Magnus proposes state-owned casino in Minneapolis
ST. PAUL -- Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, will introduce a bill on the Senate floor this morning proposing to renovate a downtown Minneapolis block into a state-owned casino complete with upscale restaurants and roof-top venues. Known as Block E, the property is located along Seventh Street South and Hennepin Avenue, across from Target Center and just down the street from Target Field.
In a phone call to the Daily Globe Wednesday afternoon, Magnus said he agreed to be the lead author of the bill as a way to bring additional money into the state's transportation fund.
"I've given this a lot of thought," he said. "I've been desperately trying to find some infrastructure money. I know we can't pass a gas tax increase now ... and we're not able to keep up."
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday night asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation to move ahead $400 million in federal funding over the next couple of years to pay for infrastructure projects, but Magnus is concerned about what happens after that money runs out.
The federal government hasn't accomplished much with the highway plan, and the state has already spent most of its federal stimulus dollars.
"We've got to preserve our system," Magnus said.
Rep. John Kriesel, Cottage Grove, will author the bill in the House, and both will be presented this morning. Magnus said the two bills outline a plan in which the Minnesota Lottery would be the managing entity for the casino, which would cover three floors of the existing building on Block E.
"Five hundred million people are expected to come through that area in a year. That will be a big plus for Minneapolis," said Magnus. It is anticipated the casino would raise $125 million annually. "In turn, I'm saying we need some help -- we need to help the rest of the state.
"If we use the majority of that money ... we could bond for $1.2 billion in projects," he explained, adding that funds would also be designated for Local Government Aid for communities.
Magnus said the Minneapolis City Council is supportive of the state-owned casino idea, but so far the mayor has not been.
"The governor, when he ran as a candidate, supported a state-owned casino at the Mall of America," Magnus said.
Still, the first-term senator knows the idea will be a "tough row to hoe."
"Some folks just don't like gambling," said Magnus. "I'm not a big fan of it either.
"I've tried to find a way to not cause damage to anyone," he said.
The bill includes a request to set aside a "significant amount" of gambling addiction funding.
Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder, when told of the Magnus bill Wednesday afternoon, wasn't keen on the idea of establishing a state-owned casino to generate revenue for the transportation system. Nobles County has several timber bridges that need to be replaced, and a few roads have had to be posted down to a 10-ton limit. A lack of funding will likely mean some road projects will be delayed.
Yet, Schnieder said he didn't see a casino as being a solution to the problem.
"I think we need more steady sources of income," Schnieder said. "I'm not a big advocate for gambling any way. I think if we need transportation funding, we should generate the revenues through a more reliable process -- extension of a fuel tax, a user fee like a mileage tax or ton-mile haul tax for trucks would make more sense."
At the same time, Schnieder said he appreciates that Magnus realizes the need for more transportation funding.
"If we can get other revenues for transportation funding, that would be good," he said. "If you're going to use gambling to fund a stadium, it's not a far stretch to say gambling could be used for other funding sources such as transportation.
"If I had a choice between the two of them, I'd probably say fund transportation before you fund a new stadium."
Despite the potential drawbacks of a state-owned casino, Magnus sees a project like this as a boost to the state's economy.
"There would be a lot of construction jobs," he said, adding that no state funds would be used to renovate and construct the casino. The building features an underground parking ramp for 550 vehicles, which addresses the issue of parking.
While the state lottery would be the managing entity, Magnus said the state would send out a request for proposals to find a qualified entity to operate the casino -- if the bill garners enough support in both the House and Senate and is ultimately signed by Gov. Dayton.