Blazing Star, Stables Projects Included in Bill

Two major Albert Lea projects were included in the Senate’s $1.8 billion capital investment bill unveiled Monday.

Included in the bill was $3.5 million to move Front Street north to make way for lakefront development and preliminary preparation work north of the railroad, along with money to connect city water and sewer to the Stables area.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said he was pleased the Blazing Star Landing project made the proposal.

“That’s great,” Adams said, noting he thinks the city has a plan to move forward with private development on the site that will provide economic development and jobs.

He described the project’s inclusion as a “first step,” and said he hopes legislators keep the project in the bill the rest of the legislative session.

He said eight private developers have contacted him expressing their interest in the site, noting he expects more interest if bonding dollars are secured.

Adams said a developer could be secured within the next nine months for redevelopment of lakeshore property.

“Based on the level of interest and discussion we have received to date, I believe that some developers are motivated to move forward with a partnership with the city if we receive the state bonding dollars,” he said.

He said if the city would likely issue a request for proposals this year for prospective 2017 development and relocation of Front Street.

A $7.43 million bonding request for Albert Lea’s Riverland Community College campus and a request to develop Bent Tree Trail were not included in the bonding bill.

The Riverland dollars would go to renovate outdated space to relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and to integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said while he is disappointed Bent Tree Trail did not receive funding, he noted he was pleased other projects did.

He said the proposal’s exclusion from the bonding bill is not the end of the line for the plan.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, a member of the Capital Investment Committee, said the bonding bill will invest in needed projects across the state, noting the bill includes $150 million for local roads and bridges.

He said the investments would create 39,000 jobs and help create future economic growth.

He said $80 million is included in bonding for Public Facilities Authority to support local clean and wastewater priorities, such as the Stables project.

The Senate plan also allots $15 million in Greater Minnesota business development public infrastructure grants, $20 million in transportation economic development grants, $5 million in innovative business development public infrastructure grants, $4.33 million for a redevelopment grant program, $70 million for a local road improvement fund and $80 million for a local bridge replacement and rehabilitation program.

Sparks said he was happy to see the programs receive large appropriations, noting the statewide programs have and will continue to benefit the district.

“I did work with the city on priorities and shared my priorities, including Blazing Star Landing, with the committee chair and his staff as they worked to put together their bill,” he said. “The phase one funding is a good step forward for Albert Lea.”

He urged his colleagues in the House to present a bonding bill before the end of the session.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said though she hopes local bonding projects will be included in the bill, she thinks the $1.8 billion proposal is too much.

“I don’t know what they are thinking,” Bennett said of the Senate’s proposal.

She said in general, bonding has turned into a project wish list statewide.

“I just think we have to be careful,” she said, noting she is concerned that future generations would be forced to pay back debt incurred by current state leaders.

She suggested the Senate focus on a transportation bill and tax bill still on the table from last year’s legislative session before trying to pass a bonding bill.

The Senate bill contains more than $1.8 billion in projects, with a mix of borrowing and spending from other state funds. It aligns closely with Gov. Mark Dayton’s wish list from earlier this year.

But the Senate and Governor disagree both in scope and approach with the Republicans who control the House. House Republicans are shooting for a $600 million bill but haven’t yet released a detailed list.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said that will not come until after the Legislature figures out how it will spend a $900 million surplus.

Lawmakers have just three weeks remaining to wrap up their work.

District 1 Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, unveiled the bonding bill, which DFL leaders said makes significant investments in education, critical water and environmental infrastructure projects and transportation.

“My major takeaway after traveling 3,000 miles across the state this past fall on our bonding tours was that Minnesota has an aging infrastructure problem,” Stumpf said in a news release. “We saw it at stop after stop — cracked walls, leaking roofs and windows that needed to be replaced. You’ll see that asset preservation was a major priority for a lot of the agencies — and we funded $212.5 million worth of these project requirements.”

In a news release, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities supported the Senate’s $167 million bonding proposal for clean water infrastructure grants and loan programs and the $15 million proposal for the Business Development Public Infrastructure grant program.

“I’d like to thank the Senate Capital Investment Committee and its Chair Sen. Stumpf for recognizing the needs of Greater Minnesota communities in their bonding bill,” said Coalition president and LeSueur Mayor Robert Broeder. “I’m pleased that to see that the Senate has joined Gov. Dayton in supporting important infrastructure programs that benefit cities across Minnesota.”

He said now that the Senate and governor’s office have each released its bonding proposals, the House must act.

“As the House crafts its bonding bill, it’s critical that our House members match the Senate’s commitment to addressing Greater Minnesota’s water infrastructure and economic development needs,” Broeder said.


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