A strong contingent from St. Louis County and the city of Duluth is headed to St. Paul Wednesday to lobby legislators on behalf of local projects.
About 350 people pre-registered for the 22nd annual grand reception of Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol Days Wednesday evening, and David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, anticipates around 500 people will attend the event, although a forecasted winter storm system could cut into that turnout.
Gov. Tim Walz is on the guest list and also is slated to deliver the keynote address at Thursday morning's legislative breakfast, closing out the event. Congressman Pete Stauber, and a delegation of Northland state lawmakers, also will be on hand.
In all, 72 exhibitors have signed up for tonight's reception - a record number, according to Ross. He said the event is the largest community gathering at the Capitol, bar none.
At the top of Duluth's legislative wish list is $184 million in state funding to provide infrastructure for the city's medical district, which is expected to dramatically expand in the next few years. Essentia Health has laid out plans to invest $800 million in its downtown medical campus, and a few blocks away, St. Luke's aims to spend $200 million on improvements to its own medical facilities.
"It's a bold, transformational request and project. So, it is easy to rally around something that can have such a profound impact on our community," Ross said.
"We, this year, have this clearly shared effort between St. Luke's and Essentia, where they have had a year now to work out the details and determine how these initiatives can complement each other and the medical district to the greatest degree," he said.
"Because of the fact that we come down with one voice, unified, with all the key players in alignment, we anticipate success," Ross said.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson also will make the case for a local sales tax request. In November 2017, 77 percent of Duluth voters demonstrated their support for a proposal to impose an additional half-percent sales tax to fund street improvements. If approved, the dedicated sales surtax is expected to generate about $7 million annually. But the city needs legislative approval to begin charging the tax. Duluth's request for that authority stalled last legislative session, but Larson said she remains confident the proposed tax can gain traction this time around.
St. Louis County seeks increased funding to treat substance abuse and to cover the growing costs of child protection and family placement.
The University of Minnesota Duluth is angling for $4.3 million to modernize A.B. Anderson Hall, as well as funding to breathe new life into its old chemistry building.
Meanwhile, the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District will ask for $5.28 million to invest in a combined heat and power project that would generate energy from wastewater.