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Governor Touts Civic Center Expansion

Mavericks men's and women's hockey teams to benefit from civic center improvements.

2014-08-14
Dan Linehan, Mankato Free Press, 8-13-2014

NOTE: Photos were taken by Minnesota State University, Mankato's media relations office.

In top photo, Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport (third from left) shakes hands with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. State Sen. Kathy Sheran is at left. State Rep. Clark Johnson (fourth from left) and Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson (far right) look on.

In bottom photo (left to right), Minnesota State Mankato Director of Athletics Kevin Buisman, Dayton, "Stomper," and Davenport pose for the cameras.

Mankato, Minn. -- Before the civic center was built in 1994, downtown Mankato was a deteriorating blightscape, then-councilor and state Sen. Kathy Sheran said Wednesday afternoon.

Near to where the crowd sat, a J.C. Penney store stood empty, and the once busy downtown mall was past its prime.

“There were papers and plastic bags floating through the streets here,” she told legislators and civic leaders gathered to congratulate each other for the civic center expansion.

And that’s the way of downtowns, Gov. Mark Dayton told the crowd. They require special attention because economic development typically goes to the fringes of a city.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota State University, Mankato hockey team was looking to expand to Division I. So the city and the university decided to do something novel, Sheran said.

“This was a new idea, that a university and a city would partner.”

She said the city should take some pride in building a civic center on its own, using a local sales tax.

But, like all things, the civic center aged. Given how the state had helped other cities, Mankato wasn’t of a mind to go it alone again.

And Minnesota State Mankato was the only school in its conference without its own hockey center, Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport said. A few other teams played in their city’s arenas, but they had full-time use of them, which Mankato doesn’t.

There was as much satisfaction taken from the seven-year effort to complete an expansion project as with the finished product.

It started in early 2007, when City Manager Pat Hentges mentioned something over his shoulder as he left state Rep. Kathy Brynaert’s office.

He asked her to submit a placeholder civic center request, meaning a bill that would set the stage for the request without being expected to pass that year.

The tale included triumph over adversary, taking the form of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s three-line item vetoes.

The Legislature’s iterative, step-by-step style was on display with the city’s $14.5 million request, as its fortunes seemed to change weekly some years.

“It was truly a long journey, but death by 1,000 cuts has been circumvented,” Brynaert said. “Simply put, this community would not take no for an answer.”

Despite some Republicans’ longtime opposition to the project, much was made of the bipartisan nature of the bonding bill vote. The largest construction bill passed the House 94-40 and the Senate 47-17.

Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center, describing himself as “one of those pesky Republicans that voted for this bonding bill, gladly,” said the expansion was a “tough sell” at first. But he was slowly brought around.

The city’s argument was bolstered by the fact the local economy seems to be humming.

“If nothing else, it’s a reward for good behavior that the bonding bill should go through,” he said.

There was credit enough for the bonding bill to go around.

Davenport even thanked Dayton for his support for the $25.8 million clinical sciences building, even though the governor didn’t include it in his initial recommendations.

When it’s completed, the civic center is expected to create an economic impact of $50 million, Dayton said. The civic center’s executive director, Burt Lyman, said that figure would be estimated at about $45 million for this year. He said it’s too early to estimate what that impact would be after the expansion.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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