Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's proposal to use part of a one-time city windfall to finance $3 million in traffic improvements near the new Twins ballpark ran into heavy questioning on Wednesday.
The City Council debated whether the vehicle, pedestrian and bike access projects should be paid for with the one-time money or from added tax revenues produced by the stadium.
Rybak wants to use about one-third of a windfall in property taxes the city expects to get next year when some of its tax-increment districts expire. He said that his proposed investment will set the stage for post-opening day redevelopment in the area, generating even more property taxes.
Some City Council members asked why the cost of the nearly dozen ideas for improving circulation near the ballpark can't come from entertainment taxes the stadium will yield. The ballpark will pay the 3 percent tax on tickets, unlike the Metrodome. The team expects that will generate an added $3 million annually, but the city is more conservative. It projects $2 million annually for the first few years, then $1.5 million per year after that.
None of the money will be spent on the ballpark. But Rybak said the area needs improvements to help people flow through it better, especially around ballpark events.
The proposed fixes range from installing more bike racks to changing the timing of traffic lights to reconfiguring intersections and streets that could pose bottlenecks for pedestrians or drivers. Among other ideas being considered in traffic planning discussions are color-coding sidewalks so people can find their way around major destinations in the area and issuing locator cards in parking ramps so people can find their way back to their vehicles after events.
Council Member Lisa Goodman wants others involved in the stadium project to pony up some of the money to pay for the improvements. She said the city could finance the improvements now but pay them off over several years with ballpark tax collections.
City staff members said that some of the stadium tax is already plugged into budgets over the next few years to help city departments avoid taking bigger operating cuts. Some also is expected to be consumed by police for directing traffic on game days, and by city workers cleaning up litter afterward.
The onetime windfall of a projected $9 million comes next year because the city will be able to access extra property taxes from its development districts. Those taxes from city-assisted redevelopment previously were captured within those districts to pay redevelopment costs, but the districts expire in mid-2009.
An offsetting loss of state aid won't begin until 2010, meaning a onetime gain for the city.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438