Last minute scramble for Minnesota's bonding funds
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- July 9, 2012 - 2:24 PM
With just hours to go before deadline, dozens of communities are scrambling for a shot at millions of dollars worth of economic development grants.
As of Monday morning, the state had received 57 applications for a $47.5 million pot of bonding money the Legislature set aside for communities whose projects didn't make it into this year's bonding bill.
Communities have until 4:30 p.m. Monday to submit their proposals to the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Many are pushing that deadline. Last week, the number of applications stood at 35.
"We wanted to make sure we crossed our t's and dotted all our i's," Joe Campbell, spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, after the city submitted its application on Monday.
St. Paul is asking for more than half of the available state funding -- $27 million -- to build a new home for the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team. Even with so many other communizes clamoring for a share of the funding, Campbell said St. Paul is feeling confident .
"We think this project is the quintessential example of what the state is looking for," he said. "It would create hundreds of jobs and have a vast economic impact."
If the city gets the funding to build the proposed Saints ballpark in Lowertown, that would free up the port authority to build on the site of the current ballpark. "It's buy one, get one free," Campbell said.
But St. Paul was just one of many communities anxious to reap this unexpected bonding windfall. Communities are expected to apply for grants to help build everything from civic centers to sewage treatment plants.
The Metropolitan Council submitted a 23-page application on July 3, outlining its request 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.
Officials at the economic development agency are still trying to figure out how they will divide the pot, 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?
The Legislature turned a chunk of bonding money over to the state agency for the first time this year. 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.
DEED oversees a number of grant programs throughout the year, but most of those are relatively small awards for local projects. Unsure what to expect after the Legislature awarded them the funds to distribute, the agency was caught off guard by the sheer number of applications.
"We knew there would be interest, but boy, I did not expect 57," said Hanson, who expected even more applications to arrive before the 4:30 p.m. deadline.
With so many applications, it may be late August or into September before the agency can award the grants.
Read the Metro Council's application below:
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