After many of its requests were rebuffed at the Legislature last session, St. Paul is using one tool to reduce the drag from debt owed on the RiverCentre Convention Center.

The state allowed the city to set up a new downtown tax-increment financing (TIF) district to replace one that is set to expire this summer.

What that means for the average taxpayer is that, well, nothing changes -- except that now there will be money to fix up and maintain the convention center complex. Profits from operating the center have been used to pay debt instead of going into a maintenance fund.

The City Council unanimously approved the creation of the new district last Wednesday. The Ramsey County Board on Tuesday is expected to sign off on the deal, and the city Housing and Redevelopment Agency will vote on Wednesday.

City officials say money owed on the convention complex is hampering maintenance, development of nearby areas and the ability to be more competitive in attracting conventions.

About $43 million is owed on convention center bonds. The city owes the state about $42 million for a loan on the Xcel Energy Center, as well as $64.7 million in bonds on the arena.

The city had asked the state to pay off the convention center bonds and forgive the arena loan. Both requests were denied.

As part of the new deal, the city must pay Ramsey County the amount the county would have received had the district expired. That amount is estimated to be at least $2.6 million per year.

The city's take will be about $4 million annually and can only be spent on principal and interest payments on the RiverCentre bonds.

That will free up a like amount for maintenance, marketing and improvements in the so-called Minnesota Event District. That area, created by the city this year to make a case that it's a state attraction, is a collection of venues surrounding the convention complex and arena, including the Ordway Center for Performing Arts and the Science Museum of Minnesota. About 3.4 million people attend events in the area yearly.

Direct spending from the convention center and Roy Wilkins Auditorium alone is about $24 million per year and includes money spent on services, hotels, shopping and restaurants.

"We are reinvesting in the event district, which presents a huge economic impact for the city, the state and the region," said deputy mayor Ann Mulholland.

She said the RiverCentre Convention and Visitors Authority, funded by a portion of the city's half-cent sales tax and a portion of the local lodging tax, will present a formal budget for the complex this fall.

The new TIF district will expire in 2023.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542