Council's fiscal caution stirs fans to action
There should be no doubts that Duluthians take their hockey seriously. So when the Duluth City Council on Monday made a decision that some project supporters believed could jeopardize both the $14.7 million Duluth Heritage Sports Center and an ac...
There should be no doubts that Duluthians take their hockey seriously.
So when the Duluth City Council on Monday made a decision that some project supporters believed could jeopardize both the $14.7 million Duluth Heritage Sports Center and an accompanying $30 million commercial development, it struck a nerve.
Dozens of nerves were struck, in fact, by the council's unexpected move to table the city taxpayers' $1.8 million commitment for the center at the former Clyde Iron works on West Michigan Street and 28th Avenue West.
But while several councilors at the time expressed concerns about how much the project has departed from the original proposal to replace the city's Peterson Arena, nearly all of those contacted by the News Tribune on Thursday said their support has not wavered.
During the past two days, city councilors and Mayor Herb Bergson have received close to 70 e-mails from a broad range of citizens concerned about the future of the complex in Duluth's West End/Lincoln Park.
Bergson said he hadn't been bombarded like that since the removal of the 10 Commandments monument from City Hall.
Councilors said they need to see development and operational agreements before they'll vote in favor of it, which could take weeks or months to put together. However, they noted that the project has ballooned from a city-owned indoor rink into a nonprofit complex with two sheets of ice, a multisports fieldhouse and local hockey hall of fame.
"If the Duluth City Council does not pass the resolution for matching monies of $1.8 million we then lose the state grants already secured and the Duluth Heritage Sports Center project is DEAD!!!' wrote Duluth Amateur Hockey Association President Dean Holm in his plea to members.
Councilor Jim Stauber called the campaign's doomsday tone untrue and unfortunate. He said the resolution was simply missing some vital information, such as how much it would cost.
"Clearly there was some misunderstanding by councilors or they needed additional information,' said Dick Loraas of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center Corp., which would own and run the facility.
Loraas met this week with councilors Greg Gilbert and Stauber, who had authored an amendment with new project deadlines that concerned organizers.
Both Stauber and Gilbert said they don't blame the hardworking sports center folks for the confusion.
Councilor Russ Stover also met with corporation members this week and said they will provide detailed information at a hearing before the council's regular meeting on Oct. 10.
"I think we could perhaps proceed on even a faster pace now,' Loraas said. "Of course, we haven't stopped anything. We're going full-speed ahead.'
Loraas said organizers expect to break ground on the project before the new year, and it will host hockey games by September 2007. On Saturday, they hosted a fundraising kickoff rally that attracted at least 1,000 people.
"I just wish some of the city councilors who question the importance of the project had been there to see the excitement and the mix of people,' Bergson said.
So far, the group has formal and informal commitments for up to $6 million of their $7 million public fundraising goal, Loraas said. Bergson's administration has worked closely with the group, so has the state and Duluth school district.
Garry Krause, whose 4th District includes the project site, may be the most skeptical about it.
Krause on Thursday said he's listening to neighbors' concerns about whether the center and a proposed hotel, marketplace, brewery and housing complex will have a real impact on the area.
"Some say it will change the shape of the neighborhood, some say it won't do anything,' Krause said. "Until there's signed contracts, it's all speculation.'
Gilbert said he is anxious to move forward. The ability to leverage a nearly $15 million investment -- not including the private developer's commercial plans -- is a good deal for all Duluthians, he said.
"I'm just trying to be a good steward of public money,' Stauber said, referring to a few of the city's high-profile financial fiascoes. "We've learned our lessons.'