Gov. pitches ballpark for St. Paul, Nicollet Mall renovation

Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed bonding bill includes a pair of big-ticket items for Minneapolis and St. Paul. But the state’s two largest cities didn’t get the governor’s backing for a variety of smaller proposed construction projects.

Dayton’s $775 million proposal includes $27 million for a new St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown and $25 million to renovate the iconic-but-aging Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Those were the priciest items on the two cities’ wishlists, and they were the only ones that made the governor’s cut today.

That’s no guarantee of a groundbreaking, though.

The proposed ballpark, which would be built next to St. Paul Farmer’s Market, was in the governor’s proposed bonding bill last year, too. But it didn’t make it into the final compromise Dayton struck with the legislature at the end of the bruising 2011 Special Session.

St. Paul and the Saints are pushing hard this year, billing the project as a job-creation measure and enlisting the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce to help persuade the GOP-controlled Legislature.

But it may still be a tough sell.

“Rather than using debt as a jobs plan, Minnesota would be much better served if the Governor turned his attention to creating a positive tax and regulatory climate in which job creators were more confident about expanding and investing in Minnesota,” Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said in a statement.

St. Paul also wanted bonding money for other projects including a Children’s Museum expansion and parking lot improvements at Como Park. Minneapolis had a number of road and bridge projects rejected, as well as money to upgrade the Target Center. But Nicollet Mall was the city’s top priority.

“It’s in disrepair, and it needs attention,” said Jeremy Hanson Willis, chief of staff to Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board submitted its own list of proposals. The only one that Dayton adopted was $8.5 million to renovate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden across from the Walker Art Center.

Other metro area highlights in the governor’s bonding proposal include a $25 million down payment toward a proposed light rail line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. There’s also $5.4 million proposed to build a fence around the women’s prison in Shakopee.

That’s right. It still doesn’t have one.

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