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Legislators: Give Superior permission to grow

There's a bill moving through the Senate right now — SB727 — that would allow the city of Superior to create a local exposition district to spur economic growth, retain and grow the area's workforce and improve the quality of life for all of us in northwest Wisconsin.

An exposition district is a public-private economic development tool used to fund mixed-use developments like stadiums, convention centers and movie theaters. Public funds for exposition districts are user generated through food and beverage, hotel/motel sales tax and project tax increments. Funded projects boost the local economy, therefore benefiting the entire state without requiring state taxpayer assistance to succeed.

This bill has been five years in the making and is backed by overwhelming support from residents and businesses in our area who have witnessed years of decline due to the competitive disadvantage we have compared to communities like Duluth, Minnesota, which have embraced economic development tools to attract commerce and tourists to their communities.

Superior has lost 6,000 tax-paying residents over the last 60 years, while our border community of Duluth has grown in population as it invests in quality of life improvements and tourism amenities. In turn, Duluth's community investments generate nearly $12 million annually for its community through tourism taxes on valued purchases and experiences. Superior's residents and potential tourists currently contribute to this revenue stream and spend dollars in Minnesota that could otherwise be spent in our own community.

Five years ago, I and others in Superior's business community began researching ways to reverse the downward economic trend in our region. After two years of study, we identified a local exposition district as the best way forward. We asked residents what they thought about the plan, and they responded by passing a referendum to create an exposition district by 75.5 percent during the 2016 fall general election.

SB727 would allow Superior to utilize existing exposition district legislation to encourage growth through mixed-use developments, retain and grow our workforce and improve the quality of life for residents. It's a proven approach in Wisconsin: Milwaukee has had a successful exposition district in place for 20 years.

SB727 doesn't ask legislators for controversial economic development incentives or tax breaks. It simply asks for permission to help ourselves.

Give Superior a chance to succeed and say yes to SB727.

Bruce Thompson is president of the Better City Superior initiative.

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