St. Cloud Technical & Community College and continues to serve as executive director of St. Cloud Opportunities, a nonprofit developer of business park properties in the city.

The city amenities Goddard oversaw — with the exception of the parks and recreation department — are not funded by property taxpayers. The amenities are funded by users through the city's enterprise budget.

"The Paramount is an iconic, wonderful facility but it doesn't get a penny of property tax money," Goddard said. "It's supported mostly by the users — people will buy tickets or pay to go to classes — with some support from the lodging tax."

'Business-like in our operations'

Supporting the amenities is a balancing act.

"We are business-like in our operations and that's, back to my time at the Paramount, that was kind of what saved the place — imposing some business-like discipline," Goddard said. "It is an arts organization and it has a mission to promote the arts but it has to be done in a financially sustainable way. It's a matter of balance."

Before the city purchased the theater in 2004, it was in disrepair.

"It came very close to being demolished. People have forgotten about that," he said. "They were going to knock it down and put in a surface parking lot."

The theater was renovated and reopened in 1998. But it still faced financial trouble.

"It was functionally bankrupt," Goddard said. "So the first years for me at the Paramount we were trying to stabilize things. We unfortunately had to lay off a number of people and come up with a new business plan for how the place would work."

After some rough years, the Paramount found a firm footing and, in recent years, it's "really taken off," Goddard said.

"(Director Bob Johnson) does a wonderful job, as does all of the staff, so the Paramount has really solidified and become a real credit to the city," he said. "It's hard to imagine what we would do if we didn't have the Paramount."

While some might argue the government shouldn't be involved with services other than the core city services like public safety and utilities, Goddard said those amenities are essential for quality of life.

"Some of these facilities, I don't think could be done by the private sector. I don't think you could make a profit at the Paramount," he said, later adding, "There just isn't the market here so I think it is an appropriate public role to step in and subsidize the capital side of things enough that the operators can make a go of it and we get more variety and better quality of life.

"That's the payback for the public sector."

The push for improvements at the MAC

The biggest challenge, Goddard said, is continuing improvement at facilities. The oldest parts of the MAC, for example, are coming up on 50 years.

"Fifty years ago, the standards people expected in a baseball stadium and an ice arena are much different than they are now," he said. "And if we want to continue to provide that amenity, we need to be continually improving things."

The city is asking the state to pay about $12.2 million of a $24.3 million project that would expand the ice arena, add a lobby, replace Dick Putz Field and install artificial turf on both Dick Putz and Joe Faber fields.

The city plans to fund its share of the project through a new voter-approved sales tax, which will likely appear on the ballot this November if the city is given permission to do so by the Legislature.

Although Goddard's last day as a full-time employee was Dec. 31, he plans to work part-time through the legislative session to help with the city's bonding request for MAC improvements.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said he is grateful Goddard will continue to help with the city's bonding request.

"His commitment is something that has impressed me from the beginning and continues to," Kleis said. "He wants to finish what he started."

Before filling the position, the city will consider restructuring the role, Kleis said.

"Whenever a department head leaves, it's a great opportunity to re-evaluate what that structure is," Kleis said.

Goddard has been a tremendous asset to the city, who brought with him well-established connections in the community, Kleis said.

"What we work the most on is partnerships and he came with that," Kleis said. "He will be missed."