It's not just big cities like Rochester and St. Paul angling for a piece of the $47.5 million DEED money in the bonding bill.
The city of Chatfield, population 2,779, is also eyeing the economic development grant dollars. City clerk Joel Young said they are planning to apply for the grant to help fund the renovation of the Potter Center for the Arts. He estimates that thanks to recent investments in the property, the center has already had an economic impact of $5 million over the past two years.
"This art center goes toe to toe with other projects very well," he said.
The city needs $7 million to finish the entire project, which includes turning Potter Auditorium into a state-of-the-art performance venue. It would also renovate a 96-year-old school building to house a community/events center and provide office space for regional arts organizations. Young said city officials may ask for a smaller amount up front to boost the odds they'll get funding.
Chatfield's efforts to get state bonding dollars and Legacy Amendment money for the project haven't panned out. In 2010, then-Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed funding for the project from the bonding bill. This past session, a Senate version of the bonding bill included $2.2 million for the project. But that got stripped out of the final bonding bill.
The city has also had to combat misconceptions about the project. Pawlenty at one point referred to it as a "pottery center," upsetting city officials who pointed out it has nothing to do with pottery. It's also been confused with a previous project proposal that would have built a new Chatfield Brass Band Music Lending Library. It's a project that was singled out for ridicule by Pawlenty and others as an example of runaway government spending. Last month, Republican House Majority Leader Matt Dean made disparaging remarks on the House floor about the "sheet music museum." That drew a swift response from Chatfield Mayor Don Hainlen, who sent a letter to Dean emphasizing the lending library and the Chatfield Center for the Arts are two different projects.
"The point, Rep. Dean, is that the residents of Chatfield have made significant contributions to the State of Minnesota and continue to do so every day," Hainlen wrote, "and they deserve more respect than that shown by flippant remarks like those you made."