The state’s 2022 bonding bill is now taking shape, months before the next legislative session is scheduled to begin. Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) employees are reviewing more than 1,000 pages of requests from local units of government alone, including eight submissions approved by the Saint Paul City Council last month.

MMB commissioner Jim Showalter recently told legislative leaders that the 2022 preliminary requests came in at almost $5.5 billion. The submissions start a process of review before Governor Tim Walz submits his capital budget to state lawmakers by January 17.

Saint Paul’s requests include four city-sponsored projects that top $71.4 million. The largest request for local parks is $20 million for a new Mississippi River Learning Center at Watergate Marina. The idea, which has been floated since the 1990s, ranks second in the city’s four priorities.

The project would result in a 25,000-square-foot river recreation and environmental education center that could also provide office and program space for the National Park Service (NPS), Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation, schools and river-focused nonprofit organizations. Rentals of canoes, kayaks, fishing equipment, bikes, cross-country skis and snowshoes would also be offered.

Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert said the river learning center “would activate one of the best parts of the Mississippi River at Watergate and Crosby Farm Park. Right now if you take a class to the river, there isn’t an indoor space for them to use.”

Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert said the center “would activate one of the best parts of the Mississippi River at Watergate and Crosby Farm Park. Right now if you take a class to the river, there isn’t an indoor space for them to use.”

The NPS, as the lead tenant, would pay around $250,000 in yearly rent, which would support long-term maintenance and operations of the center. The city would own the facility.

 

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The project has support from the nonprofit Great River Passage Conservancy. Design work could start as soon as this fall, with $600,000 in privately raised funds. In 2020 the city sought $3 million for the project’s design, but it did not make the final bill passed by state lawmakers. Typically, state bonding bills are passed during even-numbered years.

Kellogg Boulevard bridge replacement

The city’s top-ranked 2022 bonding request is $23.4 million for the replacement of the eastbound Kellogg RiverCentre Bridge at Exchange Street. Earlier this summer, the project went through a review process with the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) because of its location near historic structures. 

The Kellogg/Exchange Street work is expected to start in 2022, pending funding, and be finished in 2024. It has a total cost of $35.6 million. The bridge was constructed in 1936 over the edge of the river bluff and needs replacing.

Ranked third is a city request for $12 million for the Como Zoo’s orangutan exhibit. Fourth is $16 million to build, furnish and equip a 25,000-square-foot community center next to the Rice Street Library.

Council supports four nonprofit requests

The city also supported four nonprofit bonding requests, including one for Ramsey County’s top priority—$26 million for a RiversEdge public space along Kellogg Boulevard. The county’s other two bonding requests are $5 million for Rice Street improvements and $3.5 million to extend the Bruce Vento Trail.

Saint Paul is also supporting a $10 million request for a new YMCA Community Center in the Osborn 370 Building in downtown, and $3.15 million to relocate the Playwrights’ Center from Minneapolis to the University-Raymond area.

The city’s fourth partner request, which does not have a dollar amount listed, is for ReConnect Rondo’s proposed land bridge over I-94 between Chatsworth and Grotto streets. The state provided $6.2 million during a special legislative session in June to launch a master planning process for the estimated $459 million project.

Dakota County bonding requests

Dakota County’s state bonding requests include $5 million to finish the Minnesota River Greenway pedestrian and bicycle trail that extends from Saint Paul to Burnsville. The funds would be used to complete a 3-mile trail gap and provide separation between trail users and a railroad line. The project has a cost of around $13.2 million.

Mendota Heights is seeking just over $1 million in state funds to create better access and provide cultural and natural resource improvements to Oheyawahe (Historic Pilot Knob) overlooking the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

— Jane McClure

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