MARSHALL - Local supporters of a new regional amateur sports complex have been battling for state bonding dollars for a number of years, and their diligence is starting to pay off.
The Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission has rewarded Marshall for its years of effort by moving the project to the top of its capitol bonding recommendation list heading into the 2013 legislative session.
Barclay Kruse, associate director of the MASC, thinks Marshall was overdue for the No. 1 spot because of the work that had been done in previous years and called Marshall's plan a model project.
"The biggest thing is the outstanding local work that has been done in Marshall, from putting a coalition of all the partners together, gathering support from the local legislative delegation, that's the kind of thing that needs to be in place to get capital bonding money," said Kruse. "All the players locally have been working at this for several years."
The MASC looked at six different projects in setting its priorities, including $450,000 for additional field development at the National Sports Center in Blaine and funding for a project in Moorhead that is similar to Marshall's. Kruse said the Moorhead project had been a higher priority in past years, but compared to Marshall, MASC doesn't consider it nearly as far along as Marshall.
Kruse said it's not uncommon for it to take some time for projects pursuing bonding dollars to get off the ground in St. Paul; for many, especially those in greater Minnesota, it's a process that can require numerous trips to the capital bonding well, and Marshall falls into that category. The Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission has twice been denied a $4 million bonding request and was left out of the running for part of the $47.5 million that was distributed by the Department of Employment and Economic Development earlier this year. But supporters of the Marshall project took that as more of a minor setback than a third strike.
Roger Madison, co-chairman of the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, said Marshall was a long shot to receive DEED money in September because of all the competition, including the city of St. Paul, which was looking for money for a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints.
Madison said not making the DEED cut only reinforced the fact that the future of the project rested in local hands.
The sales tax and hospitality tax vote for the sports complex - which passed by 24 percentage points in November - all but took care of that aspect and took the project from concept to reality, Madison said. Passage of the measure assured the project will happen, and combined with moving to the top of the MASC list are two pieces supporters of the group didn't have in previous attempts at securing state bonding dollars. The sales tax option will also help pay for MERIT Training Center expansion; that vote - which was a separate question on the ballot - passed with 60 percent of the vote.
"With the vote passing, we will be moving forward on designs and groundbreaking," Madison said. Being made MASC's No. 1 priority "is a very big boost and it greatly improves our chances (at state funding), but it isn't a requirement. The money we get from the state would give us alternatives for the project and allow us to do additional things."
Kruse said passage of the local sales tax is a major feather in the cap for Marshall and will only boost its chances in St. Paul.
"That's huge," he said. "It's another demonstration of local support. Pretty much all the sports facilities we've been able to help get funding for through capital bonding have had the component of non-state money. Now that piece is solidly in place."
He added that making its way to the top of MASC's list doesn't guarantee Marshall will receive bonding dollars - and it has been widely predicted that a relatively smaller bonding bill will be passed in 2013 - but it means the Commission believes Marshall has a firm plan in place and is ready to move to the next phase. And being No. 1 on the MASC list, Kruse said, tells the Legislature it can justifiably focus its energy on Marshall's project.
"It doesn't guarantee anything, because politics is unpredictable sometimes, but it's certainly not a bad thing," Kruse said.
Another more subtle factor that plays into Marshall's favor, Madison said, is how backers of the project were able to speak face-to-face with Gov. Mark Dayton when Dayton visited Marshall for the Governor's Pheasant Opener in October. He said that gave the SMASC the chance to communicate to Dayton that this is a true community project.
"That put it into a totally different context for him," Madison said.