There’s always next year.
That’s the strategy some west metro cities are adopting for the 2015 legislative session after they failed to get projects and policies in state bills this year.
Though Edina won bonding money for its planned veterans memorial, west metro cities were largely excluded from the final bonding bill. The few exceptions included St. David’s Center in Minnetonka, which got $3.75 million to expand and renovate its campus, and the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, which got $2 million for maintenance work.
And after three years of appealing to policymakers, Maple Grove officials got their request in the state tax bill related to redeveloping hundreds of acres of gravel pits.
Here’s what cities requested:
This year saw Excelsior’s first state bonding bill request, asking for $5 million for its park, the Commons. But it didn’t make the cut.
The city proposal would have funded improvements to its lakeside 13-acre park and adjoining historic port. It’s an area the city says is a regional recreational asset used by thousands of Twin Cities visitors for free each year that should be supported regionally, not just by the town of 2,100.
The City Council is slated to discuss on July 7 what to do next after the proposal failed.
One option: Go to voters this fall to ask for a new food and beverage sales tax that would generate $5 million over 25 years for the makeover, which the city had discussed doing earlier this year.
The city wants to replace a vintage band shell and bathhouse that date to the 1950s and 1960s with a new band shell, bathrooms, lake walk, concessions stands like the Tin Fish at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, and other improvements.
“The facilities [at the Commons] are incredibly inadequate,” City Manager Kristi Luger said. “This community deserves better facilities that showcase who we are.”
The Commons draws thousands of visitors each year, including more than 15,000 people who flock there for the city’s free July 4th events. Luger said the city is saving for the improvements, but it will take much longer to do. By Aug. 22, the city needs to decide whether to put the question to voters this fall; even if voters approve the tax, the city would still need to return to the Capitol for state approval of the tax.
In Maple Grove, the third time was the charm.
This year, the city’s third request to establish a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district was approved in the tax bill. That means the city can start planning for redevelopment in a former gravel mining area.
The city is planning to redevelop of 600 acres of the 1,100 acres of gravel mining land in the city. To redevelop that area, located east of Hemlock Lane and between Interstate 94 and Hwy. 169, will cost an estimated $100 million for streets, sewers and infrastructure. With the TIF district, the city can use extra taxes generated by new industrial warehouses or offices over 20 years to pay those costs.
It was a controversial request in part because the affluent northwestern suburb already redeveloped hundreds of acres of gravel pits and mounds into the Arbor Lakes shopping area without extra tax money. That was a sticking point for some legislators last year when the request didn’t make it in a House bill; a similar request in 2012 was approved, but vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in a larger bill.
“Maybe they just realized it was the right thing to do,” City Manager Al Madsen said last week. “We worked long and hard on that the past three sessions. We appreciate the Legislature stepping up to the plate.”
Plymouth also had its first state bonding request this year — and it met the same fate as Excelsior’s.
Plymouth city officials requested $2.1 million for its ice center, which would have been matched by the city to do a $4.2 million renovation of the Plymouth Ice Center — one of the state’s largest and busiest facilities, the city says.
“We were a little disappointed,” City Manager Dave Callister said. “Sometimes it takes more than one attempt to get in the queue. We’ll be patient and persistent.”
The city plans to be back at the Legislature next year. Until then, the facility won’t get the renovation, which included $1 million to convert refrigerant to meet federally mandated standards, $812,500 to convert an Olympic-sized rink into a smaller professional-sized rink — which is more in demand — and $1.6 million for a new roof, along with other upgrades.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said that by 2020, freon, also known as refrigerant R-22, can no longer be produced or imported, which will force rink operators to retrofit rinks with ammonia systems that are more environmentally friendly.
Plus, after 17 years, the city says the facility is due for upgrades. The three sheets of ice host more than 500,000 visitors a year.
Callister said the ice center is self-sustaining operationally every year, “but every 15-20 years, we need to put some money into it. It’s time for major capital improvements.”
Richfield will get funding for the 77th Street tunnel under Hwy. 77, which would connect to the Mall of America area and the airport. The project, which could cost up to $25 million, has been planned for more than 20 years but until now could never crack legislative barriers and get into the bonding bill.
DFL Rep. Linda Slocum of Richfield, who pushed the issue this year and said she is thrilled with its inclusion in the bonding bill, said it is unclear how much money the city will receive from a pool of money for local road projects. The project is one of three named in the pool, and she and city officials have told state officials that they want at least $15 million and are hoping for more.
The project involves land acquisition and is expected to take some time, but city officials want to begin working on the project immediately.
In Wayzata, city leaders put in a last-minute bonding request for $5.2 million for safer railroad crossings, a Lake Minnetonka pier and lake walk.
City Manager Heidi Nelson said the city figured that the request wouldn’t make it into the 2014 bonding bill, but wanted to educate legislators about the future need.
“This was meant to be an introduction,” she said.
BNSF Railway tracks cut between downtown and the lakefront, so the city wants to spend $550,000 on safer rail crossings for visitors and residents to access the lake. The city also wants to add a $3.7 million lake walk between its historic train depot and Broadway Avenue and a $1 million pier at Broadway Avenue. The ideas are all part of a 10-year lakefront improvement concept plan approved earlier this year.