Local sales tax

Image courtesy of the city of Grand Rapids

A rendering of the new roof proposed for the Grand Rapids IRA Civic Center.


The city of Grand Rapids is planning another run at a 1 percent local sales tax this fall. This time, the proceeds would be used to fund an initiative known as Project Grand Rapids, which would make improvements and renovations to the city’s Civic Center as well as other recreational properties.

City Administrator Tom Pagel outlined the components of the project to the city council last month. They include:

• A Kids’ Campus located at the city’s IRA Civic Center (key components of which are daycare facilities, early childhood education, space for the recently established Grand Rapids/Greenway Boys and Girls Club and an indoor playground)  

• Accessibility improvements 

• Civic Center renovations (roof replacement and a new refrigeration system for the west venue as well as locker room upgrades)

• The addition of artificial turf at Legion Field, which will transform it to a multi-use sports/activity venue

• A sports training and rehabilitation center within the Civic Center

• Parking lot expansion

Although the improvements seem to be largely geared toward recreational pursuits, Pagel noted that the project would address several key economic development issues. “This touches on a lot of areas (identified) in the city’s comprehensive plan,” he told city councilors.

Before voting in support of the local sales tax initiative, City Councilor Rick Blake noted his own involvement in childcare issues locally. “This project helps address childcare needs,” he said.

Grand Rapids and its surrounding area currently face a shortage of about 517 daycare spots. The absence of adequate daycare translates into unrealized potential in the local workforce as parents opt to stay home with children rather than work outside the home.

Pagel also noted that the transition to multi-use athletic field facilities through the addition of artificial turf would mean the city could book “shoulder season” sporting events that bring hundreds of visitors to town, filling local restaurants and hotels.

A recently updated economic impact study from the University of Minnesota concluded Project Grand Rapids would have a $40 million construction impact, generating 327 jobs. Researchers also concluded there would be a $2.9 million value-added impact, creating 78 indirect jobs, should the project come to fruition. Due to its recent addition, the artificial turf and sports training center components of the project were not part of the updated economic impact assessment.

Current estimates place the cost of Project Grand Rapids at $31.5 million. Pagel told city officials that they would seek a combined total of at least $3.5 million from state bonding, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and the Blandin Foundation. 

The remaining cost of the project would be funded by a 1 percent local sales and user tax, if the measure is passed by voters. The city council voted last month to put the tax question on the ballot this fall. The city unsuccessfully tried to pass a local option sales tax in 2014, which was to be used for road improvements. 

The Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates that a 1 percent sales and user tax in Grand Rapids would generate about $2 million annually. Conservative estimates indicate about a 20-year timeline for paying off Project Grand Rapids through the sales tax initiative.

The city is partnering with a number of other entities for the project including the school district, Mobility Mania (a group with the goal of increasing accessibility for those with disabilities), the local Boys and Girls Club, Itasca Area Schools Collaborative and others. Partnership agreements between the city and the various entities are currently being developed.

Although the tax has yet to be approved by voters, Pagel noted a number of advantages in paying for the project with a local sales tax. Among them are local property taxes would not go up; and more than half the annual revenues would be generated by people living outside the Grand Rapids city limits.

A number of cities and counties throughout the state have similar local taxes in place. Amounts collected vary from 1/2 percent to 1-1/2 percent. Generally, any goods or services subject to state sales tax would also be subject to a local tax – with the exception of automobile purchases and gasoline. Pagel said that cities such as East Grand Forks, Cloquet, Proctor and Bemidji have passed local tax measures to fund similar projects within their respective communities.

Officials believe that a recent ballot question posed by the Grand Rapids School District demonstrates that there is community support for the project. The school district ballot question in April asked voters for support in making improvements to local athletic facilities, including the installation of artificial turf at Legion Field. While the question did not pass, there was majority support from the three precincts that lie within the city limits.

The local sales tax question will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. If voters pass the measure, the city will then need to secure legislative approval prior to implementing the tax.

Meanwhile, city planners are developing strategies to communicate the need for Project Grand Rapids to the general public. In a late June presentation to the city council, Parks and Recreation Director Dale Anderson noted that the communication committee was meeting every other week to determine how best “to get the word out.” 

Anderson added that the recent addition of artificial turf at Legion Field to the overall project scope could be a selling point to voters. “We’re confident that will positively impact more kids in our community,” he said.