Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
 Published Feb 16, 2006

The DECC is not the Aquarium or 
Why I'm voting for the DECC expansion

I can't say that my decision to vote for the DECC expansion was a no-brainer because I had to think about it. Before making my decision I had to overcome one prejudice and two doubts.

First, the prejudice. The new arena is for hockey and goodness knows I had my fill of hockey as a school board member. Hearing that DAHA just decided to segregate weak bantam skaters from their more talented peers didn't make my decision any easier. That sure isn't how we kids picked teams when I was growing up. But hey, hockey parent myopia isn't the DECC's fault.

As for my doubts. Well, the argument that we shouldn't expand the Arena while our city council is wrestling with its retiree health insurance shortfall seemed like a sensible objection. Then there is the Aquarium which was sold to us with the promise "if you build it they will come." Only they didn't.

It was when I examined the Aquarium analogy that I realized it didn't hold any water because the DECC isn't the Aquarium. People will be drawn to the DECC expansion because they are already flocking to the DECC. This insight also took care of my retiree health insurance doubts.

The best way to deal with Duluth's budgetary problems is to boost our economy.  Expanding the DECC will help us solve problems like the insurance shortfall not make them worse. And back to my prejudice against hockey. Well, sure the new arena will seat another 1,500 hockey fans but the way I see it this expansion really isn't about hockey at all.

Unlike the Aquarium, which is only a sideshow attraction, the DECC is a destination. For each of the past five years between 39,000 and 44,000 people have come to conventions at the DECC. These conventioneers stay in Duluth for an average of two-and-a-half days. They spend an average of $462.50 before they leave town. Multiply $462.50 by 40,000 and you arrive at over $18 million dollars spent by these visitors

I know that tourist dollars are often derided because the jobs they create aren't supposed to provide a living wage but that's not entirely true. Tourist spending not only ends up in bars, restaurants, hotels and taxis, but it continues on from these businesses to suppliers and from the suppliers to bulk haulers, accountants, and lawyers who in turn have kids in the schools which employ teachers who also pay property taxes etcetera etcetera etcetera. A lot of this economic spillover goes to people who are making a living wage.

And remember, the 40,000 DECC conferees are just the tip of the iceberg. In 2003, the last year the DECC kept close track, 773,262 people were admitted to the DECC.

Perhaps the best indication of the business savvy of the DECC was demonstrated by their unwillingness to take over the management of the Aquarium. In fact, the DECC has never come to the City Council with their hat in hand. Their skyrocketing revenue makes that scenario highly unlikely. In 1989 the DECC's revenues were $1.6 million dollars. Last year they were $7.5 million and the DECC is ready for more growth. It's been turning down an average of 1 convention per month and 1 concert every two months. That's a lot of lost revenue.

The Concerts are another interesting story. The recent Nickleback concert (a band this old guy's never heard of) brought 5,000 ticket buyers to Duluth on a Monday night. A MONDAY for crying out loud! 71 percent of our concert goers come from outside of Duluth which makes us a cultural Mecca in the same way our hospitals and clinics make us a medical Mecca.

It's estimated conservatively that the DECC's expansion will bring in an additional 10,000 new convention visitors each year. That would be a 25% increase in convention business or another four-and-a-half million dollars to Duluth's economy. A significant share of this spending will become the very sales taxes that will help pay for the DECC.

Frankly, if the referendum passes very little of its financial burden will fall on local taxpayers. That's because the State of Minnesota will kick in $33.5 million dollars to help build it if Governor Pawlenty gets his way with the legislature.

This project is now in the hands of the voters and no one is going to shove it down our throats. Win or lose, that's what democracy is all about.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com