Virgil Swing: Six million the magic number for Duluth ... and the bionic man
Remember "The Six Million Dollar Man"? I do. The TV series about an injured test pilot rebuilt with high-tech parts went off the air 30 years ago, but I was reminded of it by a spate of recent news stories about local projects involving that doll...
Remember "The Six Million Dollar Man"? I do.
The TV series about an injured test pilot rebuilt with high-tech parts went off the air 30 years ago, but I was reminded of it by a spate of recent news stories about local projects involving that dollar figure.
And that made me think about Duluth's sorry streets. You couldn't repair all our pothole-riddled streets with $6 million, but you could make a useful start. Two stories were about local projects that are much less important than fixing our streets.
One is the $6.5 million makeover of the UMD football field, featuring a structure that towers over the bleachers and holds a press box, key Bulldog supporters and other functions. It also pays tribute in huge letters to UMD's legendary former football coach, Jim Malosky, who's well deserving of the honor. But it wouldn't take $6.5 million to properly honor old "Mo."
UMD officials will say this is university money and not available for city streets. Congress would say the same thing about the $6 million for Duluth International Airport design work. But such inside-the-box thinking wastes lots of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars or spends them on
projects less worthy than ones that go begging -- like fixing our streets.
The $6 million airport grant is just for design work. The full airport project is to cost $60 million when it opens in about 2012. The design cash includes $1.8 million for a terminal expansion and $4.2 million to draw plans for crosswind runways.
That latter cost is startling. Aren't runways flat pieces of concrete? You'd think a UMD intern with a Sharpie could design them in an afternoon. But this is a federal project, so it must be more complicated than that.
I can't speak to the need for new runways, but the present terminal works well for the modest amount of traffic it handles. Sure, some federal bureaucrat has probably written security guidelines saying it doesn't -- but this doesn't make that true. How much space and high-tech equipment are needed to have people take off their shoes and walk through a metal detector?
That $6 million would be better spent on city streets. After all, this money is just local taxpayer dollars coming back to us, unless the Northland has extra pull on the House Transportation Committee and is getting more than its share -- which isn't very Minnesotan.
Likewise, UMD's stadium improvements are nice, but I'd rather drive to the old one on streets that don't damage my shock absorbers, as nearby Woodland Avenue does.
But if the feds won't redirect cash to fix Duluth streets, maybe the airport cash (and other low-priority projects around the country) can be instead go to cut our humongous and harmful federal budget deficit. And University of Minnesota regents can stifle their building inclinations next time and cut tuition instead.
Another $6 million matter relates directly to Duluth's streets.
Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa, says the $6.4 million the city got from the Fond-du-Luth Casino in 2007 is a gift that perhaps should end.
The city puts that money into its Community Investment Trust Fund, which is supposed to fix up Duluth streets, though city officials hijacked some for other projects in recent years.
The payment to Duluth of 19 percent of the revenue from Fond-du-Luth slot machines is done under an agreement between the city and the band that is set to expire in 2036. It's not surprising the money-sharing deal doesn't look good to Diver now that the casino and an even bigger one in Carlton County are thriving.
But when the casino opened in 1986 in the former Sears building in downtown Duluth, tribal gaming consisted mostly of a Big Buck Bingo operation in the tribal school gym -- a long way from the bright lights and tourists along Superior Street.
Did proceeds from the Duluth casino help make possible the much bigger and presumably more profitable Black Bear Casino that opened in 1993?
It would be surprising if it didn't.
City and tribal officials say they'll talk next year about rewriting the contract. OK, talk; but don't let this cash be lost to Duluth and its streets.
Virgil Swing has been writing opinion about Duluth for many years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .