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While waiting for state funds, St. Paul assembles pieces for Saints ballpark

With the critical piece of state funding still up in the air for building a new St. Paul Saints ballpark in St. Paul’s Lowertown area, city officials keep lining up the other elements to get it done.

Gov. Mark Dayton is the critical player in the drama: He’ll make the final call next month on whether St. Paul gets $27 million in state bonding funds for the stadium.

While the governor seems very interested in the project, full funding for the Saints would take more than half of the available $47.5 million in the special bonding pot, and 89 other communities have applied for a total of $288 million in projects.

Still, on Wednesday, the City Council moved ahead by approving financing for the city’s part of the stadium cost: $17 million.

The council agreed to use bonds for half of its contribution, to be paid off with payments of $625,000 annually for 25 years. The city will reallocate other funds and grants for the other $8.5 million.

The Saints are responsible for another $10 million of the building cost. City officials say that most of the team’s share will be paid with proceeds from tickets sales, suites, naming rights and parking revenue.

The council also approved a land swap with the Port Authority, which owns the proposed ballpark site in Lowertown. The exchange gives the city the old Gillette building and land at the ballpark site, and in return the Port Authority can develop the land at Midway Stadium, where the Saints now play.

Mayor Chris Coleman was glad:

“With today’s council action, we are nearing the final step in building what will become a centerpiece in our community. This ballpark will bring thousands of visitors to downtown yearly, will add millions of dollars to our local economy, will create hundreds of jobs, and will support youth sporting leagues from across Minnesota. Rarely do we come across a project that combines economy, community and jobs so seamlessly.”

But he still needs the governor to come through in the clutch, because all the actions are contingent on getting the state money.

The city’s projections call for attendance of 400,000 at ballpark events — Saints games, high school, college and Legion games, and other events — up from the current 300,000. That could be a stretch, since the actual paid attendance at Saints games is far below the stated attendance; generally just over 60 percent the past three years.

But they’re counting on a big economic boost for downtown and Lowertown from a new ballpark, much the same as the other side of downtown St. Paul flourished when the Wild began playing in Xcel Energy Center.

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