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Will this be year St. Paul gets state funding for new Saints ballpark?

St. Paul made it to first base today, when Gov.

St. Paul made it to first base today, when Gov. Mark Dayton announced his proposed bonding bill for 2012 and included $27 million for a new Saints minor league ballpark in Lowertown.

And even though Republicans in charge of the Legislature don’t seem enamored with Dayton’s overall bonding wish list, St. Paul officials hope to get support for this part of it and finally see the project round third base to score on a project that seems like it’s gone into extra innings already.

The city’s been trying for years.

In the summer of 2009, St. Paul officials were hopeful that the 2010 Legislature would pop for $25 million to build a new ballpark to replace the aging and deteriorating Midway Stadium, home of the Saints and host to hundreds of high school and amateur games every year. When it was obvious it wasn’t going to pass that year, the city sought planning money for the project, but even that was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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Dayton included $25 million for the stadium in his 2011 bonding bill proposal, only to see it shot down by Republicans more interested in cutting projects than adding them. Strike two.

But, there was a ray of hope when, early in the 2011 session Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, told MPR:

“I like the ballpark for the Saints, but we have to find a way to do it that makes sense. If you look at Minneapolis, they’ve got Target Center, they’ve got the Twins stadium, they’ve got the Metrodome so far, and St. Paul’s just got Xcel. So, maybe it’s time St. Paul got something.”

But he said he didn’t think the time was right.

A year later, city officials are hoping that the time is finally right.

Joe Campbell, city spokesman, said:

“The mayor believes that we have a good chance of being funded in the final bonding bill this year. There is strong support for the project among many members of the legislature and it has strong backing from the Saint Paul business community including the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the largest private employer in Downtown, Securian, just to name a few.”

If the state money comes through, the Saints would put up $10 million and the city would pay for the site and cleanup; it’s not certain how much that would be, but it will be many millions.

The ballpark would go in the Lowertown region on the old Gillette factory site, near the Farmer’s Market, on the eastern edge of downtown.