Since accepting the interim President's position at SMSU I have followed with interest the conversations on the optional sales tax proposition supporting the Regional Amateur Sports facility and the MERIT Center upgrade. The fall ballot question will be upon us before we know it. The ballot question has tremendous economic development potential for the city of Marshall which includes the university.
The use of the local sales tax option has been a vehicle for communities to move important projects forward that otherwise cannot be supported through traditional property tax revenues.
When one researches comparable cities we are one of the few that has not taken advantage of this vehicle to enhance our city amenities and economic development opportunities. There are currently 24 active voter-approved optional sales taxes in effect. Examples can be found in Willmar, Worthington Hutchinson, Fergus Falls, Albert Lea, Austin, Mankato and Rochester.
The proposed Regional Amateur Sports facility project to be funded by the optional sales tax will create significant growth in retail, restaurant and lodging demand. With the completion of a total regional sports complex between the authority project, the city, the school district and the university we will have created a four-season destination environment. The first level of business economic growth will occur within the new complex itself as jobs and demands on vendors' will increase. Once established, the sports complex will spin of increases in demand for food services, lodging and retail opportunities. The multiplier effect will be significant within the community. Existing businesses will prosper and new ones will be established.
The real advantage of the optional sales tax approach is that instead of the City paying the entire bill for construction of the Sports Complex that it is shared between three groups. The first group is the residents of the City of Marshall. The second group consists of individuals who live in the area outside of the City limits but consider Marshall their regional service hub. The final group will be those individuals who make the Regional Sports Complex activities their destination from an area outside of our immediate service area. We will get the economic development benefits at less than 60% of the cost.
One argument I heard prior to the vote for the optional sales tax in Worthington was that, "People will stop coming to shop in the city." That no one will buy large-ticket items such as an automobile. Both proved to be false claims. First, autos face a fixed minimal fee, farm implements are not included and finally the Worthington economy has maintained a stable to increasing sales tax revenue indicating no impact on sales to a growing economy!
But what the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission concept really does is foster a sense of collaboration.
Collaboration between public and private concerns.
Collaboration between the school district and the university.
Collaboration that leads to the whole becoming greater than independent action of the parts.
When completed we will have a complex that rivals any city several times the size of Marshall. Marshall will become a major sports and activities destination during all four seasons.
In closing, how does Southwest Minnesota State University benefit? The University benefits when the city of Marshall grows and prospers. With the Regional Sports Complex completed as a show place the university will have a strengthened position in recruiting students, staff and faculty. The growth of the university and the growth of Marshall are one and the same!
Ronald Wood, PhD
Interim President Southwest Minnesota State University