DEED releases list of those vying for $47 million in grant money

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has  released the list of 90 applicants vying for some $47 million in grant money bequeathed to the Dayton administration by the Republican Legislature last session in the bonding bill.

One of the larger projects — one of a handful included in Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding bill last session — is a request by the Metropolitan Council for $14 million for the Southwest Light Rail Line.

The proposed 15-mile line is envisioned as running between the city of Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis, boasting 17 new stations and a projected weekday ridership of 30,000 by 2030.

The state of Minnesota is expected to kick in $125 million or 10 percent of the estimated total project cost, according to the Met Council.

The project received no funding in the last bonding bill.

DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips expressed puzzlement why lawmakers took what he says was the unprecedented step of including a sum in the bonding bill for others to decide how to spend.

“We don’t think this is our role,” said Phillips, arguing a tradition of legislative control over bonding dating back 150 years had been abandoned.

It defies logic, he said.

Asked how much input Dayton would have on final project selections, Phillips suggested it could be a lot.

Or not much at all.

“Well, I guess as much as he (Dayton) wants,” Phillips said.

He indicated the governor and he hadn’t talked about the projects to any extent.

All told, the 90 projects totalled some $288 million in requests.

Phillips, in describing how the merits of the proposals would be judged, indicated geographic impact, job-creation potential and certainty of additional, non-state funding would all be weighed in determining worthiness.

“We want the money to go to work as soon as possible,” he said.

Phillips indicated that wastewater projects could fall off the list, because they lack overall economic impact.

Beyond the Southwest Light Rail Line request, other area projects on the list include a city of Big Lake request for $5.3 million for industrial park infrastructure, a request for $3 million from Dakota County for trails and visitor centers, a request from Ramsey County for $5.9 million to acquire and clean up polluted land at the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills.

Other projects include a $1.5 million request by the city of Edina for a promenade greenway expansion and a $1.3 million request by the city of Bloomington for Bloomington Central Station improvements.

Phillips indicated the administration could make its decisions on the bonding proposals by the end of August, or sooner.

Dayton administration spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said the administration would provide more details as the process moves forward.

Some of the larger ticket grant applications were for civic centers.

The city of St. Cloud is requesting $9.6 million for civic center expansion, the city of Rochester $25 million, and the city of Mankato $14.5 million for its civic center project.

But the biggest bonding request came from the city of St. Paul, looking for $27 million for the St. Paul Regional Ballpark for the St. Paul Saints.