Past, current mayors confounded by costly failure of Vadnais Heights Sports Center

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A former and current mayor of Vandnais Heights are commenting on the failure of the $26.5 million Vandnais Sports Center, which the city walked away from last year, the Star Tribune reports.

The paper says bondholders will likely feel the impact of the failure of the facility and recoup little if anything on their investment. The three-year-old sports center has a current asking price on the market for $13 million, but, according to an executive of the firm marketing the facility, it could go for as little as $8 million.

The Star Tribune says the city spent $5.5 million — equivalent to its entire annual budget — to help pay the bills on the arena before defaulting on the bonds.

Current Vandnais Heights Mayor Marc Johannsen and former Mayor Susan Banovetz said they both had confidence in the success of the sports center at the outset of the project.

However, Banovetz -- who was mayor of the Twin Cities suburb from 1997 to 2011 -- is claiming that there were city staffers "working actively behind the scenes who put a lot of energy into seeing this fail who should have been using that energy to see it succeed."

"I know this is in litigation, but I will just say this: Some people were determined to see it fail from the time it was just a mere idea," Banovetz told the Star Tribune.

Why anyone would undermine the success of the project is unclear, the paper reported.

Johannsen -- who began serving as mayor in 2011 and served on the Vadnais Heights City Council since 1995 -- said the city "took a lot of time and effort and spent hundreds of hours vetting the numbers and going over them with our consultants" and nobody ever warned against doing the deal.

However, an analyst with the National Sports Center Foundation did a "cursory review" at the request of city officials in 2009 and warned them in late 2009 that financial date on which the plans reports were based were "unsupported and incomplete,” revenue amounts were significantly overstated, and expenses were understated.

Vandnais Heights city manager of five months, Kevin Watson, says the city will not likely recoup any of the money it put into the sports center, but said the city's finances as were healthy that the city was was working on rebuilding its credit rating and community trust, the Star Tribune says.

Watson says the city is current on two other bond projects, and paid off bonds for the County Road E bridge this year.

Johannsen told the Star Tribune that he's convinced the facility can success in private hands, adding since user statistics improved this year, "I think the sports center will work itself out."

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