Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hudson Dog Track/High School

Update! The Hudson City Council has rejected the re-zoning of the land that St. Croix Meadows occupies. Now it's war between the school board and the city council.
In the 1980s, when ELO and Gloria Estefan ruled the FM airwaves, beery Wisconsin liberalized its puritan attitude toward gambling by allowing the opening of a number of dog tracks in the state, one of which was in Hudson, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.  St. Croix Meadows was a moderate success at first, offering wagering on its own races and on simulcast dog and thoroughbred races from across the country.  This didn't last as Indian casinos sprang up in close proximity and gamblers gravitated from the mystery of guessing about greyhounds to the mindlessness of pushing buttons on video poker machines.

In the late 90's the owner of the now-dormant track came to an agreement with a couple of the less important native bands in the state to convert the facility into a casino but they were unable to secure the required approval from the Department of the Interior, a development that cast an unfavorable light on Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt   The track was soon shuttered and sits there even now, a forlorn reminder of the perils of placing one's wealth at the mercy of the supposed democratic process, in this case the decision made by a career bureaucrat.

But times change and Hudson's role as a kitchen and bedroom for a growing share of the St. Paul workforce has meant that new infrastructure is needed to inject the minds of the children of the workers with government-approved propaganda.  The elected officials have determined that a new high school is needed and the search for a site has determined that the dog track has many of the attributes required.  This article updates the current status of the situation.

There's more to the selection process, however, than the somewhat complicated economics of which property would ultimately be the best choice for a new school.  First of all, the school is to be designed to accommodate 2000 students and eventually as many as 2500, on a minimum of 50 acres.  Has the "factory school" really lived up to expectations?  Does cramming all these adolescents into a facility that resembles nothing so much as a prison produce the educated and aware adults that parents supposedly want and that the elites say we need?  Or are these giant, impersonal institutions proving that education has evolved into a complex dead end that no longer achieves its goals?  Maybe Hudson should think about several smaller schools, perhaps even rent some space downtown and establish more intimate relationships between the educational bureaucracy and its raw material.

Another factor in the decision is, of course, taxes.  Today, receiving no income from the operations of the track, the owners are still on the hook for $94,000 in property taxes.  Putting the property into the public domain would remove those tax receipts and probably more from local government coffers, almost enough to pay the salary and benefits of one special education teacher.  Of course, if another site is selected and the dog track property developed in other ways, the tax receipts would go up dramatically.  A big if.

Finally, there are some other drawbacks to the dog track site.  Beside the physical problem of demolishing some existing outbuildings there are a couple of significant administrative obstacles that could derail the project.  One is that the land would have to be re-zoned!  Re-zoned!  Another is that the city's "comprehensive plan" would have to be amended!  No, not the comprehensive plan!  When politicos make a plan, it has to be followed.  And once something is zoned, it has to stay in that zone.

Simultaneously, another issue affecting the Hudson residents is percolating a few miles up the St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Wisconsin commuters, at least some of them, want a new bridge across the river to augment the aging but picturesque aerial lift bridge that can't begin to accommodate rush-hour traffic across the watery border.  Nobody doubts for a second the ability of the engineering fraternity to design and the general contracting industry to build either a bridge that can effectively move traffic across the river or a school that can warehouse teens for nine months of the year.  Technology isn't the problem.  The political process is.

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