Council OKs money for sports center
Duluth city councilors decided to kick in $1.8 million for a proposed hockey and youth sports center Monday night. The move was akin to finishing the second period of a hockey game, elated supporters of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center said, as ...
Duluth city councilors decided to kick in $1.8 million for a proposed hockey and youth sports center Monday night.
The move was akin to finishing the second period of a hockey game, elated supporters of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center said, as they continue to round up millions of dollars necessary to open the facility next fall.
After a Zamboni explosion and fire gutted Peterson Arena nearly two years ago, local youth hockey teams have been scattered about the Twin Ports, looking for ice time.
The new center would provide two ice sheets, a fieldhouse and a local hockey hall of fame. Duluth's public high schools also could call the center's 1,400-seat arena home.
After months of discussion and at least two other proposed locations, the center finally found a home at the former Clyde Iron works at 28th Avenue West and Michigan Street.
Supporters say the project may someday bloom into a large commercial, retail and hospitality center.
But in September, councilors balked at pitching in public money to construct a parking lot, and said they wanted more assurances, information and time. The new agreement essentially buys ice time and facility use for 55 years.
On Monday, the council unanimously OK'd two agreements covering construction and operations. The deal got the exact number of votes necessary -- seven -- because money from the Fond-du-Luth Casino trust was being used. Council Greg Gilbert did not vote on the project, citing a conflict of interest. Councilor Russ Stewart was not at Monday's meeting.
"We're a hockey town and we're in desperate need of a facility," council President Roger Reinert said. Duluth has missed out on many youth tournaments, Reinert said. The new facility, along with the proposed Kroc Center at Wheeler Field, will make the Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood a nexus of athletic fields, he said. Other economic activity will be promoted, he said.
Councilor Jim Stauber said his questions had been answered.
"I thought that [the project] was a bit nebulous," Stauber said. "[But] they really have gone the extra mile -- maybe an extra 10 miles."
Dick Loraas, president of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center board of directors, said the council's vote gets the project through the second period. He said the group's attention now turns to the third period -- its fundraising effort, which is under way.
Organizers pitched their idea to 100 local businesses at Canal Park's Inn on Lake Superior on Monday, hoping to eventually raise $500,000. In addition, $2 million has been raised through a sale of memorial bricks, and the center expects to raise $5 million for naming rights. School officials are mulling over contributing money to the project.
The new center could be completed by next fall. Property owner Alex Guiliani said Monday he has secured financing to do utility work and construct the parking lot.
The city's vote is a show of faith, Guiliani said.
The project includes an extension of 30th Avenue West. Environmental cleanup costs would be paid by the property owner, although state grant money has been secured.
Last week, City Attorney Bryan Brown said that if the center went under, operations likely would be assumed by the city and Duluth public schools. School officials are discussing how much money they might add to the project.
Councilors Garry Krause and Stauber said last week that they heard some complaints that the construction bidding process for the project wasn't fair. Center officials said they solicited bids from three local construction management companies, which chose their own subcontractors.
In other action Monday, the council:
* Joined other Minnesota cities asking for a two-year moratorium on test plots of genetically modified wild rice. The resolution is aimed at protecting the sacred Ojibwe crop from cross-pollination from genetically modified crops. Three dissenting councilors said they didn't have enough information on the subject or defended the use of modified crops.
* Voted to spend $316,000 on a new fire truck, despite the protests of Councilor Tim Little, who said the money should be spent on more police officers.
JASON MOHR covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached at (218) 723-5312 or by e-mail at email@example.com .