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Superior Looks To Madison To Approve Plan Linked To $100 Million In Improvements

Exposition District Would Impose Tax On Food, Beverage And Lodging

Cash and a receipt
Julie Jacobson/AP Photo

Business leaders in Superior have proposed a development plan to make more than $100 million in improvements to Superior’s downtown.

The Better City Superior project would join Milwaukee in its creation of a special tax district. However, the project hinges on approval from state lawmakers.

Superior residents overwhelmingly supported a referendum to create an exposition district in the city in the 2016 November election. The district would create a half-percent tax on food and beverage sold in Superior. It would also tack on an additional 2.75 percent hotel/motel tax.

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But now, it’s up to lawmakers in Madison to decide whether to approve the special tax district for Superior.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, sits on the Joint Finance Committee. He said he is hopeful but cautious about whether Superior’s plan will be included in the next two-year budget.

“The proposal is in limbo like a number of other proposals that are being considered for the budget,” he said. “It’s just a matter of us getting to the end-game on the budget and deciding exactly what’s going to be in there. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to insert this.”

Business leaders are hoping to sell private bonds to fund construction of a downtown entertainment district, which would eventually be repaid through the tax collections.

Better City Superior President Bruce Thompson said the project would include construction of a convention center downtown. He said they want to offer entertainment to attract tourists from the Twin Cities and beyond.

“Our downtown landscape needs to have some entertainment district action, some new assets. We have talked in terms of a major water park, a large indoor turf facility … indoor skydiving facility could be alternative for the water park or could complement a water park either way,” Thompson said. “But, until we have the ability to pull in developers and put the pieces together that they would actually do, we don’t know what the final look will be.”

But, Thompson said the project is vital to the city’s economy and Superior’s ability to attract and retain residents.

“If we’re successful and the state allows this for Superior, then I would say it would be within two years we would probably have the start of some projects,” he said. “In 10 years from now, you probably wouldn’t recognize downtown Superior.”

The Better City Superior project began in 2013. Through public input sessions and other research, business leaders identified the exposition district as the economic tool to help Superior grow.

Tiffany authored the amendment for the exposition district that may be included in the next two-year budget bill.

Wisconsin lawmakers have missed the July 1 deadline for passing a state budget. Legislators continue to debate transportation funding, among other items. Lawmakers haven’t had a budget in place by July 1 for seven out of the last 10 budgets.