More clarity sought in sales tax pitch for recreational complex

Rochester council likely to see more analysis for one of four projects connected to possible renewal of city's 0.5% sales tax.

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ROCHESTER — A delayed effort to renew Rochester’s half-cent sales tax to create a regional recreation complex, among other projects, is expected to get more study.

“I don’t want to see us going into more of the direction of being all things to all people, because then it just gets washed out,” Rochester City Council member Mark Bransford said Monday.

“The regional sports complex needs to be better redefined,” he added.

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Heather Corcoran, the city’s legislative policy analyst, said a review of needs related to the proposed complex would likely be sought early next year, if the City Council agrees to seek a sales tax renewal.

The 0.5% sales tax, which was initially approved in 1983, generates approximately $12 million a year and is expected to expire in 2024 unless it’s renewed with approval by the Minnesota Legislature and Rochester voters.


The current proposal calls generating a combined $205 million, with $65 million earmarked for the proposed recreational complex.

Another $50 million would be used for street reconstruction projects, with an additional $50 million earmarked for an economic vitality fund that could boost local and regional housing efforts. The proposal also seeks $40 million for future work related to flood control and water quality.

The tax would continue until all approved projects are fully funded.

The Minnesota Legislature’s failure to pass a statewide tax bill left the city unable to seek voter support for the tax renewal this year, but council members and city staff said conversations have continued in hopes of renewing efforts next year.

At the same time, Mayor Kim Norton said some community conversations have spurred uncertainty related to the proposed complex.

“I know there are partners in the community that want this very badly, but I’m not sure how strongly the community feels about those wants,” she said.

Additionally, she cited the potential for confusion without a clear plan.

“I don’t want us to build up a false hope without defining who’s going to have access to this, and have people disappointed after the fact,” she said.


Corcoran said initial concepts for the complex pointed to something with a synthetic turf field, tournament-quality pickleball facilities and outdoor recreation features. She said supportive indoor features and related community-focused elements would also likely be part of the complex.

She said the proposed analysis would seek to identify community gaps, so a preliminary design could be developed to better identify how community needs would be addressed.

Council President Brooke Carlson voiced support for the effort to better define needs related to the proposed complex but said community discussions must go beyond potential users.

“I want to see our community, and broader than a few sports organizations, engaged in shaping that to be a meaningful asset for our city,” she said.

City Administrator Alison Zelms said the work will likely also look at existing recreational amenities and planned projects to ensure the work doesn’t clash with other facilities, including planned updates at Graham Park.

She said Olmsted County has well-defined goals for Graham Park and a new city complex should be able to complement such efforts, as well as potentially lead to new uses of existing spaces.

“I think it will help flesh out what the total value is, which isn’t necessarily just that you have a new complex,” she said of the proposed analysis. “It’s that that creates capacity in some of the other places to be able to address other needs that we’ve heard from the community or gaps that we’ve heard about in the community.”

The council has until Jan. 31 to decide whether the city will ask the Minnesota Legislature to approve the effort to renew the sales tax.


If approved, the tax would be the subject of a 2024 local vote, which under current state requirements would require approval of proposed projects on an individual basis.

What happened: The Rochester City Council discussed the potential for continuing efforts to renew the city's 0.5% sales tax to fund a new recreational sports complex, an economic vitality fund, street improvements and flood control improvements.

Why does this matter: Without a renewal, the property tax that has funded a variety of projects since 1983 and currently generates $12 million a year will lapse in 2024.

What's next: The council has until Jan. 31 to determine whether the city will seek renewal of the tax.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or
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