Project Vision Shared by Bruce Thompson
By Doug Dalager
A local organization has been working diligently for the past three years to bring new development to downtown Superior. As a proponent of growth, I find this an interesting proposition and have decided to explore this further through a series of articles about the Better City Superior group. I hope to present their proposals to our readers in a clear and concise manner over the course of the next month or two. This is the first such article.
On Tuesday, August 16th, Bruce Thompson spoke before the Superior City Council requesting that a resolution by the Better City Superior initiative be introduced to request an advisory referendum relating to creation of a small-market Exposition District be placed on the November 8th General Election Ballot.
Thompson, President of National Bank of Commerce in Superior, and a life-long Superior resident, has been heading up the Better City Superior group since 2013, and he explained that the organization is dedicated to promoting a public/private initiative aimed at redeveloping downtown Superior.
He asked for the support of the Superior City Council to introduce the advisory referendum to Superior voters. The purpose of this exposition district is to create a quasi-independent authority that could work on a public/private initiative to build a $100 million combination convention center, hotel, waterpark, and sports facility in downtown Superior. This has been previously been done successfully in Milwaukee for the purpose of building and managing exposition center facilities, including the home arena of the Milwaukee Bucks.
A positive vote by the citizens of Superior in November would authorize the City to hold a binding referendum in April that would create an exposition district for Superior. That would then require statutory action at the State level, and require the approval of the State Assembly Budget Committee in July.
Assuming State approval takes place by mid-2017, the authority to tax and bond for new development would then return to the City for approval and implementation. The proposal is to add a half of one percent sales tax on restaurant food & beverage sales, and a 2.75% tax on hotel/motel stays, and on car rentals in order to raise sufficient capital to assist one or more private developers to fund and build a large development in downtown Superior.
Mr. Thompson put this into perspective by pointing out that a ½ percent sale tax on a $10 meal would amount to just 5¢ added to your bill. When compared to the much higher sales taxes currently added to food & beverage at restaurants in Duluth, this seems like a small price to pay to bring tremendous improvements to our City.
Assuming that your typical Superior resident spends $50 a week in restaurants and/or bars, they would contribute 25¢ in added sales tax a week. Over the course of 52 weeks this would amount to $13 in additional sales taxes per year for those who go out to eat and drink. The other taxes would be on hotel stays and rental cars which presumably fall largely on visitors to our City.
This revenue stream will then allow the district to bond in order to bring in public capital that will then be able to bring in private capital to push the project over the top. The goal is to raise $30 million in this manner, that would be added to $70 million of private capital to develop this project.
He went on to say that the Better City organization views their mission as a “proof of concept” and that they’ve been working on this proposal now for three years. Ultimately, the final decision will be up to the City of Superior administration, elected officials, and the voters.
Thompson says this is a long-view initiative aimed at making Superior a complementary attraction to the tourism that has been growing for the past three decades in Duluth and northeastern Minnesota. He believes that it is crucial that the City of Superior become proactive in redevelopment, as failure to do anything will most assuredly result in further decline in property values and the overall health of the city.
By piecing together a multi-use facility that not only includes a hotel and convention center, but also an indoor water park and sports facility for youth lacrosse and soccer, the Better City project hopes to create a synergistic district that will encourage additional growth in a variety of sectors including restaurants, retails, and business.
Councilor Esther Dalbec showed her support with a succinct statement, “If you build it, they will come!” The Council discussed the proposal with Mr. Thompson for 35 minutes, during which he received input from seven of the ten city councilors, as well as Finance Director Jean Vito. At the conclusion of the presentation, Councilor Dan Olson made a motion to amend the resolution to state as follows:
“WHEREAS, that if such legislation authorizing a Local Exposition District Tax is approved, the City will work with Better City Superior to create a Tax Increment Financing District for its project to finance eligible tax increment costs once there appears to be a viable development; such tax increment incentives would be payable on a pay-as-you-go basis, and the City will not issue general obligation bonds, general obligation promissory notes or revenue bonds to finance any part of the Better City Superior project.”
The motion was seconded by Councilor Esther Dalbec, and the amendment was voted in favor by the council as a whole. Subsequent to that vote, Councilor Warren Bender moved to adopt the resolution, and after being seconded by Councilor Dalbec, the council voted in favor of the resolution.
Thompson will be presenting this proposal this evening to the Douglas County Board of Supervisors in hopes of obtaining their support as well.
Editor’s Note: Read a previous article posted to Explore Superior about the Better City Superior initiative by clicking HERE.