Council OKs St. Paul’s Pursuit of Saints Stadium Funding

St. Paul will ask for more than half of the $47 million that the state has set aside for economic development projects—and it faces growing competition for those dollars.

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution supporting the city’s plan to apply for a $27 million state grant, which would help fund a new stadium for the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement that the council’s vote “brings the city one step closer to making the Lowertown Ballpark a reality.”

A $496 million bonding bill that Governor Mark Dayton signed last month included $47 million for unspecified economic development projects in Minnesota. St. Paul is requesting more than half of the available grant money—and it faces a number of high-profile competing projects.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) began accepting applications at the end of May, and the deadline for submissions is June 26. DEED spokesman Monte Hanson told Twin Cities Business on Wednesday that the agency hasn’t yet received any formal applications, but that’s typical, since municipalities and other entities often require approval from boards or city councils before officially applying.

He expects applications to start arriving early next week, and said “there will probably be a flurry of them right up until the deadline.”

The state will consider a variety of factors for each project before doling out funding, including job creation or retention (including permanent and temporary construction jobs), whether a project will increase the local tax base, and general return on investment, Hanson said. Selected projects must provide matching dollars for any state funding they receive.

DEED can legally issue grants for less funding than the amount requested for an individual project—for example, if St. Paul seeks $27 million, it could counter with a $10 million offer—but the agency hasn’t determined whether it would consider extending lesser offers, Hanson said.

DEED plans to announce the selected projects in early August.

Several likely competitors for the $47 million in grants, in addition to the Saints project, have emerged. Ramsey County will seek about $6 million to buy and eventually clean up a section of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills, according to a report by the Pioneer Press.

The Metropolitan Council is seeking state funding for the proposed Southwest Corridor Light Rail line, which would run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. According to a report by the Star Tribune, regional chambers of commerce previously sought $25 million for the light-rail but were not included in the bonding bill.

Rochester will seek a grant to help fund a $25 million expansion of its Mayo Civic Center, and there have been proposals for expanding the Mankato and St. Cloud civic centers, the Star Tribune reported; it’s unclear how much funding those projects might seek from DEED.

St. Paul has already taken tangible steps toward building a new Saints ballpark: Last month, it announced that the St. Paul Port Authority signed a purchase agreement for a property in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood. The city said it was coordinating a “land swap” deal, through which it would provide the site of the Saints’ Midway Stadium in exchange for that property, where it hopes to build the new ballpark.

St. Paul says that the new $54 million stadium would create an estimated 500 jobs, attract 400,000 people to downtown St. Paul annually, and generate an economic impact of $10 million each year. The land-swap deal with the Port Authority could also lead to more jobs, as the Port Authority has indicated it wants to redevelop the Midway Stadium site for industrial use.

If the city receives state funding, it will contribute $17 million toward the project, and the Saints will pay the remaining $10 million of the required match. The city hasn’t specified where its $17 million share would come from, but a one-page financing draft provided to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) indicated that it would include $8.5 million in borrowing, $1.5 million from a neighborhood improvement program, and another $4 million in unspecified city funds.

A study published last year showed a correlation between minor league ballparks and modest income increases, according to MPR. However, a University of San Francisco professor who conducted the research told MPR that public subsidies don’t necessarily make sense for such projects, since there’s “almost never a complete return on investment.”