After years of decline in the public-sector market, Twin Cities construction managers and contractors say there is increasing demand from metro-area cities looking to get long-planned building projects underway.
The recession took a major toll on the market for municipal building projects such as athletic facilities, police and fire department buildings and community centers, as local governments struggled with shrinking budgets and taxpayer opposition.
But with an improving economy and the need for new public facilities becoming more acute, there is optimism that the public sector is stabilizing or perhaps even gaining steam as a growth market.
"We have seen an uptick this spring in the amount of work that cities are approving, at least through the design process," said Brian Recker, a senior vice president with RJM Construction. "The general need is there."
Recker, whose firm is managing construction on a project in Edina for a new sports dome and an outdoor refrigerated ice rink next to Braemar Arena, said cities are feeling more confident about pulling the trigger on new construction as demand for public facilities continues to grow.
"There may have been projects that were on the boards that are now getting the go-ahead thanks to the improved economy," he said.
RJM last year headed a project in Edina in which it rebuilt the Braemar Golf Dome, installing a 50,000-square-foot fabric dome after its predecessor was damaged by a fire.
Under the new effort, it will oversee the building of a new 250-by-400-foot multipurpose seasonal dome with a connected 2,400-square-foot accessory building. The project also includes a new outdoor hockey rink spanned by a barrel-vault roof.
Meanwhile, a new ice plant will be built inside Braemar Arena, which also will be renovated to include four new team locker rooms, public restrooms, and overall mechanical and electrical improvements.
The project, scheduled to start in May and be completed by December, comes in response to tremendous demand for ice time in hockey-crazy Edina. City officials estimate that the outdoor refrigerated rink will provide about 750 more hours of home ice to the Edina Hockey Association.
Recker said RJM also is working on other municipal construction projects, including a proposed upgrade to the aquatics center at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
There, city officials say community center memberships have more than quadrupled since 2008 when the facility was expanded, while aquatics program participation has grown by 15 percent since 2009, with growth capped due to facility limitations.
Across the metro in Woodbury, Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. is heading a $21.8 million project to nearly double the size of the Bielenberg Sports Center, which is set for a July 4 grand opening.
Generally across the country, contractors are predicting demand for public building projects will end its decline and stabilize this year, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. That group's survey released last month indicated 45 percent of its members predicted demand comparable to 2013 and 30 percent predicting growth.
Locally, anecdotal evidence is also pointing in the same direction, said John Uphoff, an economic development specialist with WSB & Associates, a Minneapolis-based consulting and design firm with government clients.
"After attending all the market seminars and updates in the metro area, I can say there is definitely a theme of 're-engagement,' " he said. "There have been a lot of cities that had been forced to sort of circle the wagons for so many years, they are just now starting to emerge from that and are saying there are some things they just have to do."
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. He has covered Twin Cities commercial real estate for a decade.