Column: Half plus half equals a whole new experience
The 2014 legislative session is a wrap, and thanks to our hard-working local delegation and city administration, several important Duluth projects received funding. Of keen interest to the hospitality industry was the legislation reinstating the 0.5 percent lodging tax and 0.5 percent food and beverage tax, commonly referred to as the half and half.
Bringing back a tax that had officially sunset was not without its challenges, especially when considering the impact on restaurants that battle ever-shrinking profit margins due to increased food costs. However, on a $25 tab, this tax is 12 cents. On a $100 hotel room, the tax is 50 cents, making it a bit more manageable for business owners to absorb. The revenue stream generated by the half and half would be allocated to paying off bonds issued to develop the St. Louis River Corridor.
Earlier this year, Mayor Don Ness outlined his proposal for enhancing the western part of our city, which remains largely undeveloped. The half and half legislation was the first step in moving this project forward, in that it grants the city permission to request the Duluth City Council’s approval to reinstate the tax. There will be many opportunities for public input. These forums are vital to creating the final vision that shapes what this project ultimately becomes. This project encompasses multiple facets including bike trail expansion, improved access points to the St. Louis River and revamping Grand Avenue/Highway 23, residential neighborhoods and light industrial sites.
After getting around town on four tires for the past 30 years, the scope of this project has inspired me to try bicycling again. Saying I’m “balance-challenged” would be an understatement, but the opportunity to traverse our city trails in this active, scenic and dynamic mode of transport has compelled me to overcome my fear, even though training wheels may be required initially.
Wheel size, suspension, cross country or trail versus all-mountain ... so many options to consider! A test drive will be a necessity for this beginner. Thankfully, several companies offer bike rentals in Duluth, such as Continental Ski & Bike, Willard Munger Inn and University of Minnesota Duluth’s Recreational Sports Outdoor Program. Having rentals readily available is important to our visitors as well.
The recreational enhancements go beyond mountain biking trails. Kayaking and stand-up paddling have experienced substantial growth in popularity, and safe river access points are desperately needed to accommodate these emerging segments. Companies catering to the adventure tour market include Positive Energy Outdoors, Day Tripper of Duluth, North Shore SUP and the Duluth Experience. Residents and visitors alike can sample these activities under the guidance of local experts on one of the most spectacular waterways in the country.
These dramatic infrastructure improvements allow Duluth residents to benefit without footing the bill, unless you stay in a hotel or dine in a local restaurant. In addition, this next phase of development opens the western half of our gorgeous city to visitors who remain largely unaware of the remarkable attributes it features. Visit Duluth will continue working diligently to generate awareness through increased marketing efforts highlighting the unique visitor experience that awaits.
Visit Duluth’s objective is to promote Duluth as THE getaway destination of choice for a broad demographic of visitors. The St. Louis River Corridor project enhances the overall visitor experience and creates a whole new experience that can only be found in Duluth. From beginners such as myself, to seasoned extreme adventurers, this project offers something for everyone.
Take full advantage of upcoming opportunities to share your thoughts and perspectives with city leaders. Public process is essential for a final plan that locals and visitors can enthusiastically embrace.
Anna Tanski is president/ CEO of Visit Duluth and lives in Hermantown with her husband, Jason. She has two children, Allison and Steven. She’s a native of the Twin Ports, born and raised in Superior, hence a Green Bay Packer fan to the core. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.