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Budget plan includes DECC money

Gov. Tim Pawlenty included $37.9 million for the proposed Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion in his 2008-09 budget, released Monday. The governor's $34.4 billion budget proposal includes enough to pay for half of the design and cons...

Gov. Tim Pawlenty included $37.9 million for the proposed Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion in his 2008-09 budget, released Monday.

The governor's $34.4 billion budget proposal includes enough to pay for half of the design and construction costs for the project, which would replace the existing 40-year-old arena with a larger rink and 30 percent more seating.

This will be the second go-around for the DECC measure, which failed to pass during the last legislative session.

"The governor has been a strong supporter of this project ... and [said] that he wanted to get it done this session," DECC Executive Director Dan Russell said. "Obviously, we are very, very thankful for his leadership on this."

If the state pitches in $37.9 million for the $70 million project, the remainder of the cost would be shared by the city of Duluth, the DECC and the University of Minnesota Duluth. UMD has said its hockey program needs a larger arena with more amenities to compete with other programs in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

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The expansion also would provide an opportunity for larger concert and convention business in the city, supporters have said.

In February 2006, Duluth residents approved a 0.75 percentage point addition to the citywide sales tax in restaurants and bars to pay the city's share of the DECC expansion.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, is the lead author on the bill that would allow Duluth to levy the additional restaurant and bar tax. The DECC will have a presentation before the Senate Capital Investment Committee sometime before Jan. 30.

Prettner Solon said she was pleased by the governor's support of the DECC expansion but called it "just a starting point."

State Reps. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, and Tom Huntley and Mike Jaros, both DFL-Duluth, are authors of the city's $37.9 million bonding request to help build the $70 million facility.

But Prettner Solon said a bill is being readied to request a one-time allocation for the expansion rather than bonding for it.

"It would allow [us] to let proposals earlier and perhaps cut down on some of our costs," Prettner Solon said.

The new arena would seat about 8,000 for hockey. The current arena holds, with standing-room space, 5,100.

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The project would include a 200- by 85-foot rink, compared to the current 185- by 85-foot rink, and expand the DECC's parking ramp by 500 spaces.

The proposed expansion enjoys widespread support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, Russell said.

If lawmakers fund the expansion this session, the new arena would be ready in October 2009, he said.

On the Web

* To view the full details of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal, go to the Minnesota Department of Finance's Web site at www.finance.state.mn.us .

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