Hoping to pay less to fix up Bielenberg

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 9:26 PM

Woodbury needs legislative OK for sports center finance plan.

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The Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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Legislation that could save Woodbury taxpayers up to $1.9 million in the replacement of Bielenberg Sports Center's aging domed fieldhouse is moving toward approval at the Capitol, without any opposition so far, lawmakers said.

The special legislation would allow Woodbury to finance construction of a permanent $15.5 million fieldhouse at the lowest interest rate possible -- without having to first hold a public referendum, as is typically required.

It's an urgent request because the dome's material is wearing out. It leans under the weight of snow and officials fear it could collapse -- as the Metrodome did under 17 inches of snow in December 2010.

The bubble is 17 years old, with a life span of 15 to 20 years.

Woodbury plans to expand the fieldhouse from 44,000 square feet to about 80,000 square feet, with construction to begin next year.

"We're in a time frame where we need to have some certainty as to the borrowing mechanism so that we can best plan for the dollars we need for the project," said City Administrator Clinton Gridley.

The facility has two indoor ice sheets and is used by youth soccer, hockey and ball teams. City Council members want it to become more multi-use. In addition to roof problems, it has a cramped lobby and concession area, worn-out artificial turf and is too small.

There could be energy savings, too. The current dome is kept below 50 degrees in the winter. Replacing the dome with a permanent building would create a more comfortable space during the winter and encourage more use, Gridley said.

Under state law, the low-interest general obligation bonds can be sold to finance the building of city halls and police stations but not recreational facilities, without a public referendum.

Hence, Woodbury's request for special legislation.

It would enable the city to use its AAA bond rating and bonding authority to replace the bubble.

The city wants permission to issue general obligation bonds, the most efficient, least expensive form of debt. They carry low interest rates because a city pledges to repay, using tax revenues if needed.

The city would continue its existing property tax and operating revenues for two bonds that will be paid off in 2014 and 2019. The city then would use the levy money to build the new recreational facility, without having to hold another referendum, which Woodbury voters have done twice since the 1990s.

Mayor Mary Guiliani Stephens testified Wednesday at the Capitol, telling senators that the measure would save taxpayers $1.7 million to $1.9 million in interest costs over the life of the 20-year bonds.

The mayor spoke as well to Gov. Mark Dayton about the request, which also would mean the city wouldn't need to place another $800,000 to $900,000 in reserves, as an alternative financing method requires.

With the general obligation bonds, she said, "the debt service would be structured in a way that would continue the existing levies. The result is a fully funded project without any change in the tax levy for our residents."

New concerns at Capitol

Late last week, Gridley and others grew concerned, however, because Woodbury's measure was bundled into omnibus bills in the House and Senate.

The worry, Gridley said, is that provisions that the governor rejects could cause the Woodbury measure to be vetoed along with them.

If that happens, he said, Woodbury will ask lawmakers to insert the measure in a new omnibus bill created with the intent of removing items that the governor opposes.

But Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, and author of the bill for Woodbury, said she believes that Woodbury's measure stands a good chance of passage as part of the House omnibus tax bill.

In the Senate, companion legislation was sent back to the tax committee last week with a couple of questions posed by lawmakers but no opposition, said Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo.

Should the measure fail, the city will have greater expenses, whether a higher interest rate or more administrative fees, as it uses other financing, Gridley said.

Meanwhile, a new 14-member task force is working closely with architectural and construction managers to study and recommend design options.

After four meetings, concepts are emerging from committee members who represent a cross-section of Bielenberg users. They're to recommend options to the City Council in August.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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