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DL pushed for state bonding for Hwy 34 bike trail, convention center

The city of Detroit Lakes is looking for some financial help for a convention center and an extension of the Heartland Trail, and they're looking to state funding for a portion of it.

Several Minnesota senators -- including DFLer Keith Langseth, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee -- stopped in Detroit Lakes Thursday morning to hear presentations on why Detroit Lakes needs funding for these projects. They also toured the Pavilion, a restoration project the state helped fund.

The group of senators spent a couple days traveling to cities throughout northwestern Minnesota, hearing about potential investment projects.

"This is the second of five tours of Greater Minnesota that we are taking prior to the start of the 2008 session," Langseth said. "If past tours are any indication, the information we gather will be very important once the legislative session starts and tough decisions need to be made about which projects will be funded."

Committee members expect roughly $4 billion in capital investment requests by the start of the 2008 session in February. Because of debt service limitations, the Legislature is likely to approve $1 billion worth of borrowing.

Heartland Trail

Representatives from five-to-10 entities and organizations came to show their support for the building and funding of an extension of the Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Moorhead.

"The trail gets used and that's why it's needed," Jeff Stowman of Detroit Lakes told the senators.

In statistics he presented, 88 percent of Heartland Trail users surveyed were tourists.

"It gets used by a lot more people than the area (residents)," he said.

Included in the surveys was the No. 1 reason people come to the area for biking, and that's the natural setting of the trails.

"They all come for the same reason to this part of the state," he said. "The trail gets used, and it gets used for all the right reasons."

The proposed extension would follow scenic Highway 34 from Park Rapids to Detroit Lakes. Stowman said the Minnesota Department of Transportation has a 300-foot right of way along Highway 34 and has agreed to allow the trail in that space.

After being built, the Department of Natural Resources has agreed to take ownership and maintain the trail, he added.

"Everything is aligned and that's why it should be built now," Stowman said. "It would be a main artery" for trails to continue north and south through Detroit Lakes as well.

Republican Sen. Paul Koering said, "Letters of support are easy," but asked if any of the supporters are willing to invest any money as well.

Stowman replied that the presentation was put together quickly and there has not yet been time to consider additional funding sources.

Convention Center

"Meeting space in Detroit Lakes would serve the region, serve organizations," Community Development Director Larry Remmen told senators.

For many years Detroit Lakes has been trying to find a way to build a convention center in the city. The USDA is funding a study to determine if the city could handle a convention center, what size it should be, options for location and other issues surrounding it.

"We want to get some synergy into this," Mark Hagen said, presenting the convention center information to the senators.

Hagen, of Detroit lakes, added that the city is only looking for a portion of the funding and the remaining monies would come from public and private sources.

One of those public-funding options the city is considering is a half-cent sales tax. There is a one-year moratorium on new sales taxes at the moment, though.

Langseth brought up the example of a Fergus Falls hotel that attached a convention center. The state funded $1.5 million in the $6 million project. In the first year, the convention center hosted 400 events.

"Detroit Lakes probably has more potential, being on the lake," he said.

One location that has been looked at is attached to the Holiday Inn, although nothing has been decided. In the study, other locations, including along West Lake Drive, are being taken into consideration.

Detroit Lakes has a good history of using bonding money wisely, Hagen said, giving the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center and the Pavilion and band shell as examples.

"We have ways to get things done, and we have proven ourselves in the past," Remmen said.

Koering said he hated to be negative, but, to him, cities are supposed to provide services like police and fire, and cities are getting away from that more and more with requests for money for items like a convention center, or an ice arena in another town.

"And it always falls back on the taxpayers," he said.

Republican Sen. David Senjem agreed, saying the truth of the matter is that projects like convention centers usually run in the red.

"They're wonderful, but they just do (lose money)," he said, adding that the city will likely have to levy for it.

"It's certainly a little more unknown," Hagen said. "But they do have a return on the economy."

Although talk about the Heartland Trail seemed to get a bit more response from the senators, the convention center may be a bigger stretch for the 2008 legislative session.

"We're getting many requests, and they're 10 times yours," Langseth said. "Do what you're doing. Go ahead and plan, but nothing is guaranteed."