Grant deadline sets off flurry of applications

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2012 - 9:06 PM

At least 90 communities vie for a $47.5 million pot of state money.

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Monday was the deadline to apply for millions of dollars in economic development grants from the state, setting off a dash for cash among dozens of communities around Minnesota.

At the end of the day, startled state workers were looking at a stack of at least 90 applications competing for parts of the same $47.5 million pot of money. The funds were set aside at the end of the legislative session, giving communities that had been shut out of a $496 million capital projects bill a second chance at getting some money.

Applications arrived by mail, by e-mail and by hand from last-minute filers hoping for seed money to build hometown civic centers, sewage treatment plants and other job-creating, economy-boosting projects.

At least 30 of the applications flooded into the Department of Employment and Economic Development on deadline day. Among them was St. Paul's request for more than half of the available grant money -- $27 million -- to help the city build a new ballpark for the minor-league St. Paul Saints.

"We wanted to make sure we crossed our t's and dotted all our i's," said Joe Campbell, spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

Even with so many other communities vying for the same pot of cash, St. Paul was feeling confident enough to buy up land in Lowertown earlier this summer for its hoped-for ballpark.

"We think this project is the quintessential example of what the state is looking for," Campbell said. "It would create hundreds of jobs and have a vast economic impact."

The Metropolitan Council submitted its application last week for a $14 million grant to help build the Southwest light-rail corridor -- a project the council estimates will create thousands of jobs over the coming decades.

Forty-seven million dollars sounds like a lot of money until you try to divide it 90 ways. Economic development officials are still trying to figure out how they will distribute the money, said agency spokesman Monte Hanson. Should the money go to a few big projects? Or a lot of little ones? Should there be a balance between awards in urban areas and the rest of the state?

When the Legislature set aside the economic development money at the end of the session, the Republican leadership described it as an experiment to see what would happen if economic development projects were chosen on merit, rather than on political clout. But the sheer number of applications from across the state surprised even economic development officials used to overseeing grant programs.

With so many applications, it may be late August or September before the agency announces the grant winners. The state will release the full list of applicants and requested projects on Wednesday.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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