Dick Palmer: Athletic complex a bit iffy
It's too early to offer serious comment, pro or con, on a proposed effort to seek matching funds to build a 200,000- square-foot sports facility at Wheeler Field in West Duluth. In summary, billionaire Joan B. Kroc, widow of the founder of McDona...
It's too early to offer serious comment, pro or con, on a proposed effort to seek matching funds to build a 200,000- square-foot sports facility at Wheeler Field in West Duluth. In summary, billionaire Joan B. Kroc, widow of the founder of McDonald's restaurants, committed through her estate to award $1.5 billion to 25 or 30 communities nationwide to build a local sports center. Duluth is now a prospective bidder on this effort following City Council action last Monday.
The city would divert $6 million over the next five years from Fond-du-Luth Casino profits that were previously earmarked for ongoing street improvement projects throughout the city.
It is an exciting idea and certainly could benefit the entire area with efforts earmarked for our younger citizens. All this effort is based on the probability that the casino will continue to provide nealy $6 million annually to the city of Duluth from profits earned. If that doesn't happen, a contingency concept for paying off debt is certainly in order. But, again, it is too early to draw any serious conclusions.
According to news reports, the city will be asking for $28 million from the Kroc endowment to build the facility and another $28 million will be needed to maintain the facility in the years to come. Duluthians will be asked to raise the $14 million locally, of which $6 million will come out of the street maintenance fund and another $2 million is anticipated from user fees. It sounds simple enough, right?
Duluth has shown considerable progress in recent years. Duluth's waterfront renovation, the Streetscape effort downtown, the library and other efforts were orchestrated with governmental grants. The city street program was expanded by using profits from casino profits and, obviously, a great deal has been accomplished. City officials say reducing street improvements by $6 million will not be a serious deterrent. OK, so what is the problem then?
Before everyone gets too excited about all this, some questions need to be put on the table and addressed. For one thing, in particular, the Duluth School District has a plan on the table to close a number of elementary schools. Why? Because Duluth's population has declined. Neighborhoods don't like the options on the table. So if our younger population is in decline, how can we justify tying up close to $50 million for a sports center?
That's a question that needs to be answered with total community needs and long-range obligations put into the equation.
If housing is a concern, is there a plan on the drawing boards to allow zoning changes to be made without causing a neighborhood civil war with every issue? Would it make any sense to develop this sports center as a regional operation bringing Superior, Proctor, Hermantown and maybe even Cloquet and Two Harbors into the picture? It's just a thought that should as least generate an answer or rebuff.
Duluth officials expect the business community to provide around $8 million and that is a sizable effort. It's not that the business community has not been involved in the past. It has, and it will probably come forth again to some degree.
One final thought. Remember the movie featuring an Iowa farmer that built a baseball park in the middle of his cornfield? Build it and they will come, it was said. Maybe such a thing could happen here in Duluth. Let the dialogue begin.
Dick Palmer is the former editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 729-6470 or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .