The Goose Creek Rest Stop cost taxpayers $7.2 million.
The inaugural Golden Turkey Award (given to Gov. Tim Walz for his $6.9 million morgue) was such a success that the Center has decided to make it a regular feature of Thinking Minnesota. In February, four strong nominees kicked off the next round of the Golden Turkey award selection process. The contest gained momentum and press coverage, doubling the total votes from the first contest, to almost 5,000. The envelope please…
4th Place – Spirit Mountain Ski Hill
The City of Duluth was nominated for its ongoing financial support (and bailouts) of the Spirit Mountain ski hill. The taxpayer subsidy for the ski hill begins each year with $1.1 million from sales tax revenues. Spirit Mountain has been losing money every year because — wait for it — fewer people are coming to ski. After a new chalet was built in 2013, the losses really piled up and led to additional bailouts of $235,000 in 2019 and $300,000 this January.
The Duluth News Tribune wrote an editorial half-heartedly defending the Spirit Mountain subsidies, calling the Golden Turkey nomination a “notorious nod.” Stay tuned to this project because a committee tasked with fixing the Mountain’s mounting financial problems just recommended spending another $23 million! If we build it, they will come.
3rd Place – Treetop Trail at the Minnesota Zoo
It’s not bad enough that Minnesota is the only state to own and operate its own zoo. Or that for 34 years the Minnesota Zoo wasted money on a monorail system that cost $8.4 million and saw ridership decline year after year because the train ran in a loop and provided little opportunity to interact with or even see the animals.
Despite such costs, Minnesotans will continue sinking money into the project, thanks to $13 million from the legislature’s record-breaking 2020 bonding bill. The zoo is repurposing the 1.3-mile elevated track into the Treetop Trail. The new walking path will have the same disadvantages as the monorail — being above the animals with little chance to see them.
It’s the zoo’s latest boondoggle and that’s why it made our Golden Turkey Award list.
Runner-up – Chatfield Center for the Arts
After a very public veto of funding for the Chatfield Brass Band Music Library in 2008, this small town south of Rochester did get the last laugh from the 2020 legislature. The Chatfield Center for the Arts received $8.7 million to improve its facility — a huge amount of money for a town with fewer than 3,000 residents.
The Arts Center funding epitomizes the wasteful spending in this record-breaking, $1.9 billion borrowing bill. Over $161 million in the bill went for pork projects like skating rinks, community centers, theaters, museums, zoos, even a “salt shed.” The Chatfield Center for the Arts represented all of these wasteful projects on this Golden Turkey Award list.
Winner – Goose Creek Rest Stop
The overwhelming winner of the second Golden Turkey Award goes to the rest area with curved glass, Brazilian Ipe wood, a modern play area and bathrooms fit for a fancy hotel.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation used $7.2 million of trunk highway funding (money that could have gone to roads and bridges) to refurbish the Goose Creek Rest Stop. No one can answer why they used taxpayer money for such a fancy design, and transportation officials are vowing never to let it happen again.
The rest stop is on Highway 35, on the way to Duluth from the Twin Cities. If you make the drive, watch for the American Experiment billboards erected to celebrate this great award and let drivers know when to exit to experience this one-of-a-kind, silly, waste of your tax dollars. Do you think MnDOT will let us put up a commemorative Golden Turkey plaque in the lobby?