In 2009, the city council asked lawmakers to allow the city to impose a 1 percent food and beverage tax and a 1 percent lodging tax to help pay for the Mayo Civic Center expansion. But officials later changed their mind amid strong opposition from local restaurants and bars. Instead, city officials want the Legislature to OK raising the city’s 4 percent lodging tax by 3 percent to pay for the civic center expansion.
During a Senate Taxes Committee hearing, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk asked whether Rochester would be willing to go ahead and impose the food and beverage tax to pay for the city’s $45 million share of the project’s cost.
“I don’t think we would,” Brede said.
One committee member could be heard uttering a “wow” in response to the mayor’s answer. Bakk urged city officials to think twice about abandoning the food and beverage tax if the city decides to help fund the $82 million project.
“I wouldn’t presume too much about residents of the city being against a food and beverage tax if they can get a new state-of-the-art convention center,” Bakk said.
He added that then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty required a vote be held on a plan to raise Duluth’s food and beverage tax by three-quarters of 1 percent to help fund that city’s convention center. The proposal passed with more than 60 percent of the vote.
The city of Rochester wants to add convention space to the aging Mayo Civic Center in hopes of attracting national and international medical conferences to the city. They want the state to chip in $37 million toward the 188,000-square-foot expansion. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, is sponsoring a bill to raise the lodging tax to pay for the civic center. His sponsorship of the bill is “by request,” which means he is not necessarily in support of the proposal. A similar measure has been introduced by Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, in the House. That bill failed to make it into a key House local property tax bill stoking fears among some that lawmakers are eyeing the tax to help fund Mayo Clinic’s request of $585 million to help support its Destination Medical Center initiative.