Sports and event facilities are the backbone of our tourism industry here in Greater Grand Forks

Aug. 27—We’ve said it before,

but here we go again: Around these parts, there isn’t much traditional tourism. There are no mountains, no historic battlefield, no Disneyland.

But there are events, such as concerts, street fairs and hockey games — oh, so many hockey games. This is our region’s tourism.

So it’s not surprising to see that a survey in East Grand Forks showed that during the 2021-22 winter sports season, an estimated 9,300 visitors came to town for youth hockey and skating events. They spent somewhere around $1.7 million.

“The numbers we received, I think, reinforce what we’ve always used as a parameter for what we advertise or tell our City Council that our economic contribution is,” said Reid Huttenen, superintendent of the East Grand Forks Parks and Recreation Department.

A report earlier this week in the Herald

noted that the survey gives city leaders a better understanding of the economic impact youth ice sporting events have on the city. And Huttunen believes it reinforces the need for upgrades to several of the city’s facilities, including the Civic Center, the baseball field at Itts Williams Park adjacent to the Civic Center, and the VFW Memorial Arena.

We agree. And hopefully, the survey will help spur state lawmakers to (someday) approve a proposed 20-year, 1.25% sales tax that was passed by the East Grand Forks City Council before it stalled in the Legislature earlier this year.

In Minnesota, such proposals must pass a three-step process, starting with local leaders before undergoing review by lawmakers. If it passes muster at the Legislature, the proposal then comes back to the local entity for a vote — in this case a city vote.

The proposal didn’t get a decision by lawmakers before the 2022 session of the Legislature ended earlier this year.

We believe the sales tax proposal has merit, especially considering the frequency with which those facilities are being used, and especially the impact they have on the local economy.

Too often, interest in sports upgrades is pooh-poohed by naysayers, who question whether big expenditures are truly necessary for what might be considered frivolous luxuries.

Yet it’s easy to see the benefits that come from these facilities, whether it’s the hockey arenas in East Grand Forks, ice arenas or the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, or proposed facilities that so far are only pipe dreams, such as a proposed 300,000 square -foot facility for aquatics and other sports currently being considered by Grand Forks city leaders.

These facilities are expensive to build and maintain, but when utilized correctly — not just for sports, but for hosting events, concerts and the like — they boost the economy by drawing people to Greater Grand Forks.

Yes, this is our tourism industry — not a traditional one, of course, but one that still is lucrative and boosts the quality-of-life factor in our community.

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