Odd ideas in the Northland: Monorails, a canal to the Gulf of Mexico and big-league sports
The Northland has sometimes pitched what now seem like outlandish plans.
There’s an 1993 episode of the cartoon TV show “The Simpsons” where a "Music Man"-esque salesman convinces the city of Springfield it needed to buy a monorail.
In the early 2000s, it almost happened in Duluth.
From 2003 to 2005 — and one last time in 2011 — the on-again, off-again idea of Taxi 2000, a futuristic personal rapid transit system that would carry people around town on a monorail in three-passenger pods, was pitched by area developers.
At first, the potential route included a loop that would connect the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Canal Park and downtown. The cost grew from $60 million to $80 million, and attempts were made to secure state and federal funding and tax breaks.
With such a high price, a cheaper, half-mile, $22 million demonstration track at the Duluth International Airport to connect the terminal with remote parking options was also considered. (There have never been remote parking locations at the airport.)
It’s just one of many odd, outlandish and outright gimmicky plans that have been proposed over the years in Duluth.
Connecting Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico
For 100 years, dreams of a canal connecting Duluth to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River floated around.
According to Big River Magazine, the idea was first studied in 1868, and was considered on-and-off again until Duluth frozen-food mogul Jeno Paulucci made one more push for it in 1967. But a year later, the St. Croix River — usually a key segment in any planned route — was offered protection when it became a National Scenic Riverway.
While some plans called for heading west out of the Duluth-Superior harbor to reach the Mississippi, most would use the St. Croix, which meets the Mississippi in Prescott, Wisconsin.
The Duluth News Tribune in 1912 reported consideration was given to connecting the harbor with the St. Croix via a 36-mile canal through segments of the Amnicon and Moose rivers.
Though it would require building a harbor, another popular route included connecting Lake Superior to the St. Croix via the Brule River. After all, just 2 miles separate the rivers’ headwaters.
But on May 30, 1913, the News Tribune reported the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the project “not feasible” — a conclusion many others would come to during the next 55 years.
Proctor wanted NHL, NFL teams
In the 1920s, Duluth had a team, the Eskimos, in the National Football League. Its storied 1926 season is the basis for the 2008 movie “Leatherheads” starring George Clooney and John Krasinski, and also a book by News Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick.
And in 2015, Proctor City Councilor Travis White wanted some of that professional sports magic back in the Twin Ports.
He first pitched to the City Council, which then passed two resolution s supporting the idea of bringing an NFL team to the region and building an outdoor pro-football stadium.
"It sounds 'out there,' but it's really not out there," he said at the time.
A couple of months later, White acknowledged many were skeptical of his football idea, and he introduced another resolution urging the area to explore bringing in a National Hockey League expansion team . A new hockey stadium wouldn’t need to be as large as a new football stadium, he said.
He also wanted a minor league baseball team.
Besides professional sports, the area has eyed the Olympic Games .
In 1929, civic leaders submitted an application to the International Olympic Committee to host the 1932 Winter Games.
Today, such a bid would be unlikely and require new facilities. But in 1932, there were fewer sports in the Winter Games: hockey, ski jumping, speed skating, figure skating, bobsled, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined. Additionally, curling and dogsledding were demonstration sports.
Duluth leaders said it would be possible to use the “Big Chester” ski jump at Chester Bowl and the Duluth Curling Club’s building on London Road.
The bid was unsuccessful, however, and the games went to Lake Placid, New York.
The area could have also hosted part of the 1996 Summer Games had it been awarded to Minneapolis instead of Atlanta. Lake Superior would have been the sailing venue while the St. Louis River near Carlton would have been the choice for whitewater kayaking.
Instead, those games were held closer to Duluth, Georgia.