Stadiums, sculptures and Southwest light rail

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February 13, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Lots at stake for Minneapolis in 2012 Legislative session

The good news is that state legislators in 2012 won’t have to solve a $5 billion deficit, and unless something strange happens, Minnesotans need not worry about a government shutdown this summer.

That does not mean, however, that the Legislature won’t be making some decisions that weigh heavily on the city of Minneapolis and its residents.

Big questions surround the 2012 legislative session that began Jan. 24.

Will the city and state finance a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis? If so, is the Metrodome site the best home for the team?

Will the city get a share of a $775 million bonding bill that Dayton says will get construction workers off the bench? Will plans for light rail coming from the southwest suburbs move forward?

How will census results affect local politicians this fall?

Here’s a look at what’s at stake.


Dayton: It’s Metrodomesite or bust

Gov. Mark Dayton says the Metrodome is the only viable site for a new Vikings stadium that could pass during the 2012 legislative session.

Dayton, in an analysis of several stadium site proposals, had narrowed in on two Minneapolis sites, the other one being at Linden Avenue near the Basilica of St. Mary. But Dayton said threats by the Basilica of a lawsuit have made that site unworkable.

Dayton said he hopes a stadium deal can get done early in the 2012 session, but he acknowledged it may take longer than that.

In his analysis, Dayton said the Metrodome site lacks opportunity for surrounding economic development, but said Mayor R.T. Rybak’s plan to partially finance the stadium through diverting existing sales and hospitality taxes is a viable one. Those tax revenues currently go toward the Convention Center.

It’s unclear how the state of Minnesota would finance its own portion, but some Republican leaders have indicated gambling revenue as the best source.


Asian carp

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has detected Asian carp DNA in the state, and it’s trying to stop the species from making their way up the Mississippi River and into northern Minnesota lakes.

Dayton’s bonding bill includes $12 million to combat aquatic invasive species, including about $5 million for some type of an Asian carp barrier below Lock and Dam No. 1 near the Ford Parkway Bridge.

Steve Hirsch, director of the DNR’s ecological and water resources division, said the DNR is looking at several options for using that money, including an electric barrier and a sound bubble barrier.

A project to beef up the dam at Coon Rapids to prevent carp migration is underway, but Hirsch said the DNR is being redundant in its efforts to prevent the carp from destroying important fisheries.

Commercial barge traffic and recreational boaters are keeping a close eye on the efforts to stop the carp, because authority rests with the U.S. Congress to potentially close one of three locks in Minneapolis, including Upper St. Anthony.


Nicollet Mall    

The Downtown Council says Nicollet Mall is in a state of disrepair, and businesses are collectively paying millions to replace cracking and buckling granite pavers on downtown’s main street.

Dayton has included $25 million in his bonding proposal to help pay for a $50 to $60 million makeover of the street. What a renovated mall will look like is still up in the air.


Sculpture Garden


The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is now 24 years old and attracts 325,000 visitors every year, 27 percent of which come from out of state, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Park Board officials say the iconic Sculpture Garden is badly in need of improvements to its irrigation and drainage systems, parking lot, security, granite steps and walls, fixtures, plants as well as the garden’s walkways, in order to make them more accessible to the disabled.

Dayton has included $8.5 million in his bonding bill for those improvements. See page A15 for a full story about plans for the Sculpture Garden and Cowles Conservatory.


Southwest Corridor


Dayton’s bonding proposal gives $25 million toward a project to construct the Southwest light rail line that links Eden Prairie with Minneapolis, a 15-mile stretch.

In a pre-session forum with other legislative leaders, House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove said he’s become a bus rapid transit supporter, but said he doesn’t feel money should be spent on adding more infrastructure.

The Met Council hopes to have trains running on Southwest LRT by 2018 and projects the state of Minnesota to pay $125 million toward the $1.25 billion project, or about 10 percent. The rest of the money would come from the federal government, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the Counties Transit Improvement Board.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) said the state’s contribution to the project is small compared to the Hiawatha line, and said that without state money in 2012, the project could face delays and increase the risk of losing federal money.

“This will be a contentious issue,” Hornstein said.


Redistricting


The governor and the Legislature were unable to agree last session on a plan to re-draw legislative maps, so Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea has appointed five judges that are prepared to do it themselves should the Legislature and governor not agree before Feb. 21.

One of the people with most to lose in redistricting is Hornstein, who is serving in his fifth term. Republicans have introduced a redistricting plan that would put him in the same district as state Rep. Marion Greene (DFL-60A).

His own party placed him in the same district as Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-63A).

Hornstein is a popular legislator in Southwest, having won his last three elections with more than 80 percent of the vote. Thissen, however, has become a rising star in the DFL, taking over as house minority leader last year.

Hornstein said he is paying little attention to the plans, because it will be the five judges who ultimately draw the lines.

“I don’t spent a lot of time worrying about it, because it’s out of my control,” he said.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.