Mayo Civic Center faces steep odds in quest for grant money

A Minnesota state commissioner tasked with doling out $47.5 million for economic development projects warned on Tuesday that the city of Rochester faces tough odds in getting money needed to expand the Mayo Civic Center.

"This is such a big project, this is going to be very challenging. But I'll never say never," said Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Phillips was in Rochester on Tuesday speaking to members of the Rochester Rotary Club. He talked about the grant in an interview after his presentation to the club.

So why the uphill climb for the Mayo Civic Center project?

One issue is just the sheer size of the request. The city had asked for $35 million in bonding money to fund the $77 million project. It's possible the city could ask for less money, but it would still end up being a large chunk of the grant money. Then there's the issue of competition. Local governments have until June 26 to apply. Phillips said he's not sure what to expect in terms of the number of applications, but he has received at least 35 phone calls about the grant.


St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has already sent a letter indicating that his city plans to ask for $27 million to help fund a new St. Paul Saints stadium. The Metropolitan Council is also expected to apply for dollars to fund the Southwest Light Rail Corridor.

One thing that will likely limit the number of applications is a requirement that grant money awarded for projects be matched dollar for dollar.

Also important to consider are the politics. Phillips said House leaders approached him during the last legislative session to tell him that if they could not get enough support to get the St. Paul Saints stadium included in the bonding bill, they would put aside a pool of money with the stadium in mind. He said some promises were made in exchange for votes for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

"There wouldn't be a legislator on the planet that would be surprised if the Saints stadium was funded because of the fact there were a lot of St. Paul votes traded for a Saints stadium," he said. "There is a lot of expectation that the Saints will be funded. Whether that will happen or not, I don't know."

I'll have more about this in a story running in tomorrow's paper.

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