September 9, 2017

Superior Exposition District update

Thanks for all your recent support – we’ve made great strides!

I’d like to share an update on our request to include the Superior Exposition District in the state budget: Our efforts to include it through the Joint Committee on Finance were strong but unsuccessful, leading us to our Plan B. We will immediately begin the process to introduce a stand alone bipartisan-led bill in the Senate.

The Joint Committee on Finance reached a conclusion to the long overdue state of WI budget on September 6. Leading up to that, Better City Superior had considerable efforts underway, which resulted in direct letters of endorsement for a Superior Exposition District from:

  • The Wisconsin Bankers Association
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
  • Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association
  • North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters
  • Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union #10
  • Joint Superior and Eau Claire Chambers of Commerce
  • Joint ALLETE, SWL&P and Dairyland Power Cooperative

In addition to these letters of endorsement, results of previous efforts and materials presented to the committee include:

  • Professional Growth Plan
  • Focus Group and Community Survey results
  • 20 official Resolutions of Support
  • Superior Days lobbying efforts
  • 8,891 bipartisan citizen referendum votes

This was amplified by more than 400 letters, emails and calls to all members of the Joint Committee on Finance in which citizens requested permission to use existing Exposition District legislation through the budget approval process.

As you’ll recall, an Exposition District creates no burden on the state budget. It allows us to create new assets for Superior through minimal additional and local taxation on existing and future tourism-based value spending. We see how well it works in Duluth with more than $11 million (and growing) in annual dining and hospitality taxation paid predominantly by those who visit. Duluth has raised the bar on its attractiveness as a vacation destination and community as a result of the appropriate use of the dollars raised.

We will continue our efforts to educate representatives 325 miles from us about the opportunity in our regional market and explain why this is the perfect application for a small market version of the existing Exposition District legislation. Superior needs to grow!

We will continue to need your voices through email, letters and calls as our bill moves through the Senate, so watch for opportunities to help. Thanks again for your support.

June 27, 2017

Exposition District for Review in State Budget

The culmination of many visits to the state capitol with members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has yielded bipartisan support for the creation of an Exposition District in Superior. We have been diligently working to convince the governor and lawmakers to include our proposal in the 2017-19 state budget.

Lawmakers are working to pass the new biannual budget, and although progress is being made, state officials will not make the July 1 deadline. Lawmakers are meeting right now, which means that our project is in front of key decision-makers, an achievement that can be attributed to the commitments and leadership of Republican Senators Tom Tiffany and Sheila Harsdorf, supported by the citizen voices from our highly successful referendum, Superior Days lobbying, the business community, our local governments and our state representatives.

While lawmakers are in session, we ask you to tell legislators how important this economic development tool is for Superior. We are hopeful your voice will encourage lawmakers and the governor to do the right thing and back a growth strategy for Superior.

Exposition District Lobbying Underway

Better City Superior has been diligently working to convince the governor and lawmakers in Madison to include the enabling language in the 2017-19 biennial state budget to authorize the exposition district in downtown Superior.

We have been meeting with key decision-makers in Madison to seek support. Better City Superior is working with lobbyist and former Superiorite Bill McCoshen to get our provision inserted into the state budget.

The enabling legislation will likely have a condition that asks Superior voters to approve the expo district in a future binding referendum. We support the binding referendum provision, and last fall we told voters they would get a second chance to voice their opinion.

If we succeed in getting the expo district passed and signed, fall 2017 would be the earliest we would have a binding referendum.

March 1, 2017

A Tool to Start Superior Growing Again

A delegation of 155 from Superior and Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties returned February 22, 2017, from a very productive trip to the state Capitol to lobby for needs in the north. For the second year, one of our issues was a proposal for Exposition District Legislation in Superior, which would enable us to create an economic development tool to partner with private development and make an impact to start Superior growing again. This initiative has been the focus of Better City Superior for over three years, including focus groups, a countywide survey, public presentations, resolutions from major leadership groups, financial support from the business community and groups, as well as a citywide referendum success.

Setting the Stage for Bipartisan Support

This year we were rewarded for all of our preparation and study as Senator Tom Tiffany committed to support an Exposition District for Superior during his keynote address to our delegation on February 22. (Watch Senator Tiffany’s remarks.) This support includes efforts to get the proposal in the state budget or a separate legislative bill, whichever will bear success earlier. Senator Tiffany (R) stated that because of the thoughtfulness, study, preparation and community support, it makes sense to pursue this for Superior. Our Senator Janet Bewley (D) and Representative Nick Milroy (D) wholeheartedly support the initiative as well. This sets the stage for a bipartisan result rare in today’s political climate. Our referendum result of 75.5 percent support also represented bipartisan support from our residents and opened eyes in Madison.

A Community on the Rise

The alternative to growth is what we have experienced over the past 50 years. Our citizens recognize that they are being overburdened with fixed living expenses, poverty and declining value and that the size of our government for a declining population is unsustainable. As unpopular as authorizing or implementing any taxes is, our leaders are beginning to recognize that consumption-based taxes can bring value (i.e., bonding through an Exposition District) and that value can bring new assets (through public/private partnerships) and subsequently bring discretionary spending to our city. Discretionary spending is driving Duluth’s tourism economy and those folks coming to Duluth predominantly from the Twin Cities can help us out of our situation through their spending. Discretionary spending by Superior citizens is being spent in Duluth because we lack the retail variety available across the bridge. We must create the assets in Superior that will draw tourists and be attractive to our residents to keep their money in Superior. Our existing businesses need more support to stay with us.

The benefit will be a community on the rise with modern quality of life and quality of place amenities that will attract young families, keep major employers here and attract others. More citizens sharing a fixed tax burden reduces the per capita cost of living, and government can then function from a position of strength rather than weakness.

December 15, 2016

Overwhelming support for exposition district fuel’s Better City Superior

In the November election, Superior voters approved the Better City Superior referendum by a wide margin: 75.5 percent versus 24.5 percent. These results indicate that Superior is ready for – and wants – growth!

Following this resounding victory, a group representing Better City Superior and downtown Superior investors met with Wisconsin State Capitol representatives Heather Smith (policy director), Matt Maroney (chief of staff) and Waylon Hurlburt (budget and finance administrator). Our purpose was to fully inform them of the project, describe community awareness and support, and request that Governor Walker make the exposition district a governor’s entry into the state budget this winter.

We were also invited to a listening session with the governor on December 16, giving us an opportunity to describe firsthand Superior’s need for growth and the approach we have developed to help ourselves with the state’s permission.

Upcoming Superior Days

Should the governor not include an exposition district for Superior in his budget, we are poised to take the legislative angle. We are one of three topics for Superior Days and will again be spreading our message to all senators and representatives and seeking leadership and lobbyists to get this in the budget with bipartisan support.

Registration for Superior Days is now open, and we encourage everyone to join us this February. Register at the Superior Days website. We have ample statewide lobby support as well as support from other communities, such as Janesville and Eau Claire, encompassing the south and mid-section of Wisconsin.

Looking Forward

Positive change and legislative action can take a long time. Wisconsin and Superior’s economies depend on forward-thinking strategies and innovative resources. Most of all, we need a constant, engaged and united voice of support for prosperity and growth to change our fortunes in Superior. We are encouraged with the change in attitude “Can Not and Will Not” to “Can Do and Want to.” So many want a better and viable future for Superior and want us to again strive for our potential as we did more than 100 years ago. Onward!

Gaining Momentum With Strong Community Support

The Better City Superior initiative has been in the making for more than three years, and we are at an exciting place – a turning point for Superior and all of Wisconsin. Below is a brief recap of how we got to where we are today, as well as our plan for moving the exposition district forward.

A Collaborative Community Effort

Over the past three years, we have been working with business leaders, economic development experts and citizens to brainstorm and research ideas to help Superior grow. We held open community input forums and interviewed nearly 100 people, including city councilors, county board members, community leaders, business owners, citizens and developers. We also conducted a survey that more than 1,100 Superior residents completed. Overwhelmingly, respondents agreed with the direction being taken and said they support partially funding development through a hospitality tax, such as the exposition district would allow.

Feedback from the community helped provide us with a clear direction regarding development strategies that could boost Superior’s economy and support long-term revitalization plans.

The Plan: Exposition District

Based on research and community input, we devised a plan: Establish a large-scale mixed-use development in Superior’s downtown area, which will be funded through public-private partnerships. An exposition district has been identified as the best option to provide public funds to support the development of projects necessary to grow Superior’s economy.

Establishing an exposition district would allow Superior to collect taxes on tourism-related spending to fund development projects that would attract visitors, increase spending and fuel the economy. The exposition district would increase jobs and revenue across the entire state and decrease Superior's reliance on state funding, providing more financial support for other communities and initiatives.

Existing exposition district legislation has been used to drive development in Milwaukee, but it’s never been done in a smaller city like Superior. To create an exposition district in Superior, state legislation must be modified.

Successful Superior Days at the Capitol

Last February, Better City Superior leaders traveled to Madison for Superior Days. They urged legislators to allow Superior to establish an exposition district to support large-scale redevelopment in Superior.

Bruce Thompson, president of National Bank of Commerce and Better City Superior, pitched the exposition district proposal to legislative staff. The presentation went extremely well, with legislative staff listening, taking notes and even offering suggestions on how to expedite the process. Legislative staff was receptive and excited about what the Superior exposition district could do not only for the City but also for the entire state.

Unanimous Support From Labor and Community Groups

In the past months, Better City Superior has garnered support from nearly every major organization in Douglas County, including:

  • City of Superior
  • Superior City Council
  • Douglas County Board
  • Superior Business Improvement District
  • Development Association of Superior-Douglas County
  • Superior Amateur Hockey Association
  • Douglas County Land Development Committee
  • Superior Douglas County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau
  • Superior Young Professionals
  • School District of Superior
  • Douglas County Board of Supervisors
  • Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College
  • University of Wisconsin-Superior
  • The Superior Area Association of Realtors
  • Northern Wisconsin Building & Construction Trades Council
  • Ironworkers Local 512

November 8 Referendum

Via a nonbinding referendum on the November 8 general election ballot, citizens of Superior get to decide if they want to ask the legislature and governor if existing exposition district legislation can be applied to a smaller market city like Superior. A vote YES is a vote to ask the state legislature and governor to change existing legislation. While it doesn’t guarantee they will change the legislation, it tells the government that this is what Superior wants.

The referendum is the first of several steps to get support from the governor and legislature to create the exposition district.

Next Steps Forward

Assuming Superior voters approve the referendum in November, below is an outline of the process to implement the exposition district:

  1. Wisconsin state legislature changes legislation to allow smaller communities like Superior to establish an exposition district.
  2. Superior holds an election in April 2017, where residents approve a binding referendum to create the exposition district in Superior.
  3. The governor adds the Superior exposition district to the state budget.
  4. The City of Superior has the final decision about how and when to establish the exposition district and how to allocate money raised. At this point, we will ask the community for input to help prioritize project development before determining a final long-term development plan.

Superior has embarked on an exciting path of growth. We are grateful for our engaged community and eager for what the future holds.

Message from the President - March 2016

Better City Superior: Superior Days Recap

Our message to the representatives and the executive branch of Wisconsin government during Superior Days was that Growing Superior represents a Stronger Wisconsin. Exposition District legislation is a key tool for Superior’s economic growth and future prosperity. An Exposition District will build success for Superior, and all of Wisconsin. It will allow a public-private venture to fund mixed-use development. It is desired by residents and businesses by virtue of independent focus groups, resolutions of support, financial support and survey data. It poses no additional fixed tax cost to the citizens of Superior or the State of Wisconsin. It avoids liability to our local government as the district is authorized by city government to transact its own debt.

Tax Increment is achieved by creating wealth and income through new features and benefits the community cannot attract otherwise and is utilized by the target markets it is designed to attract. It is paid for by patrons as they enjoy and value the new assets and the experiences that they create.

Growth takes investment and wise investment attracts discretionary spending and spending grows communities. We are at a unique juncture in Superior’s history to chart a growth course and create quality of life that will attract and keep the upcoming generations interested in living here. This works to everyone’s benefit by driving up prosperity and driving down the tax burden per citizen.

Meetings with elected officials and lobbyists are ongoing to educate and enlist their support. Our target is to be relevant in the next state budget.

Message from the President - January 2015

Better City Superior: Background and Concept

Superior, Wisconsin is a town with a current population of 27,000 dating back to the 1850's that had great promise when founded. Superior's geographic location and natural resources were promoted and reported as far east as New York as a true land of opportunity. Superior's growth was dramatic between 1885 and 1909 as rail and water born transportation provided access to and shipment of its natural resources fueling the industrial age east and west. It had shipyards that supported two world wars and became a world port for commodities. Its sister city across the bay is Duluth, MN which grew out of the wave of prosperity in Superior and ultimately passed it by with higher population density, broader industry groups and wealth from the mining industry of the Iron Range. Nonetheless, Superior maintained blue collar industry and its residents continue to have a fierce loyalty.

Superior has had an industrial rebirth with many modern manufacturers over the past 15 years and is very proud of its modern schools, government facilities, road and utility infrastructure as well as its extraordinary natural resources and easy quick access to outdoor activities year-round. However, with its very old housing stock and deteriorating downtown our population is not growing, despite the jobs created, while our tax burden is troublesome. Duluth, MN has achieved a better housing environment and much of the good work our town has done to develop new employment is not fully benefiting our city, county or state as property taxes, sales taxes and enrollment in schools is across the bridge. We are at a tipping point to prosperity or deterioration and the Better City: Superior Inc. idea was born in the fall of 2013.

Our City Mayor, Development Association Director, Business Improvement Director, Chamber of Commerce CEO, and County Administrator all agreed that we need to go on offense. Through our Development Association Director we were exposed to Matthew Godfrey and Better City US of Ogden, Utah. Matthew Godfrey is the Chief Executive Officer of Better City US, an economic development company. He served as Mayor of Ogden, Utah for 12 years and was the youngest full-time mayor in the country. He recruited more than two dozen outdoor company brands to Utah for sports and revitalized more than 150 acres of downtown, attracted more than $1 billion of private investment and brought in more than 8,000 jobs. His last year in office, his community led the nation in job growth. His company now works on a contract basis to help other communities turn around their fortunes by creating public/private partnerships for growth, value and transformation of the community dynamics of living and working in the modern age.

Better City Superior Inc. was conceived as a private-sector driven 501c6 economic development entity to contract with Matthew Godfrey and chart a path for Superior recognizing that a downtown district with mixed use modern urban living, retail, service and entertainment could be a catalyst to then modernize the whole of our extended housing problems and grow the community to effectively lower the tax burden and create a clear modern living advantage. Our local businesses greatest concerns are that of the future availability of labor.

Better City Superior Inc. was formally created in March 2014 and funded to $166,500 in 2014 by 40 businesses, public entities, grants and foundations. The real spark in the initiative came from National Bank of Commerce with a two year commitment totaling $60,000 and the commitment for their Market President, to lead the initiative. Bruce Thompson (NBC Market President) assembled a 5 member Board of Directors including representation from downtown retail, construction and transportation businesses as well as the city planner and raised the financial support.

The Better City Superior Inc. Board of Directors meets quarterly while the Superior Development team and Better City: Superior Inc. leadership have bi-weekly conference calls with Matthew Godfrey to continue the progress of our initiatives with clear communication. Matthew Godfrey and staff member Adam Hughes have made many trips back to Superior to lay the ground work for our initiatives.

The following premise for successful communities was defined and agreed by all:

  • They have a clear vision
  • High Expectations
  • Quality of life brings jobs
  • Successful communities are communities of choice
  • Successful communities invest in themselves

Last year the work included identifying market changing strategies, large scale redevelopment and driving regional traffic to Superior.

Specifically the following actions were taken:

  • Interviewed nearly 100 people encompassing city councilors, county board members, community leaders, business owners, citizens and developers
  • Examined dozens of concepts
  • Performed six market feasibility studies
  • Analyzed similar communities and their redevelopment projects
  • Developed eight project strategies
  • Recommended six major projects

Results of these actions were:

  • Hosted an East Coast developer and secured interest with a LOI to undertake 3 of 6 projects
  • Interest from a second developer for a fourth project
  • Committee established and meetings are in process for the 5th project
  • First meeting with a developer for the 6th project

Funding for these actions are as follows:

  • Self-funded through the tax revenue they create
  • Public/private partnership: 45/55 for the first project
  • Identifying legality of a Food and Beverage tax while maximizing available Lodging tax
  • Corporate revenues from redirecting existing tax


Better City Superior: Next Steps and Ongoing Challenges

The next steps for the initiative include the following:

  • Securing public funding with a complete package of the research and revenue based taxing strategies submitted to the city's bond council for review and determination in late 2014.
  • Securing political support for a public investment in growth and future value of our community
  • Educating the general public and seeking their support through forums and seeking a referendum
  • Signing agreements with developers
  • Continuing to build momentum

Project identified and validated through market studies were:

  • Hotel, Convention Center and Indoor Water Park. The water park component has since been eliminated from consideration for lack of support by the city
  • Multi-use indoor field house has received the key catalyst designation by the city as a compromise to abandoning the water park catalyst
  • Multiplex movie theatre concept perhaps including a live theatre component
  • Large accommodating corporate campus for one of our largest local industries
  • Downtown urban housing and retail mixed use redevelopment of existing historical structures
  • Total of 10 acres of downtown redevelopment and $140MM of investment

Ongoing challenges:

  • City government appetite for utilizing its bonding capacity
  • Rallying the vast majority of citizens to the cause
  • Believing in ourselves and a future this bright
  • Conveying the belief that investment for growth and value is no more risky than bonding for ongoing and growing expenses in a deteriorating and non-growing municipality
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