ST. PAUL, MN — In Minnesota’s capital, hundreds of elected officials, business professionals and everyday citizens from St. Louis County are urging lawmakers to fund projects all over northeastern Minnesota.
It’s all part of the 22nd annual Duluth and St. Louis County days, where people from across the region converge at the Capitol to sell lawmakers on the economic importance of Duluth to the state.
In St. Louis County, there are 27 cities, more than 200,000 citizens, and almost 16,000 businesses that employ nearly 100,000 people.
Dozens of projects all around the county are being advocated for, but for many area leaders, one big project is taking center stage, as the spinoff from it could impact the entire region. That’s the Vision Northland project.
It would be the single largest private investment in Duluth’s history, at more than $1 billion for Essentia and St. Lukes combined.
A portion of the funding for it has been being discussed by lawmakers since early 2018. That’s the nearly 200 million state dollars Essentia is asking for to revitalize Duluth’s downtown to turn it into a medical district, and spur economic development.
Last year, the nearly $200 million was passed and all it needed was a signature from then Gov. Mark Dayton.
But ultimately the tax bill was vetoed, and the funding, as well as Mayor Emily Larson’s half-cent sales tax increase for the Street Improvement Plan, fell by the wayside.
Area leaders are still feeling the sting of defeat from last year and are using that to fuel their message to lawmakers in 2019.
“We’re here to make an impression,” said David Ross, president of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce.
The 2019 ask of $164 million in 2019 is a slightly smaller amount than the amount was in 2018, but still, more than the city can foot.
“This is a bigger project than any city can do on its own. This is really where the state has to come in and help us out,” said Ross.
With 2018’s defeat still fresh in area leaders minds, they are urging lawmakers, and Governor Walz to pass those priorities in 2019.
“Duluth’s success is the state of Minnesota’s success. They need a vibrant regional center in Duluth, as we are, and are increasingly becoming. And so, they benefit when we have a vibrant economy, and when we’re investing in our community,” said Ross.
Spokespeople for both St Luke’s and Essentia say the $164 million dollar bill making its way through legislature now would go a long way.
“It has a large ripple, and as we work with our communities to create healthy and vital communities, this is really a key part of that,” said Mark Hayward, senior vice president of Essentia.
“The dollars will really help the investments that are being made by St. Luke’s and Essentia in our own campuses have a much larger economic impact for Duluth and our entire region,” said Jessica Stauber, director of marketing for St. Luke’s.
Lawmakers in the region, as well as Governor Walz tend to support the projects–meaning the biggest hurdle is creating buy-in from all lawmakers in both the House and Senate.
“We made a number of changes to the bill that reflect concerns that legislators had during the course of last year’s discussions. So, I feel like we’re in the right place. It’s just a matter of whether that expenditure fits in the final targets or not,” said Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL – Duluth.
There are plenty of other projects being lobbied for in St. Paul. That includes, but is not limited to funding for seawalls in the Minnesota Slip and behind the DECC, funding for the Lakewalk in Duluth.
UMD leaders are also in St. Paul asking for $4.3 million to upgrade A.B Anderson Hall, which also got left out in 2018.
Funding for several projects on the Iron Range is also being discussed, including $15 million for a new fire hall in Virginia, and $5.5 million for a mental health facility in Buhl.
To learn more about all the projects being discussed at the capitol Wednesday and Thursday, click here.