St. Paul forges ahead with Saints ballpark

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2012 - 9:22 PM

The state has yet to step up with its half of the cash, but City Council says it is likely to give project the go-ahead vote anyway.

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Luke Wittrock, a groundskeeper at Midway Stadium, groomed the surface around home plate on Monday afternoon, hours before game time.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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St. Paul City Council members plan to wholeheartedly adopt a financing proposal Wednesday that will cover half the cost of a $54 million regional ballpark in Lowertown even though the state has yet to decide whether to provide the other half of the money.

"We have to assume we're going to get the $27 million," Council President Kathy Lantry said. "This is also messaging to the state that we're ready to roll."

A city commitment to pick up half the tab for the ballpark is critical as St. Paul tries to wheedle a $27 million grant from Gov. Mark Dayton.

The proposal requires the city to come up with $17 million and the St. Paul Saints, the ballpark's primary tenant, to pay $10 million for a total of $27 million. A chunk of city-Saints portion, $17 million, will come from the issuance of two series of bonds evenly split between the city and the team.

Half of the city's obligation would be paid for by the issuance of $8.5 million in bonds, to be retired by payments of an estimated $625,000 per year for 25 years. The council and Mayor Chris Coleman's office have yet to determine what money will be used for the annual bond payment, but one possibility is a share of the $15.2 million raised annually by the city's half-cent sales tax.

The Saints would cover a matching $8.5 million in bonds with annual rent payments to the city of about $625,000, also for 25 years. The bond issuance for the team could be backed by gross revenues of the city's Parks Department. City Finance Director Todd Hurley said the deal includes a personal guarantee by the team, meaning he could go after team assets if the Saints failed to pay rent. The rest of the team's obligation, $1.5 million, would be paid in cash.

The city would come up with the remainder of its share, another $8.5 million, through a mix of sources, including several one-time money transfers from projects that didn't materialize. A tax-increment district and St. Paul Sales Tax Revitalization funds would be expected to draw $1.5 million each and another $1.3 million would come from a proposed, but never realized, connection to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. Roughly $500,000 would come from sewer fees and a balance in the right-of-way fund collected from city property owners.

As part of the city's share, the Port Authority contributed $3 million through land. The city also would use $425,000 in land sale proceeds as part of the Lafayette Bridge reconstruction.

Lantry said she expects the proposal to pass easily at Wednesday's meeting. Unlike Minneapolis City Hall, which agreed to a new Minnesota Vikings stadium by one vote, the St. Paul council and Coleman have been united in support of the ballpark.

"We are going to get a $54 million asset, which will cost the city $625,000 a year," Lantry said in support of the plan.

Saints owner Mike Veeck and city leaders say the park will display the works of nearby resident artists and link downtown to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Saints games would make up about a third of the 180 events per year; the Minnesota State High School League, the American Legion and Hamline University teams also would be expected to want to use the park.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce has led the lobbying at the Capitol for the ballpark.

Chamber President Matt Kramer called the plan a "very good deal" for city taxpayers. "Even at a minimal contribution from the over 400,000 visitors a year who will come to the ballpark, the sales tax generated and the increased economic development in Lowertown will more than offset this investment," he said.

In his bonding bill earlier this year, Dayton proposed directing $27 million to St. Paul for the ballpark, but that didn't pass the GOP-controlled Legislature.

St. Paul city leaders insist there was no promise when the Legislature passed the $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium for Minneapolis, but many privately point to the number of St. Paul legislators who voted for the Vikings stadium and believe St. Paul is due substantial state investment.

Veeck, who has been pushing for a new ballpark for five years, has pledged not to raise ticket prices in a new park. The Saints say Midway Stadium is old, undersized and uncomfortable.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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