Pawlenty disdains planetarium funding

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January 19, 2004 // UPDATED 2:37 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Other Minneapolis building priorities left off governor's list

The Minnesota Planetarium and Space Discovery Center planned as part of the new Downtown Central Library took a big hit when Gov. Tim Pawlenty failed to include it in his 2004 bonding proposal Jan. 14.

In fact, Pawlenty zeroed out all four of Minneapolis' bonding requests, according to the Minnesota Finance Department's Web site. (Bonding is long-term borrowing for building projects.)

Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) chair of the Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee, called the planetarium news disappointing.

"That is our number one priority," Benson said. "We will be focused like a laser in getting that planetarium done."

However, Benson notes that the Downtown Guthrie wasn't in the governor's bonding bill last year, either, and it got funded.

The request comes at a critical time for the project. The city would save money by building the planetarium simultaneously with the library. If the money doesn't come this year, the city would have to spend more to add the planetarium to an otherwise-completed library.

"The cranes are there; the design services are there. Everything is there, said Robert Bonadurer, planetarium director. "If money comes later, then you have to disrupt library operations. You have to tear off a roof. You have to tear off a side of a wall. It is much more problematic to do it later, and costly. The likelihood of it happening later is greatly reduced."

The Legislature starts Monday, Feb. 2. This is the short session of its two-year cycle. It passed a two-year operating budget last year and will pass a bonding bill this year.

The Minneapolis City Council seeks $24 million of the planetarium's $28 million budget from state borrowing. The nonprofit Minnesota Planetarium Society would have to raise $4 million to pay for construction and an added $6 million for an endowment, Bonadurer said.

Bonadurer said the enthusiasm around President Bush's announced plans to send a manned spacecraft to Mars shows how popular the planetarium would be with residents. There is "no place they can go locally to find out more about Mars, except go on the Internet," he said.

The 37,000-square-foot Planetarium and Space Discovery Center would include a 250-seat, 70-foot diameter planetarium, the North Star Observatory to connect visitors with remote telescopes and orbiting satellites, a hall to display traveling national exhibits and a "virtual environment space" to simulate everything from the surface of Mars to the inside of an asteroid, according to the Society's Web site.

The City Council passed a long list of legislative initiatives Jan. 16, and Benson admits some are more likely to pass than others. The odds of getting an increase in state Local Government Aids (LGA) -- another top priority -- are "slim to none," he said.

Minneapolis' other bonding priorities are, in priority order:

- $9.6 million for infrastructure improvements for Heritage Park, a north side housing development;

- $9 million for storm water management ponds for University Research Park; and

- $10 million to construct, furnish and equip the Downtown Shubert Center for the Performing Arts.

(The city made a late add to its list: a $3 million request for the Health Careers Institute, slated to move to the old Sears building at Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. Pawlenty's plan did not address it.)

Benson said the city's Heritage Park and the University Research Park projects could still get money through competitive grant programs the governor proposed in the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Pawlenty's bonding plan has $759 million in 2004 projects, roughly half of the $1.6 million requested by state agencies and local governments. His plan funds $16 million for local government requests. The largest chunk is $10 million going to help rebuild Roseau's flood-damaged infrastructure.

Before Pawlenty's announcement, Benson spoke optimistically of the upcoming session. The city took a major hit last session, a $35 million LGA cut, but the city got most everything else it asked for, he said. It got the legislation it needed to create the new Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, a fairer formula to distribute LGA among cities and a study for bus rapid transit on I-35W, to name a few.

Items on the city's 2004 lobbying list include:

- Legislation to help the city get a better sale price on the Nicollet Hotel block, a mixed-use development next to the new Central Library with a transit garage. The city is asking for a law change to extend the design/build process to transit facilities.

- Keeping the Limited Market Value program which caps property tax increases for residents, now being phased out.

- Legislation allowing tax increment financing for mixed-use and mixed-income housing districts, including both owner-occupied and rental units.

- Sustaining the city's authority to use administrative fines to enforce such things as public nuisance ordinances, which would help the city crack down on Downtown livability crimes.

- Increased state funding for public transportation and transit.

- Restored funding for the CriMNet statewide information system and the State Gang Strike Task Force.

- Making possession of any amount of marijuana with intent to sell a misdemeanor.