Mayor Chris Coleman found himself Wednesday in a position familiar to many of his predecessors at St. Paul City Hall: Pleading with legislators for state investment in the eastern twin city.
"If you feed one twin and starve the other, one of them is going to die," he told the Senate Finance Committee, a majority of whom were not swayed.
The panel stripped from the $1 billion Vikings stadium bill a provision that would have forgiven St. Paul's $43 million indebtedness from 1993 for the RiverCentre Convention Center downtown.
Given the $400 million in state money that would go toward the stadium and the discussion of an additional $150 million for the Target Center -- both in Minneapolis -- Coleman doesn't want his city to be left out.
The mayor is seeking money for a trifecta of projects. In addition to the RiverCentre, he would like cancellation of $34.75 million in loan payments for the Xcel Energy Center and $27 million put in the bonding bill for a new 7,000-seat St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown.
So far, things are not going so well. Gov. Mark Dayton did put the ballpark money in his proposed bonding bill, but the GOP-controlled House included just $2 million and the Senate version offered nothing for the Lowertown stadium.
Time remains, however, so Coleman and others continue to be optimistic.
Coleman said that he supports a Vikings stadium for downtown Minneapolis but that investment there alone would be "a very direct threat to the future vitality of the city of St. Paul."
Working with Coleman, Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, noted that of the state's investments in the two cities in the past couple of decades, 95 percent have gone to Minneapolis, including TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota and aid for a massive Convention Center overhaul. Minneapolis' fiscal success can be directly traced to those investments, Coleman said.
"Where the state chooses to invest its money helps shape development patterns," the mayor said.
Lack of parity is a familiar complaint for St. Paul. Mayor Norm Coleman campaigned for governor in 1998 telling people that when he took office, "St. Paul was a city on its knees."
He brought NHL hockey back to the state and scored the Xcel loan with the backing of then-Gov. Arne Carlson, a fellow Republican. Those were the boom years, with Norm Coleman riding through town on a Zamboni.
The September 2000 opening of the state-of-the-art Xcel ushered in the era of endemic competition with Minneapolis venues for shows and events. Each city worked to undercut the other.
St. Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry and the current Coleman say that if Minneapolis gets additional investments this session, St. Paul and Xcel won't be able to compete anymore.
"They will have such a distinct advantage for concerts," Lantry said, referring to the potential millions of dollars in acoustic upgrades at Target Center. "I can picture a time when they will be paying conventions and concerts to come to their city."
Coleman said he's not even asking to be treated equally -- he just wants to keep St. Paul alive.
As for the Saints' chances, lobbyist Julian Empson Loscalzo was still optimistically swinging. "If they cut a deal on a $500 [million] to $600 million bonding bill, then I think we have a pretty good chance," Empson Loscalzo said. "But I'm not sure who's in control."
St. Paul's delegation at the Legislature could have some leverage in terms of holding out votes for the Vikings in exchange for city projects, but they're far from united. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, is a no vote on the stadium regardless of what gets offered to her city. "It's pure general fund money," she said of the Vikings bill. "We are raising taxes."
Late Wednesday, the Senate Vikings bill included $1.3 million annually for 20 years for St. Paul to use for a downtown ballpark. Coleman said that the money is at least an "acknowledgment" of the city's needs but that it doesn't cover them.
He pledged to keep fighting for St. Paul as the state leaders attempt to work out a deal in the next few days.
And if St. Paul gets nothing?
Coleman threw up his hands and said, "We keep on fighting, but I'm optimistic things will work out."
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson