Woodbury seeks change in law to fund sports center

  • Article by: JOY POWELL
  • Star Tribune
  • January 28, 2012 - 9:03 PM

Woodbury took a big step toward a new recreational facility last week, approving architectural and construction firms for the rebuilding of the popular but aging Bielenberg Sports Center.

The building is now a cloth "bubble" at the end of its lifespan.

City officials prefer to build a $15.5 million permanent facility, said Bob Klatt, parks and recreation director. But state law prevents the city from getting the lowest interest rate it could for the project, unless it goes through some legal procedures that could be costly.

That irks City Administrator Clint Gridley. He said municipalities can get the lowest interest rates possible for city halls, police stations and some roads -- but not for recreational facilities.

So Woodbury officials are pushing for a change to state law, which they say could benefit all Minnesota cities.

Supporters of the proposal range from local users of Bielenberg to area lawmakers to a metrowide coalition of cities.

If passed, the law would use the same principle in the so-called Mighty Ducks legislation. That has allowed municipal financing of ice rinks and arenas with general obligation bonds, without requiring cities to first get voters' approval through referendums.

Woodbury officials say they want to continue the property-tax levy that's already in place for general-obligation bonds, even after the current bonds are paid off in a few years.

Woodbury used Mighty Ducks legislation when it was available years ago for a limited time to help finance Bielenberg construction, Gridley said.

"It saves the taxpayer money because then we can devote less to interest expense and more to improvements," Gridley said.

Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, calls the proposal "a great idea" by fiscally prudent city officials.

"For me to find a way to help them do something that makes sense. That will save the city money. How could I not want to do that?" she said.

Kieffer has drafted a bill, and Gridley and other city officials are studying its language for feedback before she introduces it in the House, she said.

A longtime advocate for local control, she calls Woodbury's situation "another instance of the state making these rules that don't make sense and end up costing the city more money."

Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, also has recently expressed interest to Woodbury officials, as have consultants with the Municipal Legislative Commission, which represents 16 communities consisting of 835,000 residents.

Once the city approves the language for the proposed legislation, officials will present it to the League of Minnesota Cities for consideration, too, Gridley said.

Residents like rec facilities

Woodbury's current general-obligation bonds for Bielenberg debt will expire in 2014 and 2019, meaning they'll be paid.

City officials are trying to figure out a way to continue the same principal and interest payments for improvements to Bielenberg, a popular facility for skaters, ball players, community groups and others.

Voters decided in two earlier city referendums that they want a recreational facility, Gridley said.

In 1994, Woodbury voters approved a $7.8 million referendum, which paid for building the field house and initial ice arena at Bielenberg. It also improved neighborhood parks as well as went toward the purchase of open space park land.

In 2005, voters approved a $9 million referendum, of which $3 million paid for expanding athletic fields.

A new general-obligation bond issuance would simply and cost-effectively continue the "spirit" of what voters approved earlier, while securing the lowest interest rate possible, Gridley said.

Klatt said the City Council's hiring of Pope Associates, an engineering and interior design firm in St. Paul, and the construction management firm Kraus-Anderson, headquartered in Minneapolis, was a significant step in a three-year process. He said project planning will take most of the year, with construction to begin in early 2014.

The City Council also appointed a community task force of people who use the bubble, and officials, to help make major decisions related to Bielenberg.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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