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A Bad Day for Arena and Stadium Deals
By Marisa Helms
November 3, 1999
Part of MPR Online's "Campaign '99" coverage.

Saint Cloud area residents said "no" to a half-percent sales-tax increase for a proposed regional events center. The referendum was also tied to other regional amenities like park improvements and a remodeled regional library. Officials say they're now looking for ways to fund the library and parks.

THERE WILL BE NO sales hike in Saint Cloud this year. That means there will be no Central Minnesota events center in the foreseeable future. A legislative mandate opened a window this year for Saint Cloud to pass the tax to be eligible for state funding to build the events center.

Duane Schumacher is co-chair of "We the People," a group which opposed the measure. They were particularly unhappy that the ballot linked local improvements, including an expanded regional library and improvements to ailing public parks and pools, with a project as expensive as the proposed $69 million events center. Schumacher says he's pleased the measure was defeated.
Schumacher: The people have won a victory, because they have restored their faith in their right to vote and their belief that it's paramount in our democracy for representative government and they came out in numbers, 50-some percent came out and voted and I think that's something that should be applauded.
The ballot was defeated by only 360 votes.

Once the outcome was clear, supporters talked about going back to the Legislature again to ask for sales tax authorization for the parks and the library only.

But Saint Cloud Representative Joe Opatz, who carried the initial bill for the events center, says he won't be the one to carry that bill.
Opatz: The notion of allowing a local units of government to impose upon themselves a local sales tax is for regional or statewide projects. Clearly the voters made a statement not only about the events center but about parks and trails and libraries it seems to me, so I'm really not interested in spending the next legislative session pushing another bill that would bring back to the voters a sales tax.
Saint Cloud Mayor Larry Meyer has been a supporter of the ballot measure from the start. He says he hopes to get approval from the city council to try to persuade Opatz or another local legislator to help the city get those improvements funded.
Meyer: Getting sales tax isn't easy. However, Rochester, Mankato, Winona, all major regional cities including Twin Cities, have received sales-tax authorization. We are the largest city not to have it. So I see no reason why we can't go to the Legislature and ask for this.
All six seats of the Saint Cloud city council were also up for election. Challengers won four out of those six seats. Events Center opponent Duane Schumacher says that shows Saint Cloud residents want change. But Mayor Larry Meyer was quick to point out that all newly elected city council members support a sales tax referendum.

The only St. Cloud ballot measures to pass Tuesday involved road construction measures that involved no new funding.