Lawmakers to visit area projects that are seeking state money
For many of the lawmakers who will be touring projects in southeastern Minnesota this week, it's going to be a case of deja vu.
The House Capital Investment Committee will be crisscrossing the region Tuesday and Wednesday by bus to check out projects vying for state funding. Many of those projects have been seeking state dollars for years without success. One of them is Chatfield Center for the Arts .
Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young said efforts to get state bonding dollars to help renovate the historic former school and auditorium into a modern arts venue date back to 2009. Backers have endured a roller coaster ride in their quest for funding. In 2010, they celebrated after lawmakers approved funding for the project, only to see then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty mistakenly call it a "pottery center" and veto funding for the project.
Despite the repeated setbacks and disappointments, Young said project supporters are not about to give up. They are asking lawmakers to approve $7.9 million so the renovation project can move ahead. Young said the project has three key benefits: It preserves a local historical landmark, provides a cultural amenity and helps boost the regional economy.
"For Chatfield specifically, the more people we can attract, the more hubbub around town, the better our business prospects are because money does roll over," he said.
But as in years past, Chatfield faces stiff competition for those dollars. House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman said the bonding requests already have topped $3 billion. The governor and legislative leaders last session agreed to pass an $850 million bonding bill in 2014.
"So as usual, we'll be saying no more often than we'll be saying yes," Hausman said.
Another familiar project for lawmakers is the Mayo Civic Center expansion. The city of Rochester is making its seventh attempt to get funding to add modern convention space to the aging facility in hopes of attracting large medical and high tech conventions. The city is asking for $37 million.
Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Brad Jones said time is running out for the project. The city needs to know if lawmakers are behind the project, especially now that Mayo Clinic's expansion project, known as Destination Medical Center , is moving ahead.
"We can only wait so long," he said. "The DMC plan is in motion. You can already feel the developments happening, and several of them are predicated on this project being done."
Hausman said she is a strong supporter of the civic center project.
Projects in the region
During the course of the House's two-day bonding bus tour, lawmakers will be making stops in Red Wing, Winona, Chatfield, Preston, Rochester and Austin.
Preston Republican Greg Davids, a member of the House Capital Investment Committee, said that in order for a bonding bill to win the necessary support to pass, it will have to be bipartisan and include projects from across the state. He said he always warns communities seeking state dollars that it can a be long and arduous process.
"When I talk to groups that come forward with bonding projects or ideas, I am very upfront and say, 'This could take five years, this could take 10 years' and some of them just never rise to the level and get funded," he said.
Davids, who backs the Chatfield Center for the Arts project, said he believes this might finally be the year it happens.
He added, "I give my kudos to Chatfield because they have a worthy project, the Legislature has said they have a worthy project, and yet there have been stumbling blocks along the way."