Saints Ballpark, Southwest LRT Not in MN Bonding Bill

St. Paul could compete with other cities for a portion of a $50 million pot to pay for a regional ballpark in Lowertown; meanwhile, supporters of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Line say the project risks losing federal support without a state contribution.

On Monday night, the Minnesota House and Senate passed slightly different versions of a $496 million bonding bill-but neither version includes money for a new Saints ballpark or the Southwest Corridor Light Rail line.

Still, that isn't a sure sign that both projects are dead.

The bill would pay for construction work on college campuses, flood mitigation, and a renovation of the Capitol building. It also includes $50 million for unnamed economic development projects in Minnesota-and St. Paul could compete with other cities for a portion of that pot to pay for a regional ballpark in Lowertown. The city previously requested $27 million in state funds for the $54 million project, which would replace Midway Stadium on Energy Park Drive.

City officials have said that the new ballpark would drive development in a neighborhood that's ready for growth. It would be built on a polluted brownfield site that sits next to the eastern end of the Central Corridor light-rail line that's under construction.

As for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail line, which would run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that the project needs a state contribution of $25 million to move forward. The Metropolitan Council hoped to obtain federal funds that would cover half the project's estimated $1.25 billion price tag, but supporters say that the project risks losing federal support without state funds.

Governor Mark Dayton previously indicated that the light-rail project was one of his top bonding priorities this year. He proposed a larger, $775 million bonding bill but has indicated that he's willing to sign a bill that spends less money, according to MPR.

An environmental study on the 15-mile Southwest Corridor Light Rail line is underway, and the project has received the necessary federal approval to begin preliminary engineering work.

The bonding bill calls for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to receive $132 million and the University of Minnesota to receive $64 million. The bill also includes a $44 million down payment to restore the state Capitol building, $40 million for local roads and bridges, $30 million for flood-control projects, and $23.5 million for sewer system grants.

The House first voted 99-32 in favor of the bill. Later Monday night, the Senate passed it 45-22. The Senate added two amendments to the bill for east metro projects: $2 million for Maplewood to renovate a former monastery that houses a center for domestic violence victims and $500,000 that would allow South St. Paul to design a floodwall along the Mississippi River.

Following the Senate vote, the House can now either accept the Senate version in full or force a conference committee before final approval, according to MPR.