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Voters want a better city

Jed Carlson/ Bruce Thompson drives his 1965 Mustang with a sign urging voters to pass the Better City Superior Exposition District bill in the Superior Spooktacular Parade in October.

It's on to the next phase of changing Superior's future after voters overwhelming gave their support to improving Superior's economy.

Slightly more than 75 percent of nearly 11,800 voters who cast ballots in the referendum said "yes" to Better City Superior.

"It's a good day," Bruce Thompson, who led the charge to bring the Better City Superior referendum to the voters, said Wednesday morning.

Thompson, who has spearheaded the 2½ year study into options that could help the city improve its economy, said he had already talked to the city's lobbyist in Madison, Superior-native Bill McCoshen about the next step for the proposal — convincing the governor and Legislature to allow the city to develop an exposition district in Superior.

Currently, Wisconsin law only allows the use of an exposition district in Milwaukee, and local leaders are hoping to develop a small-market exposition district for Superior to help finance the public portion of investments into the city's future.

McCoshen said the overwhelming support of the community shows Superior is hungry for growth. And he said it will make his job easier as he works with state officials.

"Fifty-eight percent to 42 percent might not have persuaded skeptical legislators," McCoshen said. "A 3-to-1 margin shows the community really wants this."

In coming weeks, McCoshen anticipates working with state administrators to recraft the exposition district law to work for Superior's smaller market.

"In the next three to four weeks, we need to coordinate with the state administration and the governor some visits ... to travel down to Madison and make our pitch to get this legislation off the shelf, dust it and apply the principal's that we're proposing for a small-market adaptation of it," Thompson said. "We have to act on our behalf, tell our story."

The goal behind creating an exposition district would be to use public funding generated through tourism taxes on hotel stays, car rentals and prepared food and beverages to leverage private investment to create a facility in Superior's downtown that would offer such things as a hotel, theater, convention center, indoor recreation facility and Wisconsin Dells-style indoor water park to complement and draw on Duluth's tourism successes.

The cost to local residents, if the Better City Superior initiative is successful, would be a nickel for every $10 spent on prepared food and beverages, or car rentals. The half-percent sales tax on those tourism-related items and a 2.75 percent sales tax on hotel stays would provide the ability to bond without obligating city property owners to pick up the cost for the district.

Thompson said the "off the charts" support from the community will make it easier to tell the city's story and "make a big difference," especially with such high turn-out election.

"I think all those things add up to a really strong message," Thompson said.