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Local view: Zoo deserves money more than NorShor

There seems to be no end to the misspending of government money by our state and local governments.

After the mayor came out in March with his political promise to develop the western riverfront corridor, we ended up with no meaningful funding for the Lake Superior Zoo. The mayor talks of sustainability for public amenities like the zoo while championing the most-

unlikely-to-be-sustainable project in Duluth: the NorShor Theatre.

In 2010, the city sunk $2.6 million into the decaying theater, a sum many felt was way above market. Now the Legislature agreed to throw in another nearly $7 million. Let’s assume for a moment a theater is a high priority. Can any of us imagine what a modern, up-to-date, energy-efficient, $10 million theater would look like?

Duluth’s zoo is a significant tourist and local attraction enjoyed by thousands every year. Yes, attendance was down the past two years because of the flood and the loss of the polar bear exhibit. But that is precisely why this facility needs public money now. The zoo, even in its rundown condition, attracts thousands. But it reflects poorly on the city because of its current state. The city will not be embarrassed by not remodeling the NorShor. But the zoo, in its current condition, is an embarrassment to the city.

Wade Stadium eked out a measly $2.3 million from the Legislature’s bonding bill this session, an amount smaller than the $2.6 million paid for the rundown NorShor. Like the zoo, the stadium is a major local attraction, serving thousands of local residents and many ball teams and families from around the state. It has been an embarrassment to the city for many years, as many local people who travel throughout the state following VFW and American Legion ball teams are well aware. The facilities of the smaller towns far exceed our once-proud Wade Stadium.

I’m not sure of projected attendance figures for the NorShor, but I’ll venture a guess they’ll be in the hundreds and not in the thousands like the above-

mentioned attractions. I can’t imagine the NorShor being, in the mayor’s word, sustainable.

I’m not an arts basher; I’m just trying to be realistic. State and local spending priorities reflect a disservice to the majority of the residents of Duluth and equate to a gift to the minority arts community.

It’s time the mayor walks the talk of developing the western waterfront corridor. Or are we just in for some earlier campaign rhetoric?

Ron Karlen of Duluth lives in a western riverfront neighborhood, coached baseball, including VFW baseball, was a member of the Save the Wade Committee during the early 1990s and has a background in finance.