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Push continues for Better City Superior

Business leaders have a plan to grow Superior's economy and enliven the city's downtown. Now, it's a matter of persuading the state Legislature and keeping the issue alive in the minds of legislators.

However, with the state budget stalled and legislators busy with a the major Foxconn economic development proposal for southern Wisconsin, local leaders continue to work to get the legislation that would give Superior the tools needed to make the project a reality by allowing the city to create an exposition district.

"We've made considerable effort down in Madison with the members of Joint Finance, carrying this message to the administration as well," said Bruce Thompson, president of Better City Superior.

He said most recently, the proposal has gained corporate support from the partners in the Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior, a planned $700 million state-of-the-art natural gas power generation facility slated to start construction in 2020.

"In concert with a natural gas plant investment of this type is a need for a vibrant and growing community with a quality of life attractive to a long-term quality workforce," officials with Dairyland Power Cooperative, Superior Water, Light & Power and Allete Inc. wrote in a letter to Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, who has been working with Better City Superior. "The Superior Exposition District concept is an ideal mechanism to create an effective public/private partnership and a new and attractive future for our citizens and businesses to thrive for generations."

The legislation would allow for sales and excise taxes from tourism-related activities such as car rentals, and the sale of alcohol, beverages and prepared food, to generate revenue to support economic development in Superior's downtown.

The revenue would allow the city to work with private investors for things such a convention center, hotel, theater, a water park and other venues to draw tourists and improve the quality of life for residents, backers say.

Planning for changing the city's fortunes started about four years ago, initiated by the business community. The exposition district concept is a tool larger communities have used.

It's a plan that has garnered widespread support among businesses, government and in the wider community. In November, with 80 percent of voters turning out citywide, the idea was backed in a referendum by a 3-1 margin.

If successful in getting legislation passed, the Superior City Council would have to create the exposition district and appoint the board of directors. It would then function on its own as an entity that establishes the tools to bond to bring public dollars in, funded primarily by tourists.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine, who has written several letters of support for the exposition district, said he recently wrote a letter to the governor and Tiffany to see if the legislation could be included in the Foxconn bill, which would authorize a $10 billion investment by a Taiwanese tech company that could create up to 13,000 jobs in southern Wisconsin. The state is proposing $3 billion in incentives to bring Foxconn to the state.

"With this Foxconn bill it seems like a huge opportunity for a development project for Wisconsin that they all want us to be involved in," Paine said. "That's fine. It just doesn't do anything for northwest Wisconsin, but Better City definitely does. We don't need anything but permission. We're trying to get them to see that and have the Foxconn bill do something for us."

It's vital for Superior for the state to allow the city another tool in its economic development strategy in the wake of declining state support for local communities, Paine said.

"We have to be able to help ourselves; we need growth tools and that's what Better City is, a way to plan and develop in a way that makes sense for the whole community," Paine said. "It's a way to invest in ourselves."