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Proposed Duluthian Boondoggles of Yore

Plus the Strib's big bet, the Ford Building's fate, and a new tax amendment in today's Flyover news roundup.

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The Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Duluth Actually Did Consider a Monorail?

Jay’s comments yesterday on a proposed hyperloop that could supposedly connect the Twin Cities and Rochester—and perhaps more specifically his reference to The Simpsons’ classic monorail episode—inspired Jimmy Lovrien of the Duluth News Tribune to reach out. Lovrien wanted to remind us of his 2021 column about the history of grand, futuristic plans for the Duluth area that never came to pass. In the early years of the 21st century, for instance, there were attempts to fund and build Taxi 2000, “a futuristic personal rapid transit system that would carry people around town on a monorail in three-passenger pods throughout downtown.” And beginning in 1868, there was talk of constructing a canal that would connect Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Mississippi River). You can read more about these thwarted plans, along with stories of all the sports teams that could not be enticed to move to Duluth, here. Someone (us?) should do a similar roundup for schemes the Twin Cities never bought into. I know we never got a real zip line proposal, but I’m thinking of the casino proposed in 2011. Which brings us to our next topic…

Is the Strib a Safe Bet?

Look, I know I’m gonna come off puritanical here, like one of those people who complains about the smell of legal weed in public, but widespread legalized betting skeeves me out, sorry. (A few summers at a convenience store job selling lottery tickets to obvious addicts will scar you like that.) It’s been a little scary to see how quickly gambling has infiltrated sports coverage (I presume problem gamblers simply can’t watch televised sports anymore?) and this Times story does a good job of outlining the broader problems that legalizing sports betting has already raised. 

But like most things that’ll make a buck, legal sports betting is here to stay, and it looks like the Star Tribune is interested in getting its cut of the action. Today the paper debuted a “Sports Betting” page online—“commercial content,” set apart from editorial coverage, that offers “gaming enthusiasts” promos from betting sites, explainers of legalized betting, and, of course, a reminder to call 1-800-Gambler if you have a problem.

“Sports betting is an industry that's growing fast, and we believe there are revenue opportunities in this space which can better position us to fund the high-quality local journalism our teams work hard to create for readers every day,” writes Strib executive vice president and chief finance officer Paul Kasbohm, who once fired me over Microsoft Teams.

In English, that means the Strib is hoping—you might say “betting on the fact”—that money from sponsored gaming content will make up gaps in its editorial budget. We get it. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there are alternatives—like asking your billionaire owner for some of his leftover cash or, you know, firing the Editorial Board.

St. Paul's Historic Ford Building Goes Down

Viraluae fave Bill Lindeke previously wrote in MinnPost about the fate of the Ford Building in St. Paul, just across University Avenue from the State Capitol. The old car factory was one of two dozen that Ford built in 1914 to produce the Model T, and it served its original purpose for 21 years before being converted to office space. It had been vacant since 2004, and the state Department of Administration wanted it gone despite requests to add it to the National Register of Historic Buildings. “This is precisely the kind of demolition proposal that makes historic preservationists irate,” Lindeke wrote at the time, outlining the case for keeping the building as well as the case for trashing it, while also addressing concerns that the building, even if left standing, could deteriorate beyond repair.

This week it met the wrecking ball, reports Fred Melo at the PiPress. “There were a number of very similar Ford plants from that exact era, that exact architect, that are on the National Register,” Brian McMahon, author of The Ford Century in Minnesota, told Melo on Monday. “Not that that would have changed the outcome... I’m flabbergasted that this happened so abruptly. I think [the historic register nomination] was just put into that bureaucratic limbo... That’s what we need at a train station? Landscaping? It’s going to take me a while to get over this one.”

DFLers Want to Raise Taxes Without Exactly Raising Taxes

Minnesota is expecting a much less exciting legislative session in 2024 after last year’s DFL blitz. But there’s still some action on the horizon. For instance, the Minnesota Reformer reports, some DFLers are already planning to propose a constitutional amendment that would raise the state income tax by a percent, in order to fund housing. Using this one weird trick, the legislature could raise taxes without itself voting to raise taxes. (Call it the “stop hitting yourself” approach to public funding.) Still, the DFL’s one-seat Senate majority means that a proposed amendment would likely need the support of Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), who chairs the Senate taxes committee; Rest has already declared that she will not support any new taxes in 2024, or even take up changes to the 50-cent delivery fee passed last year. ("If it doesn't get fixed, it's fine with me. I think it's going to collapse under its own weight.") From a progressive standpoint, sales taxes kind of suck, because of their effect on the low-income Minnesotans who can least afford to be nickel-and-dimed.  

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